The Data Offload Mountain needs a Helping Hand from WiFi

Our society has an insatiable appetite for developing, sharing and consuming content. We have the sum total of human knowledge at our finger tips, and we are determined to share almost every aspect of our lives and experiences. In fact, according to Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman; every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003, “The real issue is user-generated content,” Schmidt said. The most surprising element of that statement is that Eric Schmidt gave it in 2010, and content development has increased significantly since then.

Pressure on the network

To add to the pressure on the network, we not only want access to information at home and work, we also want it on the move, at any time and usually on more than one device. To achieve this level of content access, we need to move significant amounts of data over an already overloaded network.

The dream is unlimited capacity, speed and opportunity, the reality is a data mountain the size of which we have never experienced before in the history of mankind. Furthermore, we are asking our mobile carriers to literally move that mountain, quickly, efficiently and without downtime.

With explosive growth in data consumption and the Internet of Things about to add to the data mountain in a significant way, network operators and service providers are under pressure to deliver capacity without eroding margin.

What is Carrier Offload?

In 2013, almost half of all mobile data traffic was offloaded to WiFi and other local networks, according to a report published by Juniper Research last year. The report’s author, Nitin Bhas, commented: “In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer has become an increasingly popular method and the service has recently seen a record number of requests for TV and radio programmes to be streamed or downloaded.

“The proliferation of mobile broadband devices, along with the unlimited data bundles from operators, has led to network congestion and deteriorating network quality.”

The report forecasts that the mobile data traffic generated by smartphones, feature-phones and tablets will grow ten-fold to more than 90,000PB (petabytes) by 2017, “equivalent to almost 42 quadrillion tweets or approximately 7 billion Blu-ray movies.”

Interestingly, the report suggests roughly 60 percent of that data will be offloaded.

Juniper confirms that “Offloading is an effective network congestion reduction strategy to solve the overload issue compared to scaling and optimisation. It enables network operators to reduce the congestion in the cellular networks, while for the end-user it provides cost savings on data services and higher bandwidth availability.”

By now I’m sure you can appreciate the business challenges that mobile Carriers are facing, which can be boiled down to:

• Providing consumers with the service and content options they demand

• Supporting these capabilities with a more cost-effective infrastructure

• Benefiting from new revenue opportunities

How can Carrier offload work for all parties?

The mobile broadband strategy for most Carriers and cellular serviceproviders is incomplete without a WiFi offering according to Cisco.

In its ‘Monetize SP Wi-Fi to Gain Business Advantages’ white paper, Cisco states: As data use increases, so will the associated expense. WiFi, however, provides a cost-effective alternative for mobile offload. It frees the cellular network from the burden of transporting bandwidth-intensive content, such as streaming video or audio, and places that multimedia data on a better-suited network. One Cisco® service provider customer estimates the resulting savings will surpass US$1 billion in seven years.

How does WiFi help?

While consumers like the portability of data access, they show a clear preference for WiFi-based access in countries where there is a ‘hunt-for-WiFi’ culture.

Consumers want to avoid the extra costs imposed for exceeding their data limits, and they typically rate the multimedia experience over WiFi as morerewarding.

WiFi is also animportant part of a network’s overall consideration of capacity management. Working in an unlicensed spectrum, WiFi can be quick to build capacity and offers considerable economic advantages over cellular data. This, coupled with the ability to secure small cell capacity giving additional coverage at thesame venues, creates a very strong business case.

Gavin Wheeldon, CEO, Purple WiFi, comments: “The enterprise WiFi market is well catered for and there are options to enable both the business and user to maximise connectivity opportunities. The challenge, or opportunity depending on your frame of reference, is the small to medium sized businesses. These businesses need to be connected and their customers expect it, but in the past they have not been well catered for, simply because the margin isn’t there for the traditional providers.

“At Purple WiFi, we support virtually any hardware and our service is managed through a single window in our cloud environment. This lowers the total cost of ownership considerably and guarantees that technical support is delivered in a timely and cost effective manner.”

Summary

Although there are many options to offload Carrier data, WiFi is one of the most flexible and robust options, and it must form an essential part of Carrier offload strategies as data requirements build and capacity is ever increasing.

Catering for this need with enterprise organisations is well advanced, but it is sorely lacking for small and medium sized businesses.

WiFi data offload allows Carriers to better utilise the options delivered through the cloud that can support any hardware, manage the WiFi network, deliver the service their consumers want, while securing new revenue opportunities.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine