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Mobile Traffic Shaping : the key to success for GPRS services

By Liron Langer, President and CEO of CellGlide

GPRS is here to stay. Operators are now using their existing 2.5G network infrastructures to generate immediate revenues, enabling both enterprise and consumer users to benefit from advanced mobile data services now. Applications such as wireless point of sale, utility command and control and the highly profitable priority access services can be run over GPRS networks for enterprise users. Also, operators are pursuing new business models with content providers to build revenue-sharing models for high quality content for consumers. For these services, operators need the delivery of predictable, reliable user experience and guaranteed performance. CellGlide, a leading provider of telco-grade Mobile Traffic Shaping solutions for mobile data networks, explains how Mobile Traffic Shaping resolves the challenges facing operators today while providing an avenue to highly-profitable range of innovating mobile data services.

Traffic Shaping is not a new concept in telecommunications world, but one that offers a solution for many of the problems affecting current user experience. Until recently traffic shaping was used only for conventional landline communications. CellGlide, with its innovative GPRS Mobile Traffic Shaper™ (MTS) has become the recognized leader applying traffic shaping to the wireless sector. Operators are not only turning to MTS to improve Quality of Service and Experience, but also to enable them to launch an array of additional services which generate immediate revenue.

All mobile data users are already familiar with dropped sessions, low bit rates and high delays. The major cause of these problems is a combination of limited cell capacity and the bursty nature of mobile data services. Since data traffic is forecast to increase significantly in the next few years with GPRS and ultimately 3G services moving to the mainstream, a solution needs to be found to prevent mobile from becoming a white elephant, unable to provide a reliable level of service to any type of user.

Industry analysts predict that more than 700 million subscribers will use mobile data services by 2005 and communications giants including Nokia, Panasonic, Ericsson and Siemens are increasingly focusing on marketing GPRS-capable devices. The role of mobile data services as an important component of operators’ strategies is becoming ever more evident. If mobile operators are to grow their businesses, increase their profits and remain competitive, they need to be able to offer and deliver mobile data services that satisfy customer expectations. This will in turn enable them to enlarge their user base and take advantage of their existing infrastructures to create new revenue streams. As such internal and external pressures mount, it is critical for operators to find efficient and cost-effective means of delivering new mobile data services.

The key to success for GPRS services is user experience. If GPRS services are to succeed and operators are to be able to generate revenues from existing infrastructures immediately with 3G-like services and priority access applications, user experience must be controlled and guaranteed. Ultimately, a good level of user experience will define whether or not mobile operators are able to move from launch to sustainable service profitability. Given that mobile subscribers are unlikely to provide operators with a second chance, the need to control GPRS quality is all too apparent.

However, finding some means of facilitating predictable and reliable GPRS performance is already renowned as the ‘holy grail’ for operators of mobile data networks. The variables are many – location, device, surrounding traffic load, required traffic type, etc. Managing all the variables in real time, to meet user needs on demand, has historically proved impossible. Cell resource management and performance has, to date, been based on partial statistics as opposed to real time monitoring. These statistics are not accurate measurements of ‘per cell’ and ‘per application’ activity and operators are unable to reliably base cell resource management decisions on such data. They do not take into consideration the ‘one off’ demands of real-life mobile data traffic – and without this ‘reality check’, any steps to guarantee user experience are all but meaningless. With the CellGlide solution, operators benefit from an ‘intelligent network,’ one that offers information in real time and greatly enhances cell resource management decisions.

There are several considerations that need to be taken into account when offering mobile data services:

  • The means to control user experience and meet subscribers’ expectations on peak conditions
  • The ability to differentiate GPRS performance, enabling delivery of Priority Access applications
  • The availability of tools to ensure adequate visibility of the user experience and for GPRS radio dimensioning
  • The need to generate immediate ROI from existing investment in infrastructure etc

Mobile Traffic Shaping (MTS) provides a real and immediate solution to these issues.

The MTS concept is essentially that of deconstructing data traffic into individual applications, and dynamically allocating cell resources in real-time, per application, thereby supporting the desired user experience. Traffic shaping is oriented via an MTS service node, installed alongside the core network. The node is non-intrusive to the core of the network, and therefore can easily be implemented without interfering with normal network operations. Adding intelligence on top of existing networks, the node provides operators with an ideal, network-ready solution.

Mobile Traffic Shaping has already proved to be beneficial for interactive services - MTS can deliver significant reductions in the delay experienced by users. For example, in tests conducted by CellGlide with leading operators, the MTS service node led to a reduction in delay from 14 seconds to just 6 seconds for a typical WAP request based upon 2 concurrent downloads in 1 time slot. Similarly, for a WAP request based upon 3 concurrent downloads in 1 time slot, delay was reduced from a lengthy 22 seconds, to a far more user-friendly 6 seconds. Jitter associated with rich media streaming and bit-rate reduction (for example, due to radio interference) is also alleviated by the use of the MTS service node.

