Smartphones need friendly networks

As mobile broadband connections overtake fixed lines, few telecom networks are prepared to cope with this new wave of mobile data. A combination of always-on applications, mobility, the growth of smartphones and mobile computing devices such as the iPad, will increasingly test operators around the world.

According to the ITU, global mobile broadband subscriptions topped 600 million in 2009.

With mobile broadband, it's always bandwidth, or download speeds, that grab headlines.

Of course, capacity is vital for mobile broadband.

When a single YouTube video is equivalent to half-a-million text messages sent across your network, operators need the capacity to cope. But it is the demands of mobility that really impact the performance of mobile broadband, and therefore determine the experience of people using mobile computers such as the iPad.

That "unlimited data" package is not worth much if the network you are on is not smartphone friendly.

It may help to picture it like this: a typical fixed broadband operator knows where you want your connection. It knows – in fact, it often supplies – the single, approved device such as a wireless router, to get online, and it can predict the traffic across this, literally, fixed network.

Now imagine for a moment if a mobile service provider delivered broadband like fixed. It quickly descends into farce: "What number do you want the broadband line on" they may ask.

"And where exactly do you want the broadband? Ah, you want it to be in different places? Well, it will be active at a site of your choosing within two working days, when you'll also receive our approved 'Mobile Broadband Terminal'…"

It's a caricature, of course, but highlights the phenomenal experience we expect of mobile broadband. Switch on your device, activate an application that requires broadband, and receive a broadband connection. For the user: simple. Nobody contacted to switch on your service, no waiting.

But as you know, this description may not match your current smartphone experience.

To give two very specific examples: If you're using mobile broadband, and your operator does not have a smartphone-friendly network, the experience is either equivalent to unplugging and plugging in a fixed connection to your computer every few seconds, or your battery drains very fast.

Depending on the network they're on, some smartphones automatically turn off their antenna to save battery life as soon as you are not sending or receiving any information, so that the next link you click or the next application that asks for data from the 'cloud', has to establish a new connection. Every time that happens, the network has to check who you are and what services you're entitled to, change your status in its database and allocate you an IP address – all in a split second.

The alternative, however, is for your device to keep its antenna permanently connected to the operator while your browser or application is open. But then your battery drains, fast.

So how can a mobile network eliminate wasted signalling and improve the battery life of smartphones?

The answer: The smartphone needs to be put into an idle state, which means it retains its connection, but switches off its broadband antenna.

As well as doubling battery life in the smartphone, this technology can make signalling more efficient.

 

The writer is head of marketing and communications at Nokia Siemens Networks. The views expressed are his own

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