Cellular carriers have for the most part changed their mind when it comes to a solution for mobile offloading. For those not familiar with the concept, mobile offloading refers to the problem when large numbers of high bandwidth clients (iPads, smartphones, and similar business and infotainment oriented cellular devices) clog up the limited bandwidth that the carriers are stuck with. This limited bandwidth can be spread over a fairly large geographical area, filled with large numbers of digital mobile users, especially in urban areas. As the bandwidth problem grew, the carriers looked for ways to preserve their revenue (usually in some form of pay per unit bandwidth).
At first, solutions like femtocell (licensed band) were touted, since the cost pass-through model was attractive. The carrier could sell, support, and easily meter the femtocell equipment. And as a bonus, existing cellular devices worked with the femtocell hardware. However, the number of supportable clients is limited to the number of cells – somewhere on the order of 8 to 16 users per cell.
The alternative of using WLAN via fixed mobile convergence (FMC) as a data gateway was considered at the same time, since it can support very small physical cells and relatively wide bandwidth. But it met resistance from the carriers – since the metering and billing were much more complex. Also, WLAN as a means of mobile data offloading requires the user to have a dual radio phone (or iPad or whatever).
This brings us to the present,as we anticipate a near tsunami of data that is likely to crash in on the cellular carrier’s fixed bandwidth (and large area). Smartphones, iPads, and the like are becoming de rigueur for the businessman, student, and any idle person who has five-hundred bucks burning a hole in their pocket. If it serves content, the public will buy it (and read/write, listen/talk, and watch/record). Sure, that’s cynical, and there are plenty of “productive” uses for these magical devices, but the burden on cellular carriers is making its presence known. So, they began to change their minds.
For the most part the carriers are now anxious to offload as much of this mobile data as possible in order to preserve their quality of service (QoS) performance, as well as their reputation (think about ATT when the iPhone first appeared). Since Wi-Fi is “free”, that seems to be the direction that mobile offloading is headed. But another concept must be dealt with – Dynamic Mobile Offloading.
The very nature of this mobile data mix is dynamic. College students leave their laptops in the dorm, opting to carry their new iPhone n. They talk, text, and tweet in the corridors and then set down to be delivered a set of broadcast 802.11n PowerPoints. During the lecture they fill in their attention gaps with the YouTube suggested by their neighbor. This dynamic WLAN data mix cannot be adequately handled with fixed AP settings. Even a full time IT controller cannot possibly keep up with the required tuning on the 50 APs in the halls and conference rooms of a building. But tune they must if complaints about QoS are to be avoided. And be sure that this problem is not going away by itself – clients will consume as much variety and quantity of data that they feel they need in order to keep up with their world.
The solution to Dynamic Mobile Data Offloading is to perform hands-off automated AP tuning, driven with the observed real world traffic characteristics. WiTuners offers such a tool, blending a suite of deployment, tuning, optimizing, and reporting applications in one piece of software. Married to the network management system, WiTuners keeps track of the shifting landscape of data that is passing through the WLAN and then anticipates the changes needed to keep each AP operating at its peak throughput efficiency. The QoS remains high, the network is kept optimized, and the WLAN hardware is used efficiently. Hence, IT involvement is minimized, equipment upgrades are minimized, and the users stay content (at least until their craving for the newest cell/wi-fi smartphone overwhelms them).