iPhone

Mobile providers facing data tsunami

Remember those news reports on the difficulties experienced by AT&T's 3G network due to the explosion of data generated by all those Apple iPhone smartphones? Blogger Paul Mah sat down with an industry veteran to talk about the future of mobile data and the key challenge faced by mobile operators.

I had the opportunity last week to sit down with Barry Hill, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Santa Clara-based Stoke, Inc., to talk about the future of mobile providers. Stoke is a maker of carrier hardware while Barry has been involved in all aspects of the telecommunications business for the past 17 years at a managerial level.

It was by sheer coincidence that I brought up the topic of data consumption by smartphones, based on much earlier reports of complaints over the data consumption of Apple iPhone users. In fact, The New York Times actually ran an updated piece -- which I did not see until later -- of how customers are angered as iPhones overload AT&T 3G network.

So beyond the obvious fact that iPhone users consume way more data than customers on other smartphones, where are we heading on the mobile data front?

We are facing a mobile data tsunami

Hill did not comment directly on the woes over at AT&T, though he agreed that iPhone users consume a lot more data than other smartphone users. On this front, Gene Munster, a senior securities analyst with Piper Jaffray, summed it up most accurately when he told the NYT that, "They [iPhone users] don't even realize how much data they're using."

The main issue, according to Hill, is that the current mobile infrastructure as a whole is not well architected for data. In his own words, the "architecture is wrong." Sketching out the key components in the core network of a mobile phone provider, he highlighted the many pieces of hardware necessary to process and route data coming in from the cell towers.

In a nutshell, the current solution doesn't scale well, forcing mobile phone providers to purchase a lot of expensive equipment just to sustain the "tsunami" of data flowing through the core network. Unfortunately, this exponential deluge of data means that it is a losing proposition for mobile providers that typically sell data packages at a flat monthly rate and is a somber reality faced by mobile operators around the world.

On a side note, Stoke is currently working what the company calls a "Mobile Data Offload" appliance to address this issue. The idea is to create a transparent device that will allow data to circumvent the core network. Hill says that the prototype will be out by mid-October, and the solution should be launched in the first quarter of 2010.

Individual data usage

In the course of our meeting, I gleaned an interesting nugget of information pertaining to individual data usage. According to Hill, the average amount of mobile data transferred by a mobile broadband user -- laptops via a USB dongle -- clocks in at a staggering 3.5GB per month. Obviously, data usage on smartphones will be much lower, though it is not hard to imagine why the iPhone with its superior browser is easily the champion guzzler of data bandwidth.

Anyway, 3.5GB of data per month is a lot when you think about it and definitely worth taking into consideration if you intend to travel with a data dongle or plan to tether your smartphone but not on an unlimited plan.

So what does these all mean for IT professionals?

Much as there is a definite convergence in terms of mobile data and the traditional computer network, it is important to recognize the current architecture bottlenecks inherent to mobile data networks.

As such, it is important not to treat the mobile network as we would with, say, a dedicated leased line. As mobile providers re-architect their core networks to be more data-centric and efficient, the situation will probably evolve and improve over time. For now, though, it might make sense to acquire smartphones with Wi-Fi as a fall back for data-intensive or time-sensitive applications.

What kind of data usage do you normally use your smartphones for? Have you ever been stymied by poor mobile data performance?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

9 comments
WhiteKnight_
WhiteKnight_

If you consider 3.5GB per month to be a staggering amount of data . . . well, lets just say you probably just read and send email. If you view or download videos, upload digital camera pictures, play online games or all of the above then 3.5GB is a ridiculously low amount. The vendors HAVE oversold their capacity - this is evidenced by AT&T's charges of approx $400 per GB over their 5GB per month cap. Their Sales and marketing groups are overselling capacity while their support and operations groups are turning into money makers through the imposition of these ridiculous punitive overage charges.

aclifton48
aclifton48

Well I got tired of hunting down WiFi Hotspots, and when I got one going it's throughput sucks, slower than a snail because their are so many users connected or I'm not in the right position. So I surrendered and got Verizon Mobile Broadband at $60 a month for 5GB and now life is so much easier, now I can connect virtually anywhere with ease. Mind you I did not come to the decision to part with $60 a month very quickly, it took me along time to pull the trigger and do it. but I'm not going back to WiFi now.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I have a Verizon aircard for my laptop, but use it only when there is no WiFi available. Even without the competition from the iPhone that AT&T users have, 3G data speeds just don't compare to even the worst WiFi link.

mpaynter
mpaynter

The carriers are moving too slow to address the current problems encountered by end users with both smartphones and now netbooks. We've worked with our mobile end users to deploy WAN Optimization client technologies as a part of our Eveready Services Platform and in most cases reduced the amount of data moving over the wireless networks (Wi-Fi too) by as much as 80-90% while at the same time significantly speeding up application response times. We'd suggest the solution for the short term is to push the power to the end users!!!

seanferd
seanferd

Providers selling service beyond their capacity to carry. Wireless, meet cable.

randy_scadden
randy_scadden

I hear of everyone complaining about how crappy the AT&T service is and how many dropped calls they get with their iPhone and well I can honestly say I've had no more dropped calls with my iPhone than I had with previous cell phones. Now granted I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that AT&T was forced to put in so much capacity in our network back in 2002 for the winter olympics here in Salt Lake City. Even before than I've been a happy AT&T customer for 10+ years and sold wireless service for all of the carriers in our market and have to admit that AT&T was and still is the best game in town.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I have also used AT&T for several years and most of the time the connection is clear. I don't have a smart phone, but recently upgraded to the W760. It has a nice sized LCD for web browsing but not as good as an iphone. I use the phone for taking pictures and music, which it is mainly designed to be used for.

randy_scadden
randy_scadden

I personally use WiFi as much as possible with my iPhone I've found that my battery life is longer and I get faster speeds. One thing that AT&T can do is speed the deployment of femtocell technology and offer it to businesses for free. As part of the deciding body of the IT Team I would have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about deploying multiple femtocells within my network to provide for a better experience for everyone using the AT&T service. If you want to read more on femtocell technology follow the link below. http://www.intomobile.com/2009/06/25/att-still-testing-femtocells-att-3g-microcell-due-in-2009.html

michael
michael

We have deployed our Mobile Analytics solution with a number of mobile operators who have launched the iPhone to help them understand the impact of these devices. Needless to say, the data usage is an order of magnitude greater than traditional handset users and both web browsing and applications contribute to the high data consumption. There is also fair amount of background data usage with iPhones (email updates, software release checking, iTunes analytics, etc) which most users would not be aware of. New releases of iPhone software also create jumps in data usage. For example, when release 2.1 included both Google Maps Street View and the ability to download songs from iTunes over the 3G network, data usage growth accelerated markedly. We published a report on iPhone web browsing and data usage last year that can be requested from http://tr.im/yIsk.

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