How Popular Applications Can Impact Mobile Carrier Networks

Next Generation Communications Blog

How Popular Applications Can Impact Mobile Carrier Networks

By: Paula Bernier, TMC Executive Editor

Carriers’ mobile networks are extremely vulnerable to sudden changes in the signaling behavior of popular applications. In fact, Patrick McCabe, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Alcatel-Lucent, devolves into this subject in some detail in a recent blog, Google’s power to impact network signaling.  In fact, while Google Cloud Messages provide an example in the blog, the companies recent Mobile Device Report goes into the topic regarding the impact of the top mobile apps on signaling in greater detail.

Google Cloud Messaging for Android, according to the search giant, is a service that allows data to be sent from the App Engine or other backends to users’ Android-powered devices. That could involve the transmission of a lightweight push notification telling an Android application that there is new data to be accessed from the server (like a movie uploaded by a friend) or a message containing up to 4kb of payload data (so apps like IM can consume the message directly).

Such apps and interactions, however, can have a notable and negative impact on both mobile networks and the endpoints connected to them, according to McCabe. And, in the case of Google Cloud Messaging for Android there is ample evidence it already has.

The study by Alcatel-Lucent indicated there was a dramatic increase in signaling traffic from Jan. 12 to Feb. 19 due to the Google Cloud Messaging application. That involved a Jan. 12 signaling increase from 17 percent to 20 percent. Then, on Feb. 4, such signaling went from 21 percent to a peak 23 percent. Signaling relative to this Google application returned to expected levels on Feb. 19, according to Alcatel-Lucent, which added that these variations were not due to any increases in active subscribers.

The reason why Alcatel-Lucent is highlighting this is to increase awareness of the challenges for the signaling network and the mobile network at large, as well as a drain on related user endpoints (in this case Android smartphones) that the explosion in applications is causing.

“Although a rise in signaling share from 17 percent to 23 percent on a single application may appear rather innocuous at first, it does have a significant impact on mobile networks,” writes McCabe, based on information derived from Alcatel-Lucent’s the Motive Wireless Network Guardian for mobile network analysis. “During this period of signaling increase, an average erosion of 6 percent in overall signaling capacity was experienced across the networks that were analyzed. This is a costly loss that can place a large strain on radio resources, and it can even cause outages in locations that were already operating close to capacity — or where there was a dominant proportion of Android users.”

Concentration of the impact of the increasingly app-centric use of the network tends to look almost exclusively at traffic in general.  However, in order for all of those apps to work with a high quality of service (QoS) the signaling network needs to be able to understand accommodate the spikes the various types of apps can cause. It is why having network visibility into app impact on signaling is so important. 

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