Dawn M. Hogh has served as Veraz Networks’ Vice President, Marketing, since November 2007. Prior to Veraz, Ms Hogh held executive positions at OpVista, Inc., Ciena Corp, Kestrel Solutions, Lumenaré Networks, and various engineering and marketing leadership roles at Lucent Technologies. Dawn graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI with a BA Economics and MS Industrial and Operations Engineering.
Mobile networks are becoming strained under the impact of increasing numbers of users and the huge growth in bandwidth intensive applications such as social networking over smartphones. Service providers must proactively manage both bandwidth and capacity to avoid their mobile broadband networks being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of traffic. Options that service providers need to consider if they are to continue to deliver carrier-class performance include further build out of networks, bandwidth optimization and improving mobile backhaul interconnection.
In the past few years, we have seen a surge in the growth of social networking, not just for personal use but also at the enterprise level. This increase in enterprise usage will accelerate the already strong growth of social networks, driving the expansion of the physical networks that serve them, the software that controls them, and the applications that run on them. At the same time, the number of mobile users has also increased. The combination of increasing number of users, and bandwidth-intensive applications, like social networking via smartphones, is putting a strain on mobile networks. While social networks are not the only contributor to the bandwidth and capacity issues facing mobile service providers, their contribution to the bandwidth problem can be easily missed because the links and downloads passing virally through social networks can be hard to quantify. For the service provider, its mobile broadband network must deliver the same quality of experience for data transfers and file uploading and downloading that the subscriber experiences over fixed networks – whether traditional circuit-switched or IP broadband networks. Subscribers expect the same quality of experience regardless of whether they are using their PCs with a wired connection, laptop with a 3G connection or a smartphone, which has lower bandwidth and a smaller screen. Most of the major social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) have full featured mobile applications for smartphones which also raise user expectations for a quality experience. Therefore, as the number of mobile users increase, service providers must offer ‘carrier-class’ performance to any device and across any network. In order to do this, the service providers must proactively manage both bandwidth and capacity. How social networks are changing service provider requirements In order to better understand the impact of social networks on service provider networks – whether fixed or mobile – one has to first take a look at the growth rates for various social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Corbett (2010) of iStrategylabs reported in January that Facebook had a 145 per cent growth in just one year up from 42 million US users to 103 million users in 2009. The agency has been tracking Facebook’s growth since October 2007, at which time it only had 20 million US users. Walsh (2010a) of Online Media Daily further reports that in January 2010 alone Facebook added yet another 5 million US users. He also took a look at Facebook’s growth worldwide to find that it has more than doubled the number of users from 150 million to 350 million (Walsh, 2010b). While the number of Facebook users is impressive, the exchange of content is even more so. According to Cutler (2010) of VentureBeat, users of Facebook share 5 billion pieces of content every week, post over 60 million status updates per day, and upload 3 billion new photos every month. These astounding numbers are just statistics for a single social site. Other social network sites such as Twitter and YouTube are also experiencing rapid growth. Lardinois (2010a, 2010b) of ReadWriteWeb reported that despite slower growth for Twitter, users are actually more active and its international footprint has increased, including in some emerging markets. In fact, Twitter actually processes over 1 billion tweets per month (‘Twitter: Now more than’ 2010). For YouTube, Yarow and Angelova (2010) of Business Insider found the growth to be staggering with 12 billion video views during November of 2009, which was up 137 per cent year over year. Along with the growth in social sites comes the growth in users accessing these sites through mobile phones. According to a recent study by Ruder Finn, more people are using the mobile web to socialize (91 per cent) compared to the 79 per cent of desktop users who do the same (Perez, 2010). Facebook just passed the 100 million mobile users mark (Cutler, 2010). Forrester Research also reported in the third quarter of 2009 that in only six months the number of users accessing social networking sites doubled (Butcher, 2009). Most social networking sites also have the equivalent in email capabilities, which many use in place of regular email communication on smartphones. In fact, 43 per cent of people in the US using the mobile web connect with friends on social networking sites, 40 per cent share content with others, and 38 per cent share photos (Perez, 2010). Furthermore, Google recently added Google Buzz which provides social networking capabilities and is accessible via mobile devices. All of this gives rise to a considerable increase in mobile traffic and consequently will exacerbate the issues of available bandwidth on a service provider’s mobile broadband network. Another issue to take into consideration is that many emerging markets do not yet have broadband access; however, when they do get access and start to use social networks, the increased number of users will put a further strain on network capacity. For emerging regions that have broadband networks, mobile access is already higher than wired access. According to Gartner (2009), in the very near future the number of mobile users will soar to an even higher level with the Indian mobile subscriber base alone set to