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January 15, 2013

Stoke Joins University of Surrey to Study Mobile Network Strain, Solutions

Mobile broadband developer Stoke has officially teamed with communications specialists at the University of Surrey, U.K. to investigate the challenges involved in growing mobile phone usage.

The study will examine phone usage in both the U.K. and throughout the world to determine whether or not our worldwide dependence on mobile phones is causing any irreparable signaling problems.

More importantly, through the joint forces of Stoke and the University of Surrey, the task force will then help frame the future of mobile technology use, with an eye to solving any signaling issues they may find or predict during their study.

The tests the company will use work with the University’s Wireless Network Test-bed research tool. The tool is ostensibly a campus-wide platform which contributes to the evaluation and optimization of communications technologies.

The research tool also enables authoritative investigation of the features of all-IP networks.

A college campus is more or less the best testing ground for this type of work, as most faculty and students, if not all, will use mobile phone technology on a daily basis – all throughout the day.

This mass usage is comparable to the mass cell phone usage that has taken hold all over the world, and any issues identified will be helpful to frame future signaling issues that may occur.

“There are massive opportunities and challenges facing the mobile communications sector in the years ahead, with unprecedented growth in mobile data usage and new LTE devices driving revenues, but also putting increased strain on networks,” explained Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Communications Systems Research (CCSR).

In the study, Tafazolli will look at the growth of LTE network coverage and use, and oversee the deployment of LTE small cells in the area.

“We are pleased to be working with Stoke to illuminate the risk of excessive signaling traffic between LTE radio and core networks,” Tafazolli added.

The problem, according to Stoke’s CFO Dave Williams, can be summed up as such: “As the use of 4G/LTE networks increases, one of the biggest concerns for mobile operators is that of scaling the signaling and control plane. Signaling overloads, as some operators have already found, can take a 4G network down in an instant. The goal of our research is to understand how the volume and mix of traffic, devices, and users in play can affect service availability and what strategies operators might undertake to mitigate the risks.”

Mitigating the risks is what the ultimate point of this study will be, and the implications of Stoke and the University of Surrey’s research could be considerable.

“The increased use of small cells raises important questions regarding signaling,” said Williams. “Stoke and CCSR’s research will examine the levels, network architectures and usage scenarios in which signaling loads could strain radio and core network elements, potentially resulting in network outages.”

With such rapid, continual growth and dominance of 4G and LTE networks in the last decade and today, studies like this are not only a good idea, but are starting to seem necessary in order to secure the networks of the future, and our current way of life.

Industry analysts have LTE-enabled devices set to reach a fivefold increase just this year, and the number of small cell units could grow about 40-fold by 2016.

The tech industry and networks simply cannot continue to operate successfully at the same level indefinitely – not with such overwhelming growth on the horizon.

Edited by Braden Becker

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