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Diverting the 3G Data Drain

First there was the iPhone. A truly mobile device aimed at insinuating itself into your personal space and designed not purely or even primarily for voice communications, but to embrace and facilitate our new ‘online’ lifestyle and make it accessible to us wherever we may happen to be, at home, at work/school or anywhere in-between.  Yes, the Blackberry had initiated us to the idea of the ‘always on’ lifestyle, but its professional slant had limited its uptake and impact. In December 2009, AT&T Wireless said that 1% of smartphone customers accounted for 20% of the data drain on its network, while its top 3% were using up 40% and if the iPad takes off as predicted, then this problem will only get more acute for AT&T.

AT&T Wireless is not alone in this predicament though and all mobile operators are facing the same challenges – exponentially increasing levels of bandwidth heavy activities on an increasing number of devices by an ever growing subscriber base.

This issue of increasing levels of data traffic on 3G networks has been further exacerbated by mobile operators promoting such access via 3G dongles and “unlimited” access packages that together encourage users to make full use of data roaming services, just like they do at home. However, the bandwidth greedy activities that constitute normal behaviour at home (namely playing online games, surfing the web, watching videos and TV replays, exchanging photos, IM, VoIP and video conferencing and keeping in touch via a whole host of networking sites [e.g. Facebook and Twitter to name just a few]) are a challenge for mobile operators. New devices are making it easier and easier for people to do all these activities whilst they’re on the move, and this, combined with the aforementioned 3G dongle and unlimited packages, serve to exacerbate the issue of data drain on 3G networks and result in serious degradation of the network performance.

The recent economic crisis means that access to capital is more difficult than in previous years and obtaining the huge levels of investment required in order to upgrade 3G networks sufficiently to cope with existing demand, let alone allowing a margin for growth, is almost impossible. Were it even attempted by mobile operators, any upgrade would cripple profits for the foreseeable future and would require lengthy negotiations just to get the required permissions (e.g. for deploying the extensive networks fiber-optic cabling and getting the additional frequencies required), let alone the time required to physically put the new infrastructure in place.

So, mobile operators are facing harsh choices – raising large quantities of capital with little to no guaranteed return in the short to medium term, raising retail prices and/or limiting customer bandwidth allowances, none of which would be popular with customers or shareholders. There is no escaping the wave of new devices scheduled for release over the coming months and years, nor the enthusiasm of the ‘net generation’ for their ‘online’ lifestyle. Juggling the need for reliable, high quality, high-speed mobile internet access against the cost of providing such a service is therefore be the key task for mobile operators, however there is another, remarkably low-cost solution available which has been largely overlooked up until now; namely to offload 3G data traffic onto WiFi networks.

Within the context of the above situation, Trustive, a leading international WiFi access provider and No 1 in Europe, has already begun researching the possibility of combining multiple technologies (3G, WiFi & WiMAX) in order to be able to offer mobile operators the ability to have a seamless handoff between the different networks, when and where appropriate, so that they can free up and streamline their 3G networks, whilst maintaining a clean end-user experience. Trustive already offers travellers extensive WiFi coverage by combining the hotspot locations of more than 70 leading WiFi operators into one unified, international network of premium WiFi hotspots and allowing Trustive customers access to these locations through a single click (single username and password plus a WiFi client that automates the log in process). Later this year, Trustive’s own new data roaming (mobile broadband internet) service will combine its comprehensive WiFi network with an international 3G service, thereby enabling travellers to maintain their ‘online’ lifestyles wherever they may be using a WiFi service for bandwidth heavy activities (YouTube, facebook, multimedia file sharing etc.) along with a ‘back up’ 3G internet connection for when WiFi is unavailable or impractical. The best of both worlds in one flexible, easy to use pass. Maybe mobile operators should take note!