In its simplest terms optimization in the mobile network, basically deals with minimizing capex while maximizing the subscriber experience. Now, optimization can take different forms. The two I see the most are optimization solutions targeting improved network performance, like self-optimizing networks (SON), and those looking to improve the delivery of network content, specifically video. Even in these two areas companies have different approaches as to how they achieve optimization. Network optimization can be performed in the mobile core, at the access layer, or can involve software in the device. Network optimization can also be centralized or distributed. As for content optimization this can range from solutions that focus on traditional areas like compression, transcoding, or transrating all the way to managing the actual flow of content across the network.
As there are so many different ways that optimization can be implemented, it is no surprise that operators are not limiting themselves to just one vendor for optimization. In fact mobile operators appear to actually be implementing complementary solutions such as implementing both core and access network optimization at the same time. Because of the variety of ways that optimization can be implemented, and mobile operators' willingness to use multiple suppliers, there is now a very robust of vendor options in the optimization space. Optimization suppliers range from the traditional big network equipment vendors all the way down to startups that specialize in optimization.
As you can imagine, as an analyst, I get the opportunity to talk with many of the companies in this space. Some are well known, while others are just pulling the curtain back on their operations. Here are four start-up specialist vendors I have talked with recently that I think others should know about as well.
Avvasi – Avvasi launched its Q-SRV in December of 2012. It builds upon Avvasi's existing Q-VUE. Where Q-VUE gave mobile operators insight into their subscribers' video quality of experience, the Q-SRV is a video service gateway that gives operators the capacity to shape and control the quality of experience. It can analyze the end user experience based on several factors including device, location, time-of-day, and service type. From there it can enact network policies in real time such as lowering a high-definition video stream to standard-definition to eliminate buffering. Mobile operators can also use Q-SRV to monetize over the top content by providing service level agreements to those content providers.
Movik – Movik brings together both RAN analytics and SON with its REACH solution. REACH stands for report, export, act, control, and HetNet. These are all things that Movik's REACH does within the mobile network in real-time. One of the key highlights of REACH is that it works across multiple radio access technologies--3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi. The solution is also content aware, and can help in matching up the best access network to help ensure end-user quality of experience when viewing that content. REACH can either be sold as a traditional network element or as a cloud-based solution as cREACH.
Newfield Wireless - Newfield Wireless plays in the burgeoning mobile network optimization space. It's TrueCall software collects and analyzes data gathered from the radio access network (RAN) and subscriber devices. This data can be used for network planning, network optimization, customer retention, and marketing. The information coming from TrueCall includes geographic data showing where network traffic originates, down to information at the end-user, and device levels. This geographic data makes TrueCall a valuable tool for operators looking to deploy small cells as it graphically shows traffic hotspots within the network.
Vasona Networks - In a general sense Vasona Networks plays in the content optimization space. But, it doesn't do what one normally thinks about when it comes to content optimization. Vasona doesn't do content transcoding, transrating, or compression. Instead the vendor does traffic management at the network edge. To be specific the company really sees itself as being in the edge application controller business. The vendor sells a software solution to mobile operators called SmartAIR1000 that can be installed on off-the-self computer hardware and is placed between the access and the core network. The SmartAIR1000 makes decisions on how to send traffic across the RAN to ensure end-user quality of experience based on data it takes from the network control plane, content awareness, and information on the current congestion level of the base station.
Like any market, overtime as optimization matures; there will be some consolidation of vendors. The most likely scenario will be with the larger equipment vendors purchasing the smaller optimization specialist. We already saw some of that with Cisco's recent acquisition of Intucell. I am not suggesting the four above are next in line to get bought up by some larger network company. I do, however, think they all have interesting solutions for the challenges facing mobile operators and that they will all become more familiar names as time goes by.
Daryl Schoolar is Principal Analyst of Wireless Infrastructure for Ovum. Daryl's research includes not only what infrastructure vendors are developing in those areas, but how mobile operators are deploying and using those wireless networking solutions. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him at @DHSchoolar.