Traffic shaping comes to mobile networks

Policing heavy users

The system is sophisticated enough to police users, too. Carey doesn't have figures for the UK but in the US, he says, "broadly speaking, 2% of the users consume something like 50% of the traffic; that's a problem for operators on a fixed flat rate tariff because they're clogging up the network in an unfortunate manner. Most operators have a fair use policy, but they don't know how to enforce it."

Bytemobile can use bandwidth shaping to reduce the bandwidth that what Carey calls "excessive or abusive users" get, perhaps during peak hours. Degrading the service isn't the only option, he points out; "You can turn the service off, redirect the user to another site or throttle the service for the user. When they reach the limit, we could pop up a warning and ask them if they want to pay for an extra package. Or it could be the policy of the operator to say they don't want that type of user - it is a very small percentage of people."

That could certainly make a network unpopular with heavy users. Carey admits it's a "tricky situation" and says networks "need to be professional about how manage those users". He insists "the average user would never notice".

And heavy users? "Some will be prepared to pay for a better service; others will go elsewhere. Operators don't want there to be a restriction but they want to see they can earn revenue from this service. They're trying to prevent themselves becoming a bitpipe. Doing all this doesn't help them raise their profile; it's a bit like putting a speed restriction on the M25."

Targeted advertising

Other options Bytemobile can offer could be intrusive for all users. The service is more than compression or prioritisation; it analyses and sometimes transcodes what you're downloading. That means it can add an area to the top of web pages that Carey calls a 'navigation bar' to show the operator logo or advertising, and that advertising can be specifically targeted.

The mobile operator already knows your location, and the Bytemobile service knows what handset you're using and what sites you've been surfing. "If you know someone has gone to a sports site perhaps they are more inclined to see a sports advert. We look at the current real-time context and give that information to an ad server. Add in location-based information, billing and CRM data and the operator can then provide a very much richer service to the consumer."

To avoid privacy issues with individually targeted ads, Carey suggests operators can create 'pseudonyms'. "We can class users as groups; other people who've gone to this site have gone to these other sites. So advertising can be context sensitive to where the user has been going or sites the user has visited over last week or what other people in similar location on similar devices at a similar time have been doing."

Mobile networks have always been keen to remind mobile internet users what network they're on; the walled garden approach of portals is as much about branding and advertising revenue as about user experience.

Carey says Bytemobile will let the operator "stay in touch" with you when you're not on their portal, but the thing about mobile internet is that it's the internet you're using; users may not want their mobile network showing up on every page they visit, even if that does give them a better, faster connection. Services like Bytemobile give mobile operators plenty of options, but the history of the web proves it's compelling rather than intrusive services that succeed.