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Sorting out an Olympic sized signalling storm

By July 20, 2012 No Comments

It’s London 2012; an excited crowd of 80,000 fans are packed into the Olympic Stadium in London to watch the 100 metres final. Usain Bolt, the favourite for the event, is in the middle of his pre-race warm-up in the designated stretching area. As he finishes his stretching routine and psyches himself up for the race of his life, he takes his place in the blocks at the starting line.

BANG. The race starts and Bolt thunders out of the blocks. He runs as hard as he can for 15 metres, building up a slender lead over his competitors. Then, he calmly slows down and begins his cool-down routine, taking deep breaths while returning to the stretching area. A puzzled crowd look on and ask ”why did he spend all that time warming up and cooling down in order to only run 15 metres?”.

A mobile radio network engineer in the crowd sighs as he looks on, lamenting, “Ah, but this is exactly how the devices on my network behave all the time: using up massive resources to perform relatively simple functions.”

All that warm up and cool down effort to run just 15 metres seems like a waste.  However, if you look at how mobile networks and applications co-exist then there is a great deal of warming up and cooling down required by apps. The customer is not even aware of this, but their apps are being “chatty” and constantly pinging the network, eating network capacity and draining battery life. These chatty apps are creating more signaling traffic and quickly growing into a problem for operators.

Many applications, such as Angry Birds, Facebook and even email, connect to the network to receive updates at regular time intervals. This primarily includes applications running in the background polling for information and requesting data at a rate at least once per minute, 24 hours a day. To compound this, it is common to find multiple applications running at the same time, resulting in multiple cycles running concurrently with different timings, all requiring signaling to create and bring down an active radio connection.

With more apps, more devices and faster networks enabling increased app usage, the industry is heading straight into a signaling storm that could have disastrous consequences on the performance of many networks.

Operators that can identify and control the apps that generate vast amounts of signaling traffic (by continuously warming up and cooling down) and calculate the actual time they are being used will be able to successfully navigate this signaling storm. In addition to optimizing network usage, this control enables improved device battery life and does not affect the performance of the app. A Tier 1 North American operator is beginning to control their “chatty apps” problem and they are forecasting an ROI of $45M over three years – which is a gold medal performance in any language.