Attended an interesting Mobile Monday event this week which helped connect some stray thoughts.  The theme of the event was “50 Billion Mobile (internet) devices by 2020 – who is going to get rich?”.  One of the points which came up repeatedly was; growth in data consumption is outstripping the growth in data revenues for the mobile operators.  Which means there isn’t a good business case for the operators to invest in the additional capacity to support the data growth.

Something has to give.  There are two main choke points in the mobile data pipes:  radio spectrum, and mobile data backhaul. (piping the data from base-stations back to the internet). It’s expensive to upgrade either of these. Yet people are already complaining bitterly about the cost of mobile data, and the often arbitrary differences in price between receiving the same bits as email, mms or browsing.   LTE may deliver a big leap in bandwidth and an improvement in latency, but at a cost that not many want to pay right now.

Optimization of Mobiles

There have been optimisations of a sort in the mobile data network for many years. These are limited to compression, tcp/ip tuning and content transformation e.g. recoding images at a lower resolution.  An obvious assist is to move to full WAN optimization and deploy data-deduplication techniques. The same techniques that are delivering 90% data reduction in enterprise networks today.   What’s the blocker? well mainly the limitations of the smartphones themselves – de-duplication requires caching;  the more cache, the greater the data reduction. Adding cache adds cost, weight and complexity.  Today it is feasible to deploy these techniques, and indeed Replify is developing proofs-of-concept for smartphones already,  but it’s a squeeze.  However, as always,  Moore’s Law is our friend, and what’s tough to do well today will become easier in 18 months and simple in 3 years.

I think this is a really strong proposition for the mobile operators. Take a load of traffic off the air and backhaul networks,  improve the user experience dramatically, and even get paid for moving bits that didn’t “really” get moved. If the sender and receiver are happy, but almost nothing had actually to be sent, then everyone is a winner.