Network Management

ISOC Panel Weighs Power, Billing Constraints of Smartphones

By: Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Date: March 6, 2011

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When considering the future of the mobile Internet, network protocol experts are worried about two key issues:

  1. the power constraints of handheld devices and
  2. the high fees that carriers charge end-users for network- and application-generated events.

These two issues generated the most debate at a panel session entitled “Handheld, Wireless, and Open: Priorities for the Mobile Future Internet” that was sponsored by the Internet Society. The panel was held in Beijing on 9 November, concurrent with the IETF meeting.

Moderated by Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the Internet Society, the panel considered the impact that a growing number of mobile devices and sensors will have on the Internet infrastructure.

“We already have 1.6 billion devices that were used to access the Internet in 2009, including PCs, mobile phones, and online gaming devices,” Leslie said, highlighting the dramatic growth of these devices in China and India. “By 2013, that will grow to an estimated 2.7 billion devices.”

Leslie said that most of these new mobile devices will be smartphones, and that smartphone users want to do the same things as PC users, such as using search engines, reading news, downloading music and videos, and exchanging email and instant messages.

She asked the panellists to consider ways in which smartphones challenge traditional thinking about how Internet hosts and applications should behave.

“Smartphones are becoming more and more smart and are having more and more advanced services,” said Stefano Faccin, a standards manager with Research in Motion. He added that while smartphones are getting more powerful, they still have some constraints. “Bandwidth is not unlimited. It will not be unlimited for a long time especially for cellular networks . . . but it will need to reach these devices at all times for a variety of services.”

Stefano pointed out that the number of wireless sensors connected to the Internet also will rise. This means the Internet will have to support both really smart mobile devices and really dumb sensors.

“These devices will have different usage models and different networking issues,” Stefano said. “The future Internet will have to cater to both types of devices even if their needs are totally different.”

Ted Hardie, managing director for Panasonic’s Wireless Research Laboratory, said power management is a key issue for future Internet applications to consider. He pointed out that as smartphones and other handheld devices function more like PCs, this trend will put strain on mobile operators, who have limited network spectrum, and on end-users, who have limited power.

“Users expect their mobile devices will behave as their wired devices behave,” Ted said, adding that the challenge for the Internet engineering community is “how we can deliver on that expectation perhaps in ways that don’t mimic the ways we did in the past.”

Dave Thaler, a software architect in the Windows Networking and Devices Division at Microsoft, pointed out that in a power-constrained environment, wireless device users might not want to be reachable by all applications or all users. “I don’t want to consume battery unless it’s most important,” Dave explained.

Hui Deng, deputy principle staff of China Mobile Research Institute, says this issue arises when mobile operators wake up a mobile device from its idle stage to activate a service. He said these decisions about waking up devices that occur in mobile application design and mobile network design also relate to the power consumption rates experienced by users.

Dave also focused on an issue he calls “bill shock,” when end-users are hit with large and unexpected charges while in roaming mode. Dave says designers of mobile networks and applications need to take billing into consideration so they can help prevent such scenarios as when an end-user inadvertently downloads a software update while in roaming mode, rather than doing it when connected to a cheaper Wi-Fi connection.

“The user needs to be in control because the user is paying the bill,” Dave said. “If something is going to affect the bill, you should expose that to the users.”

Ted said end-users should have the ability to establish policies about the inbound messages they want to receive when they are in battery or roaming mode so that they can limit the ones that are going to cost more money.

Panellists agreed that the Internet engineering community will need to deal with power management and billing issues related to mobile devices for the foreseeable future.

“I think we’re going to be stuck with the power issue for a long time,” Stefano said. “Yes, the battery technology is improving dramatically, but at the same time a lot of the developments require more and more computational power . . . As long as certain mobile operators are going to have to pay so much for the frequency, we’re going to have to be stuck with [bill shock] for quite a while.”