Managing the Click-to-Cloud Revolution

Capacity planning allocates much greater bandwidth and throughput to the downstream than the upstream in virtually all major mobile data networks.
Facebook, on the other hand, is the number one traffic hog on the upstream link, generating nearly four times as much traffic as Skype and Google Talk combined. This is the power of the mobile cloud at work. Facebook users share 30 billion pieces of content each month and upload 300 million photos every day, numbers that are steadily increasing.

Video files are much larger than photos and are shared at a similarly rapid rate from mobile devices. According to the latest statistics, three hours of video are uploaded to YouTube per minute, and traffic from mobile devices tripled in 2011. In the Asia-Pacific region peer-to-peer video-streaming services like PPStream are very popular and contribute to the majority of upstream mobile traffic.

No longer limited by one-to-one interaction, our communications landscape is increasingly defined by engagement and social experience. Bill Payne, CTO (North America) of Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), commented on this development in a keynote address at the 4G World conference in Chicago last October. “We all are creators of content increasingly stored in the cloud. We are connected wherever we are, and the content we are so proud of can be uploaded and accessed anywhere, through any device. Networks include individuals, groups and, increasingly, machines.”

Apps love the cloud

The mobile cloud has grown quickly for several reasons. First, it solves some fundamental issues that plague smartphones, such as storage and processing limits and physical damage (store those photos, files and contacts in the cloud and it doesn’t matter if your phone falls in the toilet). Second, since cloud upload is usually automated, it often occurs without a user’s interaction. Third, the overall speed of next-gen wireless networks is changing the way people use wireless. Fourth, most mobile apps are integrated with cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure,, and Facebook.

But the biggest driver is simply the rapid proliferation of compelling, cloud-driven mobile apps; millions of mobile subscribers use them every day. On the consumer side these include apps for storage and backup, social gaming, productivity, photo sharing (e.g., Instagram), and entirely new categories. Smule, for example, has built a big business around apps like Songify and AutoRap — and my personal favorite, I Am T-Pain — that turn any utterance into Auto-Tuned song lyrics. The near-real-time processing that was so expensive and time-consuming in the desktop realm just five years ago only requires a smartphone and substantial upstream bandwidth.

For business customers the mobile cloud has opened the door to services that were once cost prohibitive, and these apps can generate even more upstream content than consumer apps. Armed with a smartphone or tablet and a mobile data connection, field technicians can upload detailed images into service portals, outside sales agents can upload client data into a CRM solution, executives on opposite sides of the globe can pass large presentations between one another, and entire workforces can be managed.

More cloud, more problems

In terms of managing the mobile cloud CSPs face several problems, which can be distilled into two big categories: billing and customer experience.

In the race to manage explosive mobile data demand and better monetize mobile data traffic, most wireless service providers have done away with unlimited data plans and instituted tiered billing packages. In other words, mobile data, whether upstream or downstream, is now billed by the GB.

As recently as a few years ago users would sync 100MB of photos or a 1GB graduation video through their desktop or laptop over a terrestrial broadband connection, but today that syncing is often done directly from a mobile device over a mobile network. It’s easy, and it removes a step from the process (i.e., connecting the “capture” device to a computer). It comes at a cost, though: this traffic counts against monthly mobile traffic allowances.


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