exceed 771 million connections by 2013. Gartner (2010) predicts that by 2014, there will be a 90 per cent mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion mobile connections. End-users expect their service providers to duplicate the PC quality of experience across devices and networks on their smartphones. However, experience to date as well as the continued growth in usage points to mobile broadband networks being overwhelmed by the sheer number of current and future users. Service provider alternatives What can service providers do to manage bandwidth and capacity issues to ensure quality user experience and avoid a repeat of AT&T’s iPhone bandwidth problems? Choices include continuing to build out their networks, optimizing their bandwidth and improving their mobile backhaul interconnection. Service providers can continue building out their networks, including upgrading to LTE. However, this carries a large price tag and also is a lengthy process. AT&T’s capital expenditures on its wireless network from 2006 through September 2009 totalled about US$21.6 billion, compared with US$25.4 billion for Verizon and US$16 billion for Sprint (including Sprint’s investments in WiMAX operator Clearwire). Although the carriers will keep spending on network upgrades, this is the most expensive method and carriers are looking for other methods to limit the large outflow of capital expenditures. Also, there are concerns over available real estate, which is not infinite, and increased operating and capital expenditures to develop and maintain the network. In short, this option may be economical in the long term, but operators would be well-served to explore and implement shorter term solutions which have a much shorter payback period. One alternative would be to improve upon the existing network. Most mobile backhaul networks were not built to handle much more than voice services. Service providers had not anticipated the data and video explosion, and thus did not develop backhaul networks to transport the traffic driven by the bandwidth-intensive services of today. Subsequently, this has led to a growing need for more backhaul capacity to accommodate the sheer number of subscribers simultaneously in a cell site and sending/receiving traffic across the network. This will likely involve upgrading backhaul networks to carrier Ethernet and WiMAX; again, neither option is a short-term solution. Bandwidth optimization is one solution to avoid repeating the AT&T iPhone problem. By utilizing bandwidth optimization, service providers can compress the traffic traveling across networks and minimize consumption. This delivers transport cost savings for operators, but more importantly, delivers the quality of experience that users expect, thereby driving more usage and more users. Bandwidth optimization can also be applied beyond the backhaul to the rest of a service provider’s network. Be pro-active not re-active It is clear that social networks have grown dramatically over the last few years and will continue to expand both with computer and mobile phone users. Simultaneously, growth in the usage of mobile devices is also on the rise. Thus, it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ will both of these expansions put a burden on existing broadband networks and force service providers to solve network capacity challenges. Rather than fall into the iPhone trap, service providers must explore solutions now that can optimize their network bandwidth while ensuring quality of user experience, thereby retaining customers and driving increased usage of their networks. References Butcher, D. (2009, October 19). Mobile social networking blowing up: Forrester. Mobile Marketer. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/research/4458.html Corbett, P. (2010, January 4). Facebook demographics and statistics report 2010 – 145 per cent growth in 1 year. iStrategyLabs blog. VentureBeat. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.istrategylabs.com/2010/01/facebook-demographics-and-statistics-report-2010-145-growth-in-1-year/ Cutler, K. (2010, February 8). Shared content on Facebook surges fivefold from seven months ago. DigitalBeat. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://digital.venturebeat.com/2010/02/08/facebook-shares/ Cutler, K. (2010, February 10). More than 100 million people use Facebook through mobile devices. MobileBeat. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://mobile.venturebeat.com/2010/02/10/facebook-mobile/ Gartner. (2009, June 18). Gartner predicts India mobile services market to reach US#30 billion by 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1026812 Gartner. (2010, January 13). Gartner highlights key predictions for IT organizations and users in 2010 and beyond. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1278413 Lardinois, F. (2010a, January 19). Twitter’s growth slows dramatically. ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twitters_growth_slows_down_dramatically.php Lardinois, F. (2010b, January 14). Twitter’s growth slows dramatically. ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twitter_international_growth_stats_for_brazil_germany_indonesia.php Perez, S. (2010, February 18) Social Networking Now More Popular on Mobile than Desktop ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/social_networking_now_more_popular_on_mobile_than_desktop.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: per cent20readwriteweb per cent20(ReadWriteWeb)&utm_content=Google per cent20Feedfetcher Twitter: Now more than 1 billion tweets per month. (2010, February 10). Royal Pingdom. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://royal.pingdom.com/2010/02/10/twitter-now-more-than-1-billion-tweets-per-month/ Walsh, M. (2010a, February 1). Facebook starts 2010 with strong U.S. growth. Online Media Daily. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=121679 Walsh, M. (2010b, January 21). comScore: Facebook Numbers Up Across The Board. Online Media Daily. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=121053 Yarow, J., & Angelova, K. (2010, January 7). Chart of the day: YouTube’s staggering growth continues. Business Insider. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-youtube-vs-its-competitors-2010-1