Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tag Archive for 'Mobile Cloud Computing'

According to a new Nielsen report, already one in four US adults have smartphones that are more powerful than the computers initially used to send men to the moon. Nielsen predicts that by the end of 2011, the majority of mobile subscribers in the US will have smartphones. What may that mean for mobile apps? Let’s take a look at some data on recent trends.
Mobile Apps
Since 2009, the Nielsen Company has issued an annual survey called the Mobile Apps Playbook, monitoring and providing information about the mobile app ecosystem. According to the latest survey, games continue to be the most popular category of apps for both smartphones and feature phones.
Not surprisingly, Facebook tops the list of the most popular apps on all smartphone operating systems. Other popular apps include Twitter, the Weather Channel, Google Maps and Pandora music service. No surprises there. Most applications are found through searching and through recommendation from friends and family members. Ratings and reviews are important when it comes to deciding which apps are downloaded.
Interestingly, Apple App Store users tend to download nearly twice as many apps as those who download Android or Blackberry apps and iPhone users are more willing to pay for apps. Furthermore, iPhone users claim that they are willing to pay for one in three apps they download in general, while Android and Blackberry users are less willing to pay for apps. Perhaps some of the reason has to do with how early Apple started charging for applications – making users accustomed to the paid apps model.
Mobile ads
When it comes to advertising, younger users are more receptive, with 58 percent saying that they “always” or “sometimes look at ads.” According to the report, men are more receptive to mobile ads than women. Users prefer to view mobile ads within an app rather than on the outside or when searching. However, those who viewed a mobile ad most often took the action of using a search engine to find out more information. Only eight-percent purchased advertised product/service immediately.
Connected devices
When it comes to mobile devices beyond cellphones, the iPod Touch currently sees the most app downloads, followed by Sony PSP and Apple iPad. The Nielsen report concludes that app download will increase enormously for all kinds of connected devices in mobile media.
Some of the interesting conclusion from the report include the preference of Android users for free apps. One of the reasons could be a younger and less affluent user segment compared to iPhone users. This segment is more likely to click an ad within an app, which spells a clear monetization opportunity for mobile advertisers.
Moreover, Blackberry users lag behind both iPhone and Android users when it comes to app download. This probably has to do with limited selection in the Blackberry App World compared to Apple App Store and Android Market.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, apps are still a very young market and leaders of today may become the laggards of tomorrow. Therefore, there remains plenty of room for new innovative apps. Some of the new app categories to follow include augmented reality and various mash-ups

Will the Mobile Cloud resolve Fragmentation?

A new survey called the “Q2 2011 Mobile Developer Report” conducted by Appcelerator and IDC holds some interesting information about the mobile cloud and smartphone platforms.
According to the survey, interest in the Android platform among mobile app developers has recently plateaued, primarily due to concerns around fragmentation and disappointing results from early tablet sales running Android. At the same time, momentum is shifting back toward Apple and its iPhone and iPad. Furthermore, the survey reveals increased interest in the mobile cloud and mobile web that partially addresses the problem of fragmentation.
Fragmentation is a Drawback for Android
Interest in Apple iOS remains high, where 91 percent of survey responders say they are “very interested” in iPhone development and 86 percent in iPad development. However, reported interest in Android phones fell to 85 percent and to 71percent for Android tablets. Almost two-thirds of respondents claimed that device fragmentation in Android poses the biggest challenge to the platform.
At the same time, other mobile platform providers like Microsoft and Research in Motion (RIM) are expected to have a hard time catching up with market leaders Apple and Google. Two-thirds of responders think it‘s simply impossible at this point for any mobile platform to reverse the significant momentum advantage that iOS and Android now have.
From mobile app developers point of view, the greatest challenge lies not just in the Android handset fragmentation but in fragmentation of skills, e.g. Objective-C vs. Java, and the fragmentation of capabilities, e.g. iOS vs. Android vs. WP7).
The Mobile Web/Cloud Resolves the Fragmentation Issue
When it comes to the mobile cloud, most agree that it has a rosy future. Over 80 percent of mobile app developers said they are building or plan to build mobile websites this year. The theory is that the mobile web will solve the cross-platform and cloud fragmentation dilemma.
However, the mobile cloud growth will be restrained at least as long as the user experience still favors mobile application, i.e. applications running natively on the handsets. End-users are already used to downloading native-apps to their handsets. In essence, the preference for mobile web favors reach, ease and speed over market opportunity and customer demand. However, the economic model strongly favors mobile apps as developers see a path to direct monetization with apps that is missing from the mobile web.
Still, the mobile web can also be seen as a good way to quickly get cross-platform coverage that is additive to mobile apps as a complement, not as a replacement. Therefore, a mobile strategy could be about a mobile-optimized website rather than necessarily a mobile app – as a complimentary channel.
Clearly, a lot has still to be figured out when it comes to mobile cloud deployment, especially mobile apps. It seems logical and beneficial from a business point of view. For example, as many businesses are in the position of determining a mobile strategy in the light of increasing complexities and fragmentation of mobile platforms and devices, the mobile cloud promises a way to overcome these limitations. Certainly it would be simpler to consider developing for the mobile cloud rather than fragmented platforms and devices. However, it still might be some time until this strategy becomes mainstream.

