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Why Service Providers need to prepare for the ‘new normal’ and how they can do it

- June 14, 2012 11:55 am

If you were following the release of Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecast earlier this month, you would know mobile traffic growth is set to explode over the next five years. And while the trend itself might not be surprising, the extent of that mobile traffic growth certainly exceeded many of our expectations.

In Canada, mobile traffic is expected to grow 20-fold from 2011 to 2016, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 83 per cent. This growth rate even outpaces the global average, which VNI expects to increase 18-fold by 2016.

Not surprisingly, this trend is being driven by smartphone usage.

The VNI forecast predicts that the average Canadian smartphone device will generate 1.7 gigabytes of mobile data traffic per month in 2016. That’s an increase of 1,484 per cent from the 110 megabytes of mobile traffic the average device generates in typical month today.

With Canadian mobile data traffic growing four times faster than fixed Internet traffic over the next five years – also driven by the increased usage of next-generation applications on smartphones and tablets – it is clear future networks will have to support a mobile Internet like never before.

For Service Providers (SPs), the challenges are numerous, but certainly not insurmountable.

We want to help SPs address spectrum requirements, manage traffic growth and monetize and differentiate their mobile offerings. As Nick Adamo, the senior vice-president of Cisco’s global service provider market, said at this month’s Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, SPs will need to “integrate smaller cell architectures” to scale their future networks for the mobile Internet and manage the incoming data deluge.  

The key to building the foundation for Canada’s next-generation mobile networks is an elastic architecture that can react to the unpredictable peaks and valleys of mobile Internet traffic. This will be the “new normal” for SPs.

Earlier this month, we supported this new approach to the core network by introducing the industry’s first Elastic Packet Core in our new Cisco ASR 5500 Series platform. The new platform brings together signaling, data, in-line services and policy and charging control under one roof.

Cisco’s elastic mobile architecture allows applications to intelligently scale up or down to meet an SPs processing requirements. Plus, the ability to auto-size existing network resources to handle changing network behaviour and usage patterns will be able to power 3G, 4G, 4G long-term evolution (LTE) and Wi-Fi mobile networks for years to come.

In 2011 alone, Canada’s mobile data traffic grew 158 per cent from the previous year. And as the VNI report suggests, much of this growth is being driven by streaming video services and high bandwidth applications.

This growth, when coupled with the non-uniform nature of mobile Internet demand, means peaks of demand in certain hotspots can quickly exceed cell capacity. Take, for example, any major sporting event or music concert, where thousands of spectators are tweeting and sharing pictures with the world at the same time.

As these changes in the use of mobile networks increased, the challenge for SPs and network architects is to become more elastic and flexible. Only then can SPs keep up with the surging demand and grow new services into the future.

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