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All of us are painfully familiar with traffic jams in India. There are far too many vehicles on the road and the traffic management infrastructure is abysmal.

Soon we might be headed for another kind of traffic jam – a telecom traffic jam! The symptoms are already there to see: phones beep and groan before you can hear that reassuring ‘it is ringing’ sound, the ‘I’m fetching data’ icon on your smartphone keeps going round and round for what seems like eternity, and your smartphone battery drops below 50% almost before you can say “Jack Robinson” or “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar”.

Six reasons for this congestion

ManyMoreTelecomDevicesOne, we have many more devices now – phones, tablets, Smart TVs, PCs, laptops – and they are all greedy for data. The demand for data is rising, but the bandwidth can’t cope up with all this demand.

AlwaysOnTwo, today’s data services often operate in the ‘always on’ mode. The device is apparently idle, but it is still connected to the network, and background apps continue to upload or download data.

UnlimitedDownloadsThree, data plans are getting cheaper, and download and upload options are getting unlimited. This encourages a lot of users to set up data transfers and literally go to bed.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Four, the popularity of social media portals like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and of instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, continues to grow exponentially. Social get-togethers today involve high resolution photography, audio and video recordings and their instant transmission to the rest of the world. The good old adda of yesteryear has disappeared.

DataCentricFive, business and engineering is getting rapidly data-centric. Almost everything that happens gets computed, plotted, recorded, analyzed, replayed and quickly stored ‘upstairs’ on the cloud. This requires massive bandwidth. We are also reading how stock markets can be manipulated by high velocity data; such subterfuge would require this massive bandwidth to become doubly massive.

GlobalContentAnd six, content is getting increasingly globalized. Today’s reader in Bangalore or Mumbai doesn’t just read The Times of India; he also reads New York Times. He doesn’t just live stream the IPL; he also live streams EPL. This forces network carriers to offer a significantly higher international bandwidth.

How then should we solve this problem of congestion? This problem is serious – especially for communication service providers (CSPs) who face the threat of churn if they fail to deliver the required quality and speed to their customers.

Four ways to counter congestion

telecomtrafficjamThe first option is service assurance. We must continually watch the network: How is the traffic flowing, are there the beginnings of potential traffic jam, what could be optimal traffic rerouting strategies? If something goes wrong, we must be able to immediately alert the CSP and, if possible, help him raise a ticket to resolve the problem.

RFTwo, we must use tools for frequency planning and optimization. Which are the ‘hot’ zones with the highest traffic density, and which are the ‘cold’ zones where bandwidth is potentially getting wasted? Can we re-distribute the bandwidth so that the capacity is optimized? Are there situations where parameters need to be ‘reset’? Would it be possible to tilt or turn the antenna by a bit so that more capacity suddenly becomes available?

LCR2The third option is to get telecom companies to collaborate more. All too often we encounter situations where one telecom carrier has built huge ‘roads’ in one geographical region but can’t attract the traffic … but there is a second carrier in the same region which owns a lot of traffic but doesn’t have the roads! We can build software tools that facilitate such dynamic buying and selling of capacity.

analyticsThe last option – and arguably the most powerful – is to become an intelligent and voracious user of analytics. Gather data, mediate it, clean it, enrich it, store it, join it, manipulate it, query it … and the doors suddenly open to new discovery, insight and strategies. Even simple counts, totals and averages offer rich visibility. If you marry all this to probability, analytics and big data techniques you have an unbelievable repository of opportunity.

We have no reason to fear telecom traffic jams, but we must successfully leverage technology and analytics if we are to successfully ride this wave.

— This note, written jointly with Amit Goenka, first appeared in Information Week.

2 thoughts on “Tackling telecom traffic jams

  1. I had an oppurtunity to rollout FTTH in bangalore last year for a telecom company which offers high speed internet for end users , the bigggest misery in india is redtape and no proper telecom policy.Nowdays officals are scared to take decisions when it comes to any telecom infra creation because of the scams.Almost all telcos have the infra and fiber roll-out done but due to policy issues and pricing wars between operators we are lagging behind in this data hungry market

  2. I agree with the above comment. The infrastructure to support so much data usage is just not there. We started off well with Fiber etc, but it really needs to keep up with the increasing demand. And there’s also this tendency to define bandwidth as the max speed you can get, but not in terms of reliability. A 4G dongle might offer you up to 21 Mbps, but in actual usage you’d be lucky to get 1 Mbps consistently.

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