Mel Yarbrough is Towerstream's Chief Operating Officer, responsible for the strategic development and execution of the company's corporate business plans as well as leadership of the sales, marketing, operations, engineering and customer care departments. Mr Yarbrough came to Towerstream from Hoovers (D&B; Dun and Bradstreet), where he served as VP of Business Development and VP of Sales. Prior to joining D&B, Mr Yarbrough worked in several executive sales and marketing positions, including roles at StarCite and Handango. Mr Yarbrough’s wireless experience began with PageMart (Weblink Wireless) where he held several leadership roles. Mel Yarbrough holds a B.A. in Economics from Southern Methodist University and a Juris Doctorate from Vanderbilt University School of Law.
The exponential growth of mobile Internet traffic is forcing wireless operators to find ways to handle the traffic. The number of mobile broadband subscribers reached 600 million at the end of 2010; it should reach five billion by 2016. To support this growth, mobile network capacity will need to increase 20 to 25 times. By supporting the seamless transfer of traffic to advanced, carrier-grade, WiFi access, wherever available, operators can greatly improve the user experience while simultaneously reducing their network costs.
4G with WiFi - changing the wireless game by Mel Yarbrough, Chief Operating Officer, Towerstream With the flexibility to handle voice, data, and video over Internet Protocol, 4G networks are undoubtedly changing the mobile broadband landscape in profound ways. But with mobile data traffic expected to increase 39 times by 2014, and new data hungry smartphones and tablets coming to market in overwhelming numbers, how can next-generation wireless networks keep up with the crushing amount of data being consumed by mobile users? As data hungry mobile devices continue their huge adoption curve, it is becoming clear that carrier class WiFi networks are required as a data-offloading supplement to 4G networks. In fact, as the major carriers continue to build 4G networks, WiFi data offloading will become even more accessible, and the potential for 4G networks to make offloading of lower margin bits will become a reality. According to recent numbers from global research firm IDC, smartphone manufacturers shipped 100.9 million devices worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2010, an 87.2 per cent increase from the 53.9 million units that shipped in the final quarter of 2009. This represents the first time smartphones have surpassed PCs in terms of number of units shipped in a quarter, and Google’s Eric Schmidt recently predicted that PC sales would not catch up. According to Schmidt, “the phone is the new PC” and he identified the smartphone as representing the future of games, productivity, apps, and more. Further contributing to the strain on wireless networks is the increasing market penetration of tablets devices. In fact, Yankee Group expects over 63 million tablets to be in use by 2015. Moreover, Google’s Android OS has recently experienced rapid growth, powering every significant device launched at this year's Mobile World Congress and rivalling Apple’s iOS platform for market leadership. Demonstrating its wide user adoption, Google says it is now activating over 300,000 Android-powered devices each day, with 170 total devices on the market. It is apparent that the wireless industry is evolving to a point where consumers expect seamless access to the Internet regardless of device, and it is only a matter of time before Internet-enabled mobile devices are ubiquitous. This rapid penetration of data-hungry smartphones and tablets is already having a significant effect on network loads, and as mobile devices continue to increase in numbers, networks will become even more congested. For example, according to Cisco, a smartphone generates about 24 times more data on a wireless network than a standard feature phone, whereas a tablet generates a staggering 122 times more data consumption than a basic feature phone. To cope with these expected increases in mobile data traffic, the major wireless carriers are investing billions of dollars in 3G and 4G network infrastructure. However, these investments are not anticipated to fully relieve the current strain on wireless networks in congested areas with high levels of mobile broadband usage. Verizon has reported that its LTE upgrade will increase data capacity by four times, but mobile data consumption is expected to grow at a much faster rate -- as much as 39 times by 2014, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index. More strikingly, Huawei, a Chinese telecom provider, expects the global level of mobile data traffic to rise 500 times by 2020. As such, it should be clear that current 3G and 4G networks by themselves are not sufficient to handle this staggering increase in data consumption. WiFi momentum According to Deloitte, the volume of data uploaded or downloaded from mobile devices via public WiFi networks will grow by 25-50 percent in 2011 - much faster than the growth of data carried over cellular broadband networks during this same time. Video is the major driver of this data traffic growth, as users are consuming an ever-increasing amount of video with smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. In fact, Deloitte predicts that WiFi is likely to become the default network for video applications. As recently as four years ago, WiFi enabled handsets did not have critical mass. However, the introduction of the iPhone disrupted the wireless industry and WiFi is now ubiquitous in mobile devices coming to market. More recently, WiFi has become essential to the user experience for smartphones and tablets. And since an increasing number of smartphone and tablet applications run only on a WiFi connection, access to a fast and reliable WiFi network is becoming imperative for smartphone users. As a result, devices and carriers will need access to reliable WiFi networks to offer consumers a more complete user experience. The proliferation of WiFi hot zones as well as seamless hand-off capabilities between networks and devices are contributing factors to the expected increase in WiFi usage over the coming year. In fact, a pilot WiFi program in Manhattan has demonstrated the incredible demand for a carrier class WiFi network from users of smartphones and other connected devices in highly congested areas. As this WiFi initiative moves into its next phase this year, we believe it will be the fastest portable network in Manhattan. Furthermore, WiFi growth will also likely be driven by the transition from ‘all-you-can-eat’ mobile data plans to ones with a capped monthly usage. For instance, one hour of streaming video at 500 kb/s would eat up the entire allowance of a monthly data plan capped at 200 megabytes. Also, in anticipation of a crush of new iPhone users on its network, Verizon recently announced plans to penalize its heaviest data users with reduced throughput speeds for the current and following billing cycles. Policies like these will encourage consumers to migrate to WiFi networks instead of facing the prospect of data speeds grinding to a halt. WiFi offloading It is clear that WiFi data offloading has the potential to become a cost-effective and easily accessible solution for the major wireless carriers to relieve the crushing strain on their networks from high volume mobile broadband users. However, there are some potential roadblocks that must be resolved before WiFi offloading is widely adopted. While it is apparent that WiFi offloading is a solution that will move the needle on the data congestion problem, there must be a seamless mechanism for mobile providers to transfer data from their broadband networks to WiFi. End users should not have to authenticate their handsets manually or be forced to log on to a WiFi network. Instead, user data should be seamlessly pushed from the carrier to the device, with the carrier doing the legwork of interacting with the web of networks on the back-end without any need for activity by the end user. Simplicity is key, and helping to bolster the argument of WiFi offloading as an effective model is the fact that most smartphones are equipped with automatic login capabilities with WiFi access already configured. For example, Extensible Authentication Protocol (or EAP) is a very elegant solution for carriers to seamlessly hand off devices to a WiFi network. WiFi and cellular broadband The mobile Internet revolution is the biggest disruption the wireless industry has seen in decades. As mobile data traffic continues its exponential growth, it is crucial for wireless operators to figure out a sustainable solution to support this traffic. While the number of mobile broadband subscribers reached 600 million at the end of 2010, it is expected to almost double this year to a billion and climb to five billion in 2016. To support this staggering growth, it has been estimated that mobile network capacity will need to increase 20 to 25 times. The battle between cellular broadband and WiFi should not be viewed as a zero-sum game; instead both models can be winners. In order to continue to offer customers exceptional service, mobile providers must offer a range of wireless and wireline technologies and help their customers tap into the appropriate mix to suit their particular needs. The goal for carriers should be to make the entire connected experience as seamless as possible for consumers through both next-generation broadband networks and WiFi deployments.