Advanced mobile networks can still clog

Developed countries in Asia-Pacific have mobile services already "on par" with Western counterparts but network congestion can still strike during peak seasons, says analyst.

Mobile service in developed Asia-Pacific countries is comparable with their Western counterparts, although not all are free from mobile traffic congestions, according to an industry analyst.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Marc Einstein, industry manager for ICT at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, noted that developed countries including Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, already enjoy mobile service that is "on par" with Western countries. However, even advanced cellular technology does not equate to congestion-free mobile service, especially during festive seasons, he said.

Einstein explained that the issue lies in how a mobile service operator's network is designed. He gave the example of a base station that is built to handle 150 to 200 connections at a time. "If too many users try to connect, it can congest the base", he said, but added that this only happens during peak traffic.

Asked if mobile operators should increase their base stations to handle congestions during peak network times, the analyst said it would not be profitable for the operators to do so. "It would be like building a 10-lane highway," he added.

Singapore beefs up for peak
All three mobile operators in Singapore told ZDNet Asia that their companies anticipate increase in voice and data traffic during festive seasons and are prepared to handle the spike.

A spokesperson from Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) said the company ensures the timely delivery of mobile calls and SMS messages by increasing network resources at its SMS centers and base stations to their maximum capacity to handle the expected traffic increase.

"We also increase the network capacity at [nationwide] party locations to cater to the large crowds concentrated in these areas such as Orchard Road [shopping strip] and Sentosa [island]," said the SingTel spokesperson, adding that extra staff are deployed to closely monitor the network over festive periods.

A StarHub executive said the operator sees "brief periods of heavy voice and data traffic" but constantly monitors mobile traffic levels and adds capacity when needed, through the installation of more mobile base stations or the expansion of user capacity on existing equipment.

The spokesperson added that mobile traffic congestion has improved over recent years with new 2G technology such as 3G networks and audio data compression technology Adaptive Multi Rate (AMR), providing additional network capacity.

A MobileOne spokesperson said there might be "a temporary delay in connections" during major festive seasons, but its networks are designed to handle surges in mobile calls and SMS traffic.

SingTel's spokesperson added that SMS delivery depends on other factors such as the network connections of other telcos, users' mobile phone status--whether it is turned off or if memory is full-- as well as the SMS system conditions between operators.

According to Einstein, U.S. mobile service providers deployed mobile base stations during the inauguration of U.S. president Barack Obama. The base stations, dubbed "Cell On Wheels" and "Cell On Light Truck", act like cell towers--using satellite and microwave technology--and are usually set up at disaster sites where there are no cellular connections.

He noted that mobile users can also look to VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) as an option during mobile traffic congestion, though, their phones would have to support 3G connections since VoIP calls are delivered via data packets.

Mobile VoIP is not yet popular among Asia-pacific users, Einstein noted, but said he sees this trend picking up--even if "mobile operators would not want that to happen".