Google Superphone will add to drain on network signalling

This week saw the launch of Google’s Nexus One device that aims to provide mobile subscribers with a range of new features and applications supported by the latest Android OS. Smartphones are catering for the growing consumer demand for mobile broadband and data services, but new devices like the Nexus One are likely to place additional strain on network signalling resources.

Mobile operators have acknowledged that smartphones are impacting on network performance. O2’s European CEO, Matthew Key, has admitted that the iPhone had caused “growing pains” and said that O2’s data traffic had been doubling every three months. AT&T in the US has also claimed that smartphones such as the iPhone are draining network capacity and causing performance problems.

According to David Nowicki, VP of product marketing at Airvana, the industry has only just begun to understand the real impact of smartphones on network performance. Airvana recently identified a significant mobile network load multiplier effect caused by smartphone data traffic on the macro-cellular network.

Airvana found that for a given volume of data transmitted, one smartphone typically generates eight times the network signalling load of a USB modem-equipped laptop. Smartphones may only account for a minority percentage of all devices on operator networks, but they are always on, moving between cell sites and continually ‘polling’ the network. Airvana discovered that smartphones are already responsible for the majority of the total signalling activity on mobile networks.

The load multiplier effect will only increase as more and more consumers continue to adopt smartphone devices. Labelled by Google as a ‘superphone’, the launch of the Nexus One coincided with the news that Apple has racked up three billion downloads from the App Store in less than 18 months, and that Palm will open online stores across Europe to cater for the growing consumer demand for mobile applications. Global annual shipments of smartphone handsets are projected to increase from nearly 200 million in 2009 to 450 million in 2013, according to market research firm iSuppli Corp.

For operators already concerned by the volume of data traffic generated by laptop users, this signalling load multiplier effect from smartphones highlights the urgent need for improved, and alternative, mobile data processing and offload strategies. It’s now estimated that nearly 60 percent of all mobile data traffic originates indoors, one of the key reasons that operators are increasingly introducing femtocell strategies to offload traffic.