Will the Skype deal pay off for Microsoft?

Microsoft’s deal to buy Skype for $8.5 billion is the largest acquisition in the history of the company. After reportedly outbidding Google and Facebook, Microsoft has a number of solutions that can potentially benefit from this acquisition. But does Microsoft have the right strategy?
Skype Has Terrific Exposure
Skype has almost 700 million registered users globally, most of them using the free chat, voice and video services from PC-to-PC, or from one Skype account to another. However, many users also purchase voice-minutes, or Skype-credit, for making calls to regular phones and mobiles or sending text messages.
Skype also has solutions for businesses, such as the Skype Manager, a tool to create accounts for employees, allocate credit and assign features; and Skype Connect, which provides connectivity with SIP-enabled PBX‘s, allowing businesses to use their existing phone system to make cheap Skype calls. Skype already has apps available for mobile platforms, including Android and iPhone.
Microsoft communication products
Microsoft, on the other hand, launched last year a cloud-based unified communications system. Microsoft Lync is a comprehensive business communication platform which includes features such as Instant Messaging and Presence, Audio, Video and Web Conferencing, Mobility and Enterprise Voice. The voice capabilities provide a centralized call system, phone features, supplanting corporate PBX‘s, enabling video chat and unifying other communications systems of a corporate environment. Essentially it is a software based VoIP/SIP PBX that can run on a standard Windows server.
With its mobile Windows Phone platform, Microsoft has big ambitions in the mobile domain as well. Several handset manufacturers have already incorporated Windows Phone into their smartphones, including the HTC HD7 and Samsung Focus. Windows Phone has received relatively positive reviews and appears to be a serious alternative alongside Android and iPhone, perhaps especially after Nokia announced its plans to incorporate the Windows Phone platform as its primary smartphone platform.
How can Microsoft benefit?
So how does the Skype acquisition benefit Microsoft from its current position? From the perspective of the Lync communication platform and Windows Phone, there are several interesting strategies Microsoft can pursue.
  • It seems likely that Microsoft will integrate Skype business features with its Lync communication platform. With this strategy, Microsoft will enter the domain of the communication service provider, i.e. not only offering business grade communication platforms, but also by providing communication services, the stronghold of Telcos and VoIP service providers, including Skype itself. This will enable businesses to make low-cost calls using their Lync platform with features like integrated billing and account management.
  • Microsoft will provide a close integration of Skype into its Windows Phone platform. Hotmail and IM integration will be a given, and users will be able to send IP- SMS messages directly from their Hotmail account – similiar to the current Skype client. Users will simply choose the account they are calling from and see in real-time the cost of current phone call, and a myriad of other possibilities will be enabled.
The Skype acquisition, although expensive, can provide Microsoft great leverage. Not only does Skype have a huge market penetration that Microsoft can exploit with tight integration to existing solutions, but Skype already has well established processes and billing mechanisms that Microsoft can use for up-selling and cross-selling while entering the communication business both for individuals and corporate markets.

