New approaches to the capacity crunch

Dan McBride/Stoke
19 Jul 2011

Mobile broadband uptake has taken to such heights that in less than five years, an estimated 50 billion connected devices will be accessing mobile services worldwide. With overload occurring both on the control and data planes, planning and investing in 3G and Long Term Evolution networks will continue to be problematic.

Although LTE is being introduced rapidly in markets from Africa to Uzbekistan, demand will always outstrip network capacity. AT&T estimates that demand will grow by 5,000% in the next five years, yet upgrading to LTE will only offer a tenfold improvement in capacity.

Innovative data management solutions must be applied, and will need to include a variety of offload options. Offload is about helping operators deal with explosive traffic growth without expanding network capacity in a linear fashion to keep pace.

Wi-Fi offload has moved rapidly to the forefront of traffic management discussions, relieving pressure on the most costly component of the mobile network, the radio access network (RAN). This approach uses free spectrum, delivered on proven technology, and available and ubiquitous on mobile devices.

However, there are several ways to incorporate Wi-Fi access into a mobile operators’ service mix and the choice of solution has long-term implications.

The UMA/GAN (unlicensed mobile access/generic access network) and wireless LAN interworking products and standards provide a vetted blueprint for embracing unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum into an operators service mix. But the technology never achieved mainstream acceptance. Of the few operators that deployed UMA, some are moving away from this technology.

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