Pacific Crest held their 13th Annual Global Technology Leadership Forum in Vail, CO the first week of August, and I had the opportunity to participate on a panel entitled “Better Networks with No New Base Stations.” Perhaps an alternative title could have been “Strategies for Wireless Carriers to Survive the Mobile Video Onslaught” since that was the topic of the panel. The panel was hosted by James E. Faucette, who is Sr. Research Analyst, Wireless Enabling Technologies for Pacific Crest Securities, and besides myself, his panelists included:
David Hagen, CEO Boingo Wireless (WIFI)
Ronny Haraldsvik, VP Global Marketing – Bytemobile Russell Frederick,
VP Finance & CFO – Dragonwave (DRWI)
Sam Blackman, CEO – Elemental Technologies
One of the video growth statistics everyone uses is from the latest update to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, where mobile video is forecast to generate 66 percent of Mobile Data Traffic by 2015. According to Peter Jarich of Current Analysis, “It could be argued that video is a problem that operators have created for themselves by moving forward on all-you-can-eat data plans or positioningdongle and laptop plans as fixed-broadband substitutes. Placing blame, however, does not provide a way forward for sustainably, profitably supporting this traffic and keeping it from becoming a burden on CapEx budgets, OpEx budgets and network quality.”
It didn’t surprise me that none of the panelists were supportive of moving away from all-you-can-eat data plans to tiered service plans. As technology vendors, we of course would rather see these types of problems addressed with our innovative solutions, with the goal of optimizing and not limiting consumer behaviors based on pricing strategies (and we are consumers also). Further, the carriers must be careful when implementing new policies or plan changes - either could cause customer churn as they compete for 4G glory.
Off-loading at the handset (Boingo) is certainly easy to understand and a great way to go if it is available, but it cannot always be counted on. Off-loading also applies to moving traffic from higher cost networks to less expensive ones, so backhaul also fits this category. Dragonwave pitched their microwave backhaul solutions that can do this at the RAN (radio access network), especially with new spectrum becoming available for microwave wireless backhaul, and there are lots of places where fiber doesn’t exist or won’t makes sense.
Upgrading to support LTE provides additional RAN capacity and core network efficiency that support more video traffic and better video quality. No one on our panel was pushing LTE although Dragonwave did support adding micro cells. At SevOne we believe that adding more RAN and backhaul capacity, especially via LTE rollouts, is inevitable, and we’ve introduced solutions for monitoring LTE networks and ensuring Ethernet backhaul performance.
Video transrating and transcoding solutions (ByteMobile and Elemental Technologies) are appealing in that they require less bandwidth to the end user based on the device type. However, this does add complexity to both the content provider (how many different encodings to support?) and to the network operator and integrator to add what are essentially proprietary protocols or compressions methods to become “content or endpoint aware” for transcoding or “congestion aware” for optimizing the video stream delivery. The good news is that these solutions should also apply to wireline carriers and MSOs like Comcast. However, for mobile network operators, they may be better served by investing in their 4G/LTE networks vs. investing in higher bandwidth services on their existing 3G networks via implementing these specialized solutions. Unless they have large CapEx and extra operations cycles to tune them.
At SevOne, we advocate a bit of back to network performance management basics – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So first get complete visibility of the performance of the network, end-to end, from the RAN and cell site routers through the packet core. With complete performance visibility, more optimal decisions can then be made on whether to increase the base station for capacity and what components (is it the cell site router?), whether to add more backhaul or packet core or IMS capacity, or to more effectively route and apply QoS to different types of traffic. Having complete and immediate performance visibility is key to any path you take to survive the mobile video onslaught!