As cell congestion worsens, operators take traffic management towards the edge
Data traffic within mobile cells is downright chaotic, says John Reister of Vasona Networks. Hundreds of thousands of apps are contending to access streaming video, audio, the web, social media, games and more. All of this data collides and contends within individual cells every moment of every day. Sometimes there’s enough bandwidth capacity to support great experiences. Often, not. Web browsing slows, video freezes, downloads are interrupted and consumers get frustrated.
While congestion can come and go quickly, its negative impacts can last much longer. As queues back up and packets drop, latency sets in and sessions get sluggish. The amount of time that passes before normal conditions resume can be much longer than the congestion incident that caused the problem in the first place. Often, the consequences include frustrated users that give up trying to use their device, or go hunting for a service provider that will deliver the desired experience.
Mobile operators are relentlessly pursuing solutions for these mounting congestion problems. Sometimes, spot fixes are tried for particular issues. For instance, the deployment of optimisers to constrain expanding video traffic. But as the mix of sessions in cells continues to diversify due to new challenges like the rising share of traffic that’s encrypted, operators are turning to edge application controllers as a more complete and long-term solution to persistent problems.
Problem solving where congestion occurs
Edge application controllers allow operators to focus problem solving at the level where congestion occurs – individual cells. This is vital with wide fluctuations frequently occurring in both a cell’s traffic mix and its capacity from one moment to the next.
Edge application controllers work by:
1) Understanding which sessions are in contention for bandwidth at a given moment;
2) Determining how much bandwidth each session actually needs based on context like application type; and
3) Ensuring that bandwidth is intelligently distributed in a way that delivers the best possible experiences for all users in a cell.
This more comprehensive approach is necessary because mobile data applications tend to be greedy and clamour for as much available bandwidth as possible – all without context of the other apps and users sharing the cell. So, for instance, even when an operator compresses all video traffic in an attempt to solve the problem, the other non-video sessions in the cell may simply expand, filling the newly available bandwidth. The result? Video is now fuzzier and apps that don’t otherwise need more bandwidth claim it anyway, meaning the cell isn’t necessarily gaining additional capacity to serve more users or provide better video.
In contrast, edge application controllers consider all contending traffic and real-time network resources, ultimately supporting more sessions, higher bitrates and better performance.
Field results validate the approach. Cellcom in the United States recently implemented Vasona Networks’ SmartAIR1000 edge application controller, achieving improvements of more than 30% in bitrate performance for video and web browsing, and a 35% reduction in mobile service latency. Deployments in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere are further demonstrating such benefits.
Mobile data usage growth will soar for many more years, but operators can plan now so that each phase of growth does not have to be accompanied by poor experiences. There is an intriguing portfolio of solutions to address traffic growth, from self-optimising networks (SON) to small cells to more macro cells and spectrum. Edge application controllers are positioned to be crucial among these with holistic view of the cell and a unique ability to get the best possible user application experiences from available network resources.
John Reister is vice-president of marketing and product management for Vasona Networks, helping to drive the company’s collaboration with mobile operators to reduce cell congestion and deliver better subscriber experiences.
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