Tuesday, May 24, 2011

3G and 4G: Towards the end of the unlimited

Last week we explained why - ultimately - the applications will replace the "mobile web". Today, let's analyze why the offers "unlimited" are set to disappear and how - unfortunately - offers multi-speed should be proposed to term. For now, the offers so-called "unlimited" does not really already are.

For an operator, an offer is unlimited in time - we may well use the line all the time - but the speed varies. Typically, operators indicate caps (a limit) beyond which the speed is limited. In some MVNO (virtual operators), access to 3G + (HSxPA) is not offered, only the 3G standard - 384 kilobits per second - is proposed.

In addition, 3G connections - especially on smartphones - see some of their ports blocked to prevent users use VoIP software or P2P. Finally, operators also filter devices that connect to their network of basic way, by checking the browser user agent, which varies according to aircraft, but is fairly easy to modify.

As seen, the notion of offering "unlimited" is already tarnished enough as it is accepted by a device operator, avoiding certain services and does not expect constant flow rates. The problem for operators - and in some users, in turn - is network saturation. Myth to some, this saturation is still present in some urban areas, just try to connect to certain hours in busy locations to realize it.

This is a problem for operators in the sense that pass data and expensive infrastructure changes to meet changing uses is simply not always possible or profitable to the operator, so the goal is to make money. This is a problem for the user fairly straightforward: the service is degraded or not working.

In absolute terms, the most effective solution is obviously to improve the network by increasing capacity, but not necessarily the solution chosen by operators for several reasons. The first is simply the cost: increased capacity is possible, but very expensive. The current infrastructure is not necessarily a payback.

The second is that it's something that has an immediate effect, but in the medium term: the uses are changing and it is possible that a correctly sized network today is not tomorrow. The latest is that infrastructure changes may not be possible: the technology does not improve capacity or it is impossible to add antennas.

Far be it from us to complain operators, therefore, but the simplistic "just increase the network capacity" is not necessarily a solution. The solutions proposed by operators, at least in the medium term, are based primarily - unfortunately - on offers even more "limited" at present. The first solution, already used by some MVNOs, is to limit the offerings: instead to offer a degraded once the headlands beyond, the connection will be cut, with the option to pay to reactivate the line.

In practice, it is embarrassing for the rare (but fewer) people beyond the current limits, which is precisely the weak point of the solution: the saturation point and is generally not linked to those that exceed limits. This limitation is used by MVNOs because network operators have their charge overtaking very expensive, which prevents the MVNO offers "unlimited".

From what we heard at Amdocs, the future should bring offers multi-speed, literally. Tenders for the general public would be blocked in UMTS (3G, 384 kilobits per second), bids for the "Early Adopters" and other large consumers of mobile telephony give such access to 3G + (between 3.6 and 14.4 Mbps now) and professionals could use the 4G network.

The idea would not limit the amount of data that passes, but to limit the speed at which they pass. For operators, this is something interesting to limit the saturation because this solution limits the de facto usage: a person who is downloading an application on a 3G network + do not shoed on a 3G network, simply because it will have to wait longer.

Some services currently used, such as video, audio streaming, VoIP, etc.. Will be useless ... except by paying more. We have seen that operators provide solutions to this problem - we'll talk about tomorrow - but the underlying idea is this: you want a quick offer? You pay. Apart from the fact that this type of offer is not exactly the idea that many have of net neutrality - though in practice the current offers are not consistent with what is expected of a Internet neutral - it mostly involves higher costs for users, which is obviously a problem, except for operators.

Another alternative, pay for its consumption "real." Currently, the majority of smartphone users actually pay more than they "consume". An average user of the iPhone (or Android smartphone recent) uses between 250 and 300 MB of data each month, while the offers "qualify" to 500 MB and 1 GB sometimes We "qualify" in brackets because it is not a real boundary - the line remains usable once exceeded the caps - but in fact users see this as a limitation.

According to operators, only 2% of users exceed the limits of the offers and it would be beneficial for some users - those who consume less - pay only what they actually consume. In reality, it's a little different: users are too used to pass packages to offers totally related to the use.

The reason is quite simple: it is difficult, at least the first few months, to estimate its actual consumption. Indeed, mainstream users have no idea the amount of data flowing into the smartphone, especially since it varies according to aircraft. The example is typical of YouTube: if some smartphones offer systematically degraded version of the videos people connected to 3G, this is not the case for all devices.

This simple difference can lead to overconsumption YouTube on mobile phone bills, simply because the stream used is not suitable for mobile use. In practice, the solution is a technology that already exists on some offers for the ICS: the bearings. Below 50 MB, you pay little and more data is used, the higher the price increases, with a limit (usually 1 GB) beyond which it goes into "unlimited" with a reduced flow.

This is advantageous for those who consume little, but not for others. Perverse effects of this type of billing, an offer "tiered" is more costly for heavy users that offers classic (40 against 30 € € SFR for example). In the end, offers "unlimited" as they exist now will disappear, this is something that seems certain to operators.

It is unclear by what exactly they will be replaced, but one thing is certain: if a segment of users are going to win (more or less depending on the choices made), it is not true of everyone.

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