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New service capabilities to influence mobile network infrastructure

Major questions surrounding mobile appliance service deployment will affect operators' mobile network infrastructure planning in terms of enabling Quality of Service and Evolved Packet Core technology if they can sell premium services.

Continued from Part 1: Mobile appliance explosion changes broadband mobile network planning

Some major questions remain in the development of a future driven by mobile applications, especially in terms of how mobile services and capabilities will affect mobile network infrastructure planning. One of the most important is whether operators will be able to sell premium mobile data handling in any form.

Operators may need to create special low-latency application connections, even across operator boundaries.
Tom Nolle
President, CIMI Corp.
Mobile services in general -- and Long-Term Evolution/ Evolved Packet Core in particular -- offer support for Quality of Service-enabled managed tunnels for connections between the cell tower and the service point.

Those QoS-enabled managed tunnels are created in large part by creating tunnels between the serving gateway (SGW) and the packet data network (PDN) gateway, so putting the serving gateway close to the tower and the PDN gateway close to the service points would offer the largest span of QoS-managed traffic.

But regulators worldwide are concerned about mobile net neutrality, and if operators fear they would be required to offer premium QoS free of charge or at no profit, they may want to eliminate EPC's custom tunneling and QoS options, which would effectively make the PGW and SGW adjacent or even a single common device. This could undermine some of the EPC's value in terms of creating premium experiences and reduce opportunities for service differentiation.

Mobile services: Content or applications?

There's also the question of whether premium mobile services should be considered "content" or "applications." If a user interacts with a handset application that performs a number of mobile application program interface (API) calls to obtain information, the latency of the wireless connection may be critical to application performance.

For delivering video, this might mean optimizing mobile network infrastructure for low latency, even at the expense of QoS, since buffering can ride out QoS variations in a video stream. Applications that are expected to run when roaming across the networks of Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) members may be especially vulnerable to latency issues, depending on where the application resources are provided relative to the location of the devices. That suggests operators may need to create special low-latency application connections, even across operator boundaries.

Mobile voice planning complicated by over-the-top services

Voice service planning is the final ingredient in the juggling of mobile network infrastructure planning priorities. Almost every mobile customer has a voice plan, and yet virtually every mobile operator believes voice revenues are tailing off to near-zero levels in the long term.

More mobile network infrastructure resources

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Verizon and Skype test mobile VoIP app profitability for voice as data

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Spending a lot on voice today risks stranding a lot of capital assets, particularly if ubiquitous data services create an over-the-top (OTT) voice opportunity. Skype is already supported on some mobile networks, and even the WAC approach could create a multi-provider voice model that would compete with the standard cellular/ IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) model.

Where is it all going? For most operators, the decision is tilting in the direction of building market share, data revenues and backhaul infrastructure using the EPC model. Network capacity and connectivity will need to grow to accommodate new mobile devices, regardless of the service model involved, and experience with smartphones has shown that operator credibility can suffer if call and data service experiences are contaminated by network overload. Service planning, then, should focus on exploiting the network resources being created in response to our data- and-device-dominated mobile market.

Return to part 1: How the mobile appliance explosion changes broadband mobile network planning

About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his networking blog Uncommon Wisdom

This was last published in April 2010

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