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Nearly all western cellcos will adopt traffic shaping by 2013

Broadband operators, and in particular mobile operators, are increasingly looking to sweeten the pill of tiered data charging by tying fees to quality

By PETER WHITE

Published: 7 April, 2011

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Broadband operators, and in particular mobile operators, are increasingly looking to sweeten the pill of tiered data charging by tying fees to quality of service, time of day or even application, rather than just using the sledgehammer per-Gbyte approach. To identify different traffic types in this granular way, they are investing heavily in traffic shaping tools, and by the end of 2013 a huge 97% of cellcos in developed markets will have deployed them in some form – up from 47% today.

Admittedly, this research, by Telesperience, was commissioned by a Volubill, which has a traffic shaping product itself, and covers only north America and western Europe, but it still throws up some interesting points which are echoed by many cellcos in their strategy plans.

There are various motives for investing in traffic management and its alter ego, mobile data offload. The reason cited most commonly – by 67% of respondents – was to make more efficient use of their networks to meet growing data demand, while 60% are focused on the shorter term view of managing a capacity gap which they see as temporary, until they can build out new infrastructure, often 4G networks. About half say that maintaining quality of service is a motivator.

Among the approaches to tiered pricing, conventional usage-based structures are most common, and are already in use with 43% of the carriers, while a further 10% are considering supporting them. After that comes basic time-based tariffs, in use by 30% and under evaluation by 10%; and then use of the new tools for simple enforcement of fair usage clauses or data caps (27% and 20%). After that, in order of adoption, come throttling (lowering data rates once a user exceeds a data limit); prioritization by service type; and rate limiting. All these are already in use with over 15% of carriers and considered by at least 15% more.

More minority options include differentiated QoS propositions and dynamic tariffs according to network load – only in place at 7% apiece, since they are seen as more complex and experimental tactics, but arousing considerable interest among operators. A full 53% of them are evaluating differentiated QoS in the next few years. Finally 3% are prioritizing by user type and 3% on an ad hoc basis.

In the QoS category, which will see the most enthusiastic levels of new adoption, the most common technique is to prioritize by service type, such as putting email and web traffic through while offloading streamed video. 37% are interested in this. Prioritization by user type, with different plans created for individual subscribers, came next, and 23% are considering that.

For offload, the study says that 20% of the carriers surveyed currently use this tactic, while one-third of operators plan to use Wi-Fi and 30% indoor femtocells backhauled by the users’ broadband lines. Another 27% are investigating femtocells, though introduction of wireline broadband caps by some carriers could impact this strategy.

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