The RAN Congestion Solutions Market Just Got Congested

David Snow
David Snow
  • Widely different and non-standardized solutions are being proposed to solve the problem of radio access network congestion both from the device and network sides
  • The fact that these solutions are being actively sought by carriers show the importance they now attach to keep individual customers from churning

The last couple of weeks have seen a surge in the number of solutions and proposals being put forward to solve the problem of radio access network congestion impacting user experience. Of course, network congestion has long been a problem in mobile networks and there are many standard interfaces, network intelligence and analytics companies and solutions involved in helping minimize it. The focus on customer experience management over the past few years has also provided added impetus and, notwithstanding the vaunted capacity claims of the next generation of radio access, network congestion will likely always be with us to some degree or other. However, there’s now evidence of some “out of the box” thinking going on by vendors close to the action, and what’s especially interesting, is that they are tackling the problem from widely different angles.

  • Ericsson’s recent work with SoftBank demonstrated the ability of “mobility-based” policy to improve performance in Tokyo’s busy hour, debuting a new two-way interface between the company’s Service-Aware Policy Controller (SAPC) and its SGSN-MME. It’s quite some time since a new PCRF interface has been proposed, but this one endows the policy controller with an enhanced ability to orchestrate an individual user’s real-time experience using real-time location information too onerous to send over existing standard interfaces.
  • Procera’s recently released “RAN Perspectives” solution took the company out of its network intelligence homeland in providing a SIM-based applet which may be pre-loaded or delivered OTA to mobile devices feeding device location information straight back to Procera’s network platform. Compared with Ericsson’s solution, it’s only one way and passive, but the objective is the same; to get a real-time, per-user location perspective on performance.
  • Nokia’s blog on “Network Knowledge for Apps” takes a slightly different approach, not focusing directly on the user experience, but in helping their proxies, the user’s device apps, choose the optimum time to access the network based on network conditions. The user’s apps are enabled to exchange network status information with a proposed Nokia “Network Knowledge” server. It’s two-way and active, and although not actually real-time, the objective is the same; to give a user a better experience in the face of radio access network congestion.

So what can be drawn from this sudden flurry of solutions which don’t rely on the customary set of base station hooks, standard interfaces and network probes?

Firstly, operators seem to be feeling the pain to the degree that, according to Current Analysis’ conversations with industry players, these solutions are being “pulled” from, rather than “pushed” by, the vendor community. Despite all the extra bandwidth provided by 4G networks, it’s never enough to go round and the competitive stakes in retaining individual customers suffering from poor QoE are just as high, if not higher, than ever before.

Secondly, that whatever solution is adopted, “real-time” really means real time (not 15 minutes later) and “individual” really mean just that (not a group of customers designated “VIP” or “premium” in the policy controller’s dataplan). What operators are looking to do is to provide a truly personalized, real-time experience for each of their customers to stop them from literally walking away from their networks.

Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most significant for the industry, operators are more and more willing to adopt non-standardized solutions and interfaces. The fact is that industry standards-based solutions are proving just too slow and cumbersome in the real world, despite their attraction in terms of multi-vendor interoperability etc. It seems that more and more operators are becoming willing to put up with some degree of vendor lock-in to keep their customers from churning through network congestion problems; it’s that serious.

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