Oracle Finds LTE Diameter Signaling Traffic Grows More than Twice as Fast as Mobile Data Traffic

By Peter Bernstein September 17, 2013

In previous articles on the importance of LTE Diameter signaling as necessary to driving the next generation of mobile services, I have pointed out why attention must be paid to this critical piece of infrastructure plumbing. All of those apps interrogating all of those smartphones and tablets generate an extraordinary number of data dips in a gathering storm that in many ways dwarfs the headline making news about the explosion of network traffic to carry the increasingly content-rich things like streamed and interactive video, gaming, mobile payments, machine-to-machine (M2M), VoLTE, etc.

But, why the word “dwarf” as a characterization? 

For insights into that question, look no further than the second annual Oracle Communications LTE Diameter Signaling Index. The Index is predicting worldwide LTE Diameter signaling traffic will increase at a 140 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), from 1.2 million messages per second (MPS) in 2012 to nearly 99 million MPS by 2017. In fact, as Joanne Steinberg, director, product marketing, Oracle Communications  told TechZone360, “We have increased our predictions about signaling traffic growth from last year, especially in the out years, based on the acceleration in 4G LTE deployments around the world and what will be a rapid adoption of digital lifestyle services and personalized mobile data plans.”

As the graphic below illustrates, the two drivers cited are going to ignite the need for Diameter signaling solutions to meet the growing and rapidly evolving nature of the mobile network traffic, particularly for 4G LTE IMS and VoLTE services it enables.

Click for larger. Source: Oracle Communications LTE Diameter Signaling Index 2013

Diameter enables the essentials

Steinberg iterated why Diameter is so critical. “Not only is it used to deliver personalized digital lifestyle services, but Diameter messages enable subscriber network access, secure interconnection with roaming and over-the-top application partners, accurate charging and usage-based services.” In short, Diameter is the lingua franca (what I have called the “digital oil”) LTE networks require for authorization, authentication, policy, charging and mobility management.

Where the Index provides some fascinating insights is in regards to the breakout of the prediction on the use cases for implementation of Diameter.

Click for larger. Source: Oracle Communications LTE Diameter Signaling Index 2013

For those unfamiliar with the abbreviations they are:

  • MPS – Messages Per Second (which is “Policy” in the above)
  • OCS – Online Charging Signaling
  • Mobility – Roaming-related Signaling
  • OFCS – Off-line Charging Signaling

As can be seen, network policy is the primary contributor to signaling volume, with the Index showing that MPS growth will triple in 2013 and 2014 compared with the previous year. By 2017, policy will account for 62 percent of signaling volumes.

A big reason is that mobile network operators need to deliver new and more personalized data services that will amplify the number and sophistication of network policies. Oracle points to use cases that include shared data plans, mobile advertising and sponsored data usage, machine-to-machine (M2M) services and content partnerships, such as streaming audio or video included with subscribers’ data allotments. It also includes quality enhance over-the-top (OTT) applications and services.

Steinberg noted that the embedding of advertising and other capabilities inside of applications and not just on websites will provide additional signaling demands. Plus, there will be demands coming from increased usage of mobile device management (MDM) and mobile applications management (MAM) solutions by operators interacting with embedded capabilities as security concerns increase.

The Index predicts that North America will be the largest contributor to Diameter signaling traffic each year in the forecast period. This is based almost solely on the fact that LTE deployment in the region is far ahead of that in the rest of the world.  

A whole lot of signaling going on

The Index takes into account Diameter messages generated from:

  • Communications among policy servers, charging systems, subscriber databases and gateways to support innovative mobile data plans;
  • Mobility management functions, including subscriber authentication onto networks and roaming between partner networks; and
  • New Diameter interfaces between network elements.

The last item cannot be under-estimated as the definition of Diameter is expanding and now includes 24 interfaces.

While Diameter deployment is very much in lock-step with the global roll-out 4G LTE, its attractiveness stems from the need for operators to monetize not just connection services but new value-added ones. This is what is driving the acceleration of 4G LTE deployments, and in turn is the reason why policy growth (enabling the capturing of the value in the myriad of new data plans) and enabling operators to offer new lifestyle services (in part as differentiated value of OTT offerings) are expected to explode.

As Bhaskar Gorti, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Communications, explained, “Digital lifestyle services represent new ways for operators to engage and retain subscribers, expand partnerships with content and device providers and grow revenue and profitability. Behind the scenes, the signaling that underpins these services will also naturally increase, as consumers benefit from the speed, efficiency and creativity of new LTE services.”

“LTE subscriber growth is the prerequisite to LTE Diameter signaling growth. While Oracle’s growth forecasts are impressive, we expect LTE Diameter traffic to maintain or even exceed such sharp increases beyond the forecast range. The two reasons are the projected LTE subscriber additions in developing markets, particularly China and India, and the range of new services enabled by software-defined networking,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst for Informa Telecoms & Media.

Reality is that operators are looking at Diameter not only for 4G LTE, but also as a means to better monetize their 3G services as well. The full Index describes in detail all of the drivers and opportunities and provides regional breakdowns. 

4G LTE during the forecast period will still not be a case of mission accomplished. Indeed, despite all of the news about deployments, penetration rates by 2017 will still be well short of 40 percent of the addressable market globally as operators address the challenges of first deploying in densely populated areas, where demand is great along with competitive pressures, before expending their networks.

That said, the more apps that are out there and the more the need to integrate user experiences on Wi-Fi with cellular networks to enable seamless experiences, the more likely it is that your device is going to be making use of Diameter signaling.  The Index is more than just a tabulation of statistics. It is a useful guide as to what lies ahead and certainly worth a download.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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