As carriers increasingly see revenue coming from data applications,
their networks become more complex to run.
Wireless operators have built out their 3G networks primarily to gain more revenue for data services. The strategy is working, although the increased data traffic brings challenges for network management.
Wireless data service revenues in the United States grew 8.6% in Q2 2008, according to the consultancy Chetan Sharma, and were up 40% from a year earlier. Carriers raked in $8.2 billion in data revenues in the quarter. Verizon Wireless recorded $2.6 billion and AT&T Mobility $2.5 billion, the consultancy said.
The data is being driven primarily by Internet access for a host of different services, with search and social networking among the growing elements. ComScore said 20.8 million U.S. mobile subscribers used search last June, an increase of 68% from a year earlier. And mobile social networking use increased 93%. Americans also have started to use their phones more to send photos, with photo messaging increasing by 58%, comScore said.
The research company also said the number of Americans with unlimited data plans increased 58%, with more Americans using 3G devices now than those in Europe.
“For years, the American mobile industry has aspired to the level of sophistication of the European market,” said Mark Donovan, senior vice president and senior analyst with comScore. “Today, Americans have finally caught up with Europeans in adoption of 3G. The advancements in 3G network technology and the introduction of sleek devices into the U.S. market have paid off as adoption of mobile media continues to grow at a rapid pace.”
Such studies and statistics abound, but one more is worth noting. SNL Kagan said mobile data revenue for U.S. carriers will grow at an annual rate of 16%, to $100 billion by 2017. That compares to a 5% total service revenue growth rate over the same period.
On one hand, that increased data traffic is good. But carriers also have to manage that traffic alongside their traditional voice traffic. That’s where operational support systems (OSS) come into play. And companies offering OSS solutions also are finding a more complex world because of the convergence of different access technologies.
|Bennington: Data’s “bursty” traffic can create congestion on networks.
Stu Bennington, director of portfolio strategy at Tellabs, said the company has continued to add functionality to its OSS platforms over the years. Much of this is driven by the increased data traffic on the networks, which has to co-exist with voice and different technologies like Ethernet and packet-based traffic.
“Carriers have to stay ahead of the curve (on managing traffic), including providing opportunities so they can differentiate themselves,” Bennington said.
Tellabs’ main network management product, the Tellabs 8000, has a multitude of toolkits that can be used with it for increased functionality, adding visibility to different portions of the network or new service capabilities. They include such things as alarms, performance management, loop testing, fault monitoring, service level class assignments, network planning, and capacity utilization.
The 8000, which works on both 2G and 3G networks, also can be used with the Tellabs 8600 managed edge system, 8100 managed access system, 7100 optical transport system, 6300 managed transport system or the 8800 multiservice router series.
Unlike voice, data traffic on the network tends to be “bursty,” especially for such applications as video. Bennington said that can create congestion in the network where it might not have been anticipated. Carriers have to be able to provide higher quality of service for some customers based on service level agreements.
In addition, data traffic tends to be more distributed and not concentrated, as voice is, in the switch, he said, which makes it necessary for network engineers to have visibility throughout the network.
Another issue operators face in network management is the increased use of voice over IP and fixed mobile convergence traffic. “That brings in new nodes and traffic that didn’t happen before,” Bennington said.
Social networking, especially using video, is making network management more difficult, according to Sebastian Toke-Nichols, product manager for Amdocs’ OSS Division. Handling this kind of data-intensive application is made even more complex because of the variety of backhaul technologies operators use, such as Ethernet, DSL, ATM or microwave.
Operators have to be able to plan for the bandwidth requirements, Toke-Nichols said, because if they provide more capacity than they need it is a waste of capital expenditures and can be just as bad as not having enough capacity.
Before all of the various backhaul and transmission technologies were added, all a carrier had to do was match the radio transmission channels in a cell site with the backhaul, said David Chambers, mobile solutions manager for the Amdocs OSS Division. That may have meant two or three T1 lines. But now the capacity demands have increased to the point where engineers need to not only map the radio transmission needs but what kind of technologies are best.
“The management of backhaul is a significant problem,” Chambers said, adding that it will only get worse with 4G technologies.
Amdocs’ products not only allow operators to manage, design and make changes to the network to meet the needs of the data world, but also have tools for planning and trend analysis, he said.
“It’s one thing to be able to manage and route the traffic through backhaul,” Chambers said, “but the next level up is to monitor trends and identify bottlenecks so you can ensure that you have deployed enough capacity.”
Managing the various kinds of subscriptions is another area that operators have to deal with, he said, because subscribers might have two or three other kinds of data subscriptions. They also may have multiple devices, including phones but also a data dongle.
As femtocells are rolled out by mobile operators, they add another layer of complexity. Toke-Nichols said operators not only have to activate the phones using with femtocells but also have to provision the femtocell itself, which usually uses DSL or cable. Amdocs’ products allow operators to have an end-to-end activation solution rather than having to work with different vendors, he said.
Amdocs acquired some of its OSS expertise through the purchase of Cramer in 2006, giving it an offering for wireless, fixed and cable operators. The company’s latest product portfolio includes support for planning, fulfillment and assurance. Amdocs also has added five new OSS products, which it calls “process packs.”
Another way of handling OSS is the approach taken by an Austin, Texas, company, a new player named Transverse. The company recently announced an open source model, which President Jim Messer said will give carriers more freedom.
Transverse is offering an on-device portal (ODP) and service-oriented architecture (SOA) it says will give operators the option to treat their subscriber base as an asset and get new revenue streams from third parties, rather than relying solely on the usual monthly subscriber fees.
Transverse is offering its code in a traditional open-source model where others that access the code contribute back to it. Transverse said it also will offer a commercial version that allows partners to do proprietary implementations with the code without the requirement of contributing back.
What kind of traction the open-source model achieves remains to be seen. But it’s a good bet that OSS will continue changing in the coming years as data services in the networks increase.