Mobile operators look to Wi-Fi to offload surging traffic: Ovum

Australian mobile networks not yet as 'over-burdened' as other countries, says analyst.

Carriers should take a more serious look at Wi-Fi offloading to handle surging mobile broadband traffic, said Ovum, citing results from its global survey. However, the situation may not be as dire in Australia as other countries.

More carriers are thinking about how to offload traffic, but there’s more work to be done. “Even though Wi-Fi offload is now being included in the majority of infrastructure strategy plans, today's carrier-grade solutions do not fully meet operators' needs," said Ovum.

“Just a few years ago, if one was to ask mobile operators about Wi-Fi, their responses would most likely have been negative, but this has long changed with rising concerns around how to manage the growth of mobile broadband," said Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar. “Now the issue is how best to build up sufficient network resources to manage Wi-Fi offload.”

In Australia, offloading mobile traffic to Wi-Fi is not yet urgent, Ovum analyst Nicole McCormick told Computerworld Australia. “Unlike markets such as Japan and South Korea, mobile networks in Australia are not over-burdened to the same degree by data traffic, resulting from flat-rate data pricing,” she said.

“For now, Australian operators will be contemplating how to best increase their existing, limited public Wi-Fi hotspots for data offload.

“Operator hotspots are extremely limited and there are no third-party providers of extensive Wi-Fi assets for leasing.”

The Communications Alliance released a paper on 28 May discussing public Wi-Fi issues affecting the Australian industry. “Public Wi-Fi networks have long been available throughout office environments and public areas such as airports and shopping centres for use as either a free or commercial service for mobile workers, travellers and shoppers,” the Alliance’s Public Wi-Fi Networks Group chair, Rob Haylock, wrote in the paper.

Public Wi-Fi networks “appear likely to play a larger role in the national ‘connectivity matrix’ in years to come,” he said. “The technical, regulatory and planning guidelines for Public Wi-Fi networks are, however, not as well defined in Australia as they are for mobile networks.”

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association chair, Warwick Bray, recently cited exploding data usage as a major issue for the industry growing forward.

“The dominant factors remain the rise of smartphones and tablets coupled with strong growth in mobile data demand particularly via mobile broadband usage,” Bray said. “In short, the industry faces the challenge of meeting unprecedented consumer demand for advanced mobile services, such as mobile broadband which is driving huge growth in mobile data traffic.”

The international Ovum survey showed “many operators are still looking for features not currently available on a large scale". About half expect session continuity moving between Wi-Fi and cellular networks, while 90 per cent want devices that can automatically select the best network based on cost, performance and other variables, according to the survey.

Most operators plan to work with other hotspot providers to expand their Wi-Fi network, and they seem unworried about third-party networks’ security, Ovum said.

“Operators are willing to work with what they call ‘untrusted’ or ‘non-controlled’ Wi-Fi networks. For example, free public networks that aren't controlled by an operator, such as those found at hotels or libraries,” Ovum said. “Less than half of the operators surveyed said their companies were taking any measure to evaluate application performance before allowing those applications to access their networks.”

Few operators plan to deploy Automatic Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF) and Hotspot 2.0 before they are fully standardised, Ovum said.

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