Ed Kress joined Netsnapper back in January as vice president of North American operations. He comes to the position by way of Sprint’s applied research division, where he focused on a backhaul optimization and caching. He knows a thing or two about the importance of backhaul and off-loading techniques as networks welcome a host of high-octane smarpthones like the Dell Streak, Droid X and Apple’s iPhone. Wireless Week caught up with Kress for a chat on what he sees as some of the bigger challenges for networks going forward, as well as a look at some possible solutions.
Wireless Week: Will Verizon’s network eventually feel the heat the way AT&T has, as it sees more and more high-end smartphones drop?
Ed Kress: Certainly they are going to run into issues where they see congestion and then RF contention. I’m not going to say specifically that they’re going to have similar issues that AT&T does, but it’s something that they’ll need to address. They have the luxury in some cases, a lot of cases actually, of owning the backhaul. In that case it isn’t so costly for them to run more T1s or, from my perspective that doesn’t really scale, adding T1s. You have a limitation of typically about six T1s, it just depends on what kind of equipment you have on the rack, but you can only go so far with T1s. And then pulling Ethernet is an option, and I know that they’re working fast and furious to pull Ethernet to the sites. But still there’s an inherent cost once you get Ethernet there because if you don’t own it and you’re paying someone else for 50 megs initially, there’s going to be a time period where you’re going to have to upgrade and add further capacity. One thing Netsnapper does is it delays that need to upgrade maybe six months to year, which when you’re looking at month-over-month opex, those figures start to look pretty attractive.
WW: How important is Wi-Fi as a means of off-loading data?
Kress: Increasingly so and if you happened to catch the Ralph de la Vega keynote at CTIA, he hit on that pretty heavily. AT&T has also been publicizing their efforts to wire up New York to have Wi-Fi off-load, and it’s increasingly becoming an important aspect of the way carriers are managing data. There’s also been a lot of consolidation in the Wi-Fi aggregators so that further lends the opportunity to have a more seamless play where you don’t have to work with 9,000 providers of Wi-Fi, you’ve got the two or three main Wi-Fi aggregators, and with Netsnapper, [you] have a coherent way to actually off-load to Wi-Fi when it’s available.
WW: How exactly does Netsnapper work?
Kress: It’s a client/server architecture. We have a client available for a number of different operating systems, whether it be Symbian, Brew, Android, etc. We work with the carriers to get the client onto the device, and then in the backend we have a server platform. The main management of the server platform gives the carrier very granular control of how the client uses Netsnapper. For example, [the carrier] can lump all of the people that live in New York City into one category and if those people walk by an available Wi-Fi, it will automatically switch them over to that hot spot. The system will take into account variables such as whether the phone’s reception is better than 50 percent and the battery is greater than 30 percent in strength and make decisions given those conditions. In the case of how it knows what those Wi-Fi hot spots are, goes back to working with the aggregators, and we’ll have a database of what those hot spots are and the Netsnapper server will seamlessly switch them over. The end user won’t even know that they’ve switched unless they look at their phone.
WW: When does exponential data growth approach a point of diminishing returns for carriers? Can they maintain an acceptable user experience over time?
Kress: The increase in data traffic over time is astounding. It depends on who you’re talking to. Some say it’s a two times year-over-year growth, some say 5 times year-over-year growth. In any event, it’s a very steep increase. Absolutely the carriers are concerned about that. But I’m not sure they have any good answers. AT&T to a certain degree tried with the tiered data plans. I think 2 percent use 80 percent of the traffic but that’s changing too, as end users get more sophisticated. Another important point is they start to upload things too. In the past it’s been a mostly downward direction in traffic, but now the carriers are saying we could get near a synchronous data traffic flow.
WW: Will HSPA+ be enough to carry T-Mobile and AT&T for a while?
Kress: I think for the time being, absolutely. If you look at the speeds, they’re pretty good. Not too far off from LTE and WiMAX. It remains to be seen what happens in terms of congestion and the backhaul. As I stated earlier, a lot of the sites are going to be Ethernet, and the question will be, when will they experience congestion and will that diminish user experience at that point?
Filed Under: Infrastructure