Mobile Traffic Shaping therefore enables operators to successfully launch and maintain their mobile data services whilst, at the same time, significantly increasing up-front ROI. The solution optimises existing network performance so ensuring QoS and QoE and therefore, ultimately, determining the success or otherwise of mass GPRS services. For those operators who have been wary of investing too heavily in GPRS services, Mobile Traffic Shaping represents a fresh take on this notoriously tricky area of service provision, offering a key benefit in the crowded and competitive marketplace, where operators are constantly on the lookout for new and more efficient ways to boost their bottom line.

Operators attempting to control GPRS services must first understand that some applications require far greater GPRS performance reliability and predictability than others. For priority access services such as wireless POS, industrial control and command, real-time data feeds to mobile devices and ‘push-to-talk,’ GPRS differentiation mechanisms are essential to successful introduction and smooth running.

Another crucial factor is network visibility; after all, it’s not easy to demonstrate clear improvement on what has not been accurately measured in the first place. GPRS networks currently lack visibility and predictability about actual user experience - both per application and per cell. For successful GPRS services, improving visibility by means of, for example, application-level key performance indicators, periodic quality of experience reports and real-time application-level service quality alerts, is critical.

Mobile Traffic Shaping also helps here. Once the MTS service node is installed, network operators are able to control enforcement of their operator policy rules by dynamically allocating necessary cell resources to the different applications. They are also able to efficiently accommodate Priority Access GPRS applications whilst monitoring actual GPRS cell resource utilisation and GPRS Quality of Experience, per application per cell. IP bearer services are provided with a QoS gateway, and cell-aware adaptation of transport protocols (TCP, WAP) is facilitated.

The MTS service node includes passive monitoring on signalling interfaces and traffic shaping on the IP side. This means that operators are able to enjoy all the benefits of Mobile Traffic Shaping with minimal integration risk. Importantly, CellGlide’s MTS solution also necessitates no upgrade for existing network elements.

Increasing ROI is also a high priority for operators still reeling from the extortionate prices paid for 3G licenses. It is here that the Mobile Traffic Shaper can launch and support a host of GPRS-based mobile data services for both consumer and corporate critical applications. CellGlide’s latest Mobile Traffic Shaping application, the CellGlide GPRS PA ManagerÔ enables mobile operators to leverage their existing network infrastructures to generate instant revenue streams from priority access applications such as command and control, real-time data feeds, wireless backup lines, ‘push to talk’ and point of sale solutions.

To date, providing these priority access applications has presented a major challenge to GPRS networks: the applications require the assurance of high service availability rates and short delays as well as guaranteed bandwidth. Without mechanisms to differentiate and control GPRS service at cell level, operators have had little option in their bid to provide reliable, predictable and billable services, aside from over-dimensioning GPRS channels, which is an impractical approach. Differentiating GPRS service levels is the key to making sure that mission-critical applications are delivered first – and charged for accordingly.

If you take point of sale solutions as an example of a priority access application with very high ‘immediacy’ and reliability requirements, the benefits of MTS are clear. Take, for example, the needs of a lottery operator, with sales staff selling lottery tickets from dispersed locations, hoping to maximise ticket sales right up until the draw takes place and concerned to ensure that sales details are securely transmitted to their central office. The satellite connections currently in use are extremely costly; by contrast, MTS represents an extremely cost-efficient means of achieving this over existing networks. For operators seeking to extend their offering by providing such priority access applications, MTS gives them the capability to do so; operators already involved in provision of these services are able to offer a far more attractive pricing structure.

A simple conclusion can therefore be made: for applications that dynamically change between interactive mode and download, given the benefits that it provides, Mobile Traffic Shaping should be a basic requirement for network operators. Cell-aware Mobile Traffic Shaping enables operators to manage cell resources extremely efficiently, allocating a ‘virtual pipe’ in each cell per traffic flow. The pipe’s resources are dynamically allocated based upon two crucial criteria - application characteristics and operator policies. This means that delay sensitive traffic can be prioritised; yet bandwidth for rate-sensitive traffic remains consistent; excessive traffic flows can be queued; service levels differentiated; and cell resources optimised.

With operators focusing increasingly on mobile data service provision over the next few years (Vodafone aims to generate 20% of its revenues from mobile data services by the end of 2004), Quality of Service and a guaranteed user experience are going to continue to be critical in guaranteeing GPRS data service success. CellGlide’s GPRS MTS service node has been developed in conjunction with operators, carriers and analysts, and is designed to address all the common issues of data traffic outlined above.

CellGlide’s MTSgives one, ready-to-install answer to the mobile industry – and if Mobile Data is to fulfil its promise and become a viable revenue stream for operators, Mobile Traffic Shaping should be an essential element of every mobile data network build-out.

For more information, please contact:
Liron Langer: info@cellglide.com

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