The successful launch of the Apple 3G iPhone – and similar devices – is a powerful reminder of the exploding demand for mobile data services. As millions of users rush to buy the latest “must-have” handsets, bandwidth use on wireless networks rises dramatically.
Data has overtaken voice traffic across mobile networks. Add 3G- and 4G-enabled laptops and larger screens on mobile devices to the mix, and users’ interest in Internet browsing, mobile television and access to new applications grows too. The result: unprecedented growth in mobile data bandwidth requirements and the need to provide flexible network architectures.
Why Does It Matter?
Today’s mobile networks are not architected to cost-effectively handle the explosive growth in data services. The trend requires mobile providers to quickly upgrade networks to manage bandwidth demand and deal with added complexities of new services.
It’s a challenge. The entire network – from the cell site through the backhaul network, all the way to the core – is affected. Given the magnitude of the changes required, tactical network evolution is no longer the most efficient way forward. It’s time for a more strategic approach.
Call for Action
The impact of new data services raises considerable commercial challenges for operators. A recent Tellabs-commissioned Nielsen survey of European and U.S. mobile users showed that consumers intend to dramatically increase use of mobile data services over the next two years – with significant growth in the next 12 months. But, while data rates will increase, accompanying revenues remain relatively flat per subscriber. This combination of drivers increases the cost and complexity of the network in all areas – operational, engineering and design. If these needs are not addressed strategically, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a profitable business case.
To cost-effectively meet current traffic growth rates, a decrease in the unit cost of bandwidth is imperative. Providers can realize these targets by tackling multiple parts of the problem at once: reducing cost structures, operating expenses and energy consumption, increasing efficiency in the backhaul network and streamlining operations.
So operators must take a strategic approach to delivering bandwidth-hungry services across ever more complex mixtures of transport protocols. And, they need to match theses requirements with significantly re-adjusted cost structures.
This may seem like a radical proposition. Previously, providers had success making incremental, tactical technology changes in backhaul architecture to handle increased bandwidth demands. But the magnitude of changes needed in today’s networks make that process ineffective.
Flexible Joints for Networks
Operators must embrace a future-facing strategy to implement a single provisioning model that delivers fast, accurate and scalable service delivery in a consistent fashion, regardless of service or traffic type.
Operators can achieve this model by creating transport-agnostic managed joints in backhaul networks. Like flexible joints in the human body, they provide a stable structure while enabling the attached components – services and protocols – to evolve and grow.
The joints enable backhaul networks to support several protocols simultaneously, with multiple service-delivery options and traffic types. They also enable network operators to deliver traffic via the most economic transport mechanism, without impacting service quality. At the same time, they can reduce energy use, ultimately lowering operating expenses.
Each provider has its own pain point, whether it’s in the edge of the core network, in the aggregation network, or at the cell site. And that’s where joint installation should begin. As particular pain points are relieved, the approach can be extended to the next stress point in the network until the whole network evolves to a single, coherent platform.
Re-Adjusting Cost Structures
Operators need to act now, at the relatively low end of the demand curve and before data traffic volumes become overwhelming. By reducing cost structures now, providers are positioned to maximize profitability in a highly competitive marketplace. Providers can achieve this profitability by using the lowest cost transport available (whether copper leased line or DSL, microwave or fiber) while maintaining the highest levels of service. Ethernet technologies, compared with TDM, can change the cost curve and support mobile peer-to-peer services such as social networking.
Bandwidth demand for mobile data is only going to increase. The Nielsen survey revealed that more than a quarter of the millions of consumers who don’t use mobile data services intend to start. The resulting capacity crunch is an opportunity for providers as much as it is a challenge. The rewards are the lowest cost transport for every service and monitored network quality to better meet customer expectations.
By implementing consistent network management processes end-to-end throughout the infrastructure, operators can re-adjust cost structures and realize a new level of efficiency with simplified operations and lower operating expenses. And most importantly, fast, accurate and scalable service delivery – the key to a competitive edge.
Heinz is executive vice president, global sales and services, at Tellabs.