Traffic Shaping Coming to a Mobile Network Near You

By the end of 2013 almost all (97 percent) of mobile operators will deploy some type of traffic shaping technology to manage demand for mobile broadband, up from 47 percent today, according to a white paper issued today by Volubill. The same white paper declared that in addition to traffic shaping, carriers would elect to use Wi-Fi or femtocell offload to help with demand — with the choices varying from operator to operator.
Volubill, which makes a traffic shaping product, conducted the research in conjunction with Telesperience, a research firm. The results aren’t surprising to those who read our blog, but could act as a wake up call for consumers and regulators who might be unsure as to what the rhetoric about increased demand for mobile broadband and a lack of some type of network neutrality rules or viable mobile competition on wireless networks will mean.
It appears that while there is a profit motive, or rather an attempt to bridge the revenue gap created as the usage of data increases faster than the sales gained from the rise in usage, that engineering is also driving the consideration of the solutions, as opposed to just the business departments.

However, only 3 percent of those surveyed were motivated by a desire to meet customer needs with most focusing on the business case associated with traffic shaping. So perhaps it’s no wonder that for most customers seeing the end of unlimited plans and faced with alternatives, are not keen to embrace practices that cost them more, without offering a perception of value.
According to the survey 67 percent of the telecom experts surveyed cite making better use of the network as their main motivation for adopting traffic shaping and traffic offloading strategies, while 60 percent are managing a capacity gap until more network infrastructure can be built out. Half plan to adopt these strategies to maintain quality of service (QoS) for customers. Usage-based pricing is the most commonly used traffic shaping technique, with 43 percent currently using and a further 10 percent planning to. For more on what operators plan to implement, see the chart below:

Prioritization by service type, such as allowing email and web-based traffic through, but not streaming video, was cited by the largest number of operators, 37 percent, as the form of QoS differentiation being investigated most. Prioritization by user type, such as creating different plans for different types of users, was indicated as the second most investigated form of service differentiation to be utilized, with 23 percent of operators indicating they are investigating its use, up from 3 percent currently.
And when optimization and traffic shaping aren’t enough, operators plan on resorting to offload, with a third using Wi-Fi at 33 percent. Another 30 percent are using femtocells, which act as a personal cell tower in the home and is hooked into a user’s home broadband line. Another 27 percent are investigating their use, but the survey cautions that actions such as implementing caps on wireline broadband could hurt adoption of femtocells by consumers.

The survey drives home how the world of mobile broadband is changing, in response to both rising demand and also to continue compensating operators at the level they are accustomed to from the days of voice lines and expensive data. As these sorts of policies around offloading and pricing play out, competition in the industry will be needed to ensure that carriers don’t implement these techniques as a method of gouging the consumer.