HetNets hold the keys to optimised mobile services

At MWC 2015 HetNets will be on show demonstrating how traffic balancing across cellular and Wi-Fi can give both operators and customers the best experience possible

Guest Post By Marie-Louise Nilsson-Kanon, VP Market Communications, Birdstep


HetNets will be one of the big themes of MWC 2015 because they promise to meet rapidly rising consumer expectations for ubiquitous high quality mobile broadband while optimising traffic management and reducing costs for MNOs. They also present Telcos and cable operators with opportunities to provide their customers with wider access to services.

HetNets have evolved from Wi-Fi offload where the objective was purely to cut costs for MNOs by exploiting the superior economics of the big Telco broadband networks compared with their own backhaul infrastructures. HetNets take cost optimization further by allowing routing in either direction on the basis of business rules, but above all by adding the real time analytics that enable these decisions to be made intelligently. HetNets therefore expand the scope for cost savings by enabling finer grained routing decisions to be made in real time on the basis of varying network conditions and traffic levels on both Wi-Fi and cellular, as well as other factors relating to the device, service and customer. 

There is potential for cost savings both in Opex, by choosing the lowest cost network at a given time and also Capex, by reducing the need for over provisioning backhaul to cope with peaks in the knowledge that some of the extra traffic can be offloaded to Wi-Fi.

But HetNets also add another crucial ingredient, superior customer experience, achieved both by increased coverage and better performance, forming the basis of Birdstep’s solution called Always Smartest Connected (ASC), which is currently on trial with MNOs and Telcos around the world. Our Smart Analytics enables operators to make intelligent routing decisions on behalf of their customers in real time, so that they really are always smartest connected.

Sometimes this may mean routing their data to Wi-Fi, other times to cellular, while there will also be occasions when it does not matter either way. Herein lies a clue to the great strength of HetNets, which is their potential to combine the twin objectives for operators of saving costs and increasing revenues through improved customer experience, increasing stickiness and creating new monetization opportunities.

Location is a critical factor to take into account when trying analyse fully traffic patterns and evaluate quality of experience. In order to take actions that improve quality it is necessary to know with high accuracy where users are when they roam between Wi-Fi and cellular or when particular issues arise. Traditional cellular triangulation methods are not sufficiently accurate here since they only enable operators to determine what cell the user is in. When analysing roaming or handover to Wi-Fi it is necessary to pinpoint the user’s precise device location at the time of that roaming or handover event. Yet when performing drive tests to measure signal quality and hand over boundaries it is still not feasible to make indoor measurements in offices and homes. But by using Smart Analytics, operators can easily identify the user’s location from measurements made by the devices themselves, rather than the network. In Smart Analytics device locations are also associated with different types of network events of interest, allowing operators to optimize their networks in order to improve user experience and affect traffic patterns

It may be that for a free OTT service like YouTube the operator can save money by offloading to Wi-Fi. On the other hand the operator may be carrying a sponsored data service from a third party OTT service provider, in which case the associated data should be routed to cellular in order to recoup the cost from that party. There are many other subtleties involved, relating to varying traffic levels and demand for particular services that can be taken into account in making routing decisions. Smart Analytics can also provide data for ongoing service management and longer term planning, for help in deciding where infrastructure investment should best be made.

The key point, which will we think emerge strongly from MWC 2015, is that the HetNet provides the foundation for mobile services that are both more cost efficient and at the same time deliver a far superior experience to the customer.