The Mobile Cloud: Why it’s so important

A new survey of mobile cloud computing does a good job in defining mobile cloud computing and how it is going to impact cloud computing in general. Firstly, mobile cloud computing is defined as cloud computing extended by mobility and a new ad-hoc infrastructure based on mobile devices. In essence, mobile users are provided with data storage and processing services on a cloud computing platform rather than on the mobile devices themselves.
A branch of cloud computing
According to the survey, mobile cloud computing is emerging as one of the most important branches of cloud computing, and is still in its infancy. Therefore it‘s highly relevant to clarify the confusion that has arisen around mobile cloud computing.
From a simple perspective, mobile cloud computing can be thought of as infrastructure where data and processing could happen outside of the mobile device, enabling new types of applications such as context-aware mobile social networks. As a result, many mobile cloud applications are not restricted to powerful smartphones, but to a broad range of less advanced mobile phones and, therefore, to a much larger subscriber segment. From a smartphone perspective in particular, mobile cloud computing opens up possibilities for a new class of applications by leveraging handset centric features and network related information, such as GPS and/or cell-based location information, etc.
Special characteristics of mobile cloud computing
The survey recognizes the potential opportunities from utilizing available mobile handset features and “to harness collective sensing, storage, and computational capabilities of multiple networked wireless devices to create a distributed infrastructure that supports a wealth of new applications.”
Furthermore, mobile cloud computing extends cloud computing by providing enhanced service availability and by exploiting information about a user’s location, context and network intelligence, thereby considerably improving user experience. Leveraging the mobile device storage, sensing and processing resources for optimizing cloud-based application also adds to better user experience.
Measures to address bandwidth limitations
The obstacles facing mobile cloud computing include limitation of wireless bandwidth capacity and fluctuations in network service delivery. Mobile technology assumes a shared bandwidth capacity, so that users within any particular mobile cell share the available bandwidth while accessing the data network, e.g. the Internet. To overcome this intrinsic limitation, and to address the increasing bandwidth demand, wireless networks are continuously being upgraded – with the IP-based 4G wireless broadband network technology as the ultimate long term goal.
However, other means are also being developed and implemented. One interesting alternative involves instantiating resource-intensive applications on distributed cloudlets, or cloud servers, and then using that service over a wireless LAN. Also, HTML5 data caching capabilities enable applications to work offline, bringing mobile Web applications closer to parity with native applications. By offering offline data caching, cloud-based applications can operate much the same as their device-based counterparts, i.e. if the Internet connection goes down, the application keeps on working. HMTL5 also presents a host of other features that can be deployed in mobile applications making them platform independent.
In summary, mobile cloud computing has emerged as a new paradigm and extension of cloud computing and will undoubtedly grow very quickly in the coming months and years.

Mobile cloud computing and smartphone security

From a security standpoint, it seems inevitable that the mobile cloud is going to be an important enabler. Mobile device platforms, especially open-source smartphone platforms and tablets , are under increasing pressure from hackers and potential virus threats. The first security threats became visible in the mobile domain in 2004, but have been growing ever since. Earlier, mobile phones had limited feature sets and were relatively protected within the operators “walled gardens.” With the proliferation of smartphones this has changed enormously. There are now virtually hundreds of viruses and malware that can potentially infect smartphones and tablets.
Smartphone security vulnerabilities
To protect users, trust and confidence in the mobile platform, it is essential to protect user privacy and security of applications. This is not an easy task. In its “Threat Report: Fourth Quarter 2010”, McAfee indicate that the mobile malware trend is on a sharp uprise. According to the report, new instances of malware targeting mobile devices detected last year were up 46 percent over levels recorded in 2009. McAfee predicts that cyber criminals will increasingly target mobile devices with botnets, and exploits utilizing both Flash and PDF vulnerabilities.
One of the more widely-cirulated malware was the Android/Geinimi, a Trojan inserted into legitimate mobile applications and games for the Android platform. As the number of Internet-enabled handheld mobile devices continues to grow (including smartphones and tablets), web-based threats will continue to grow in number and sophistication. Not just viruses and botnets, but also phishing from malicious domains and social networks, identity theft and spam.
So the question remains: What can be done to protect mobile Internet users from these types of multiple and sophisticated security threats?
How the Mobile Cloud Can Help
Mobile cloud computing platforms represent a more secure way for provisioning applications and online services to users over mobile networks. Mobile cloud provisioning takes advantage of the inherent benefits of cloud computing though its monitoring, security detection and malware-prevention capabilities to protect its mobile customers.
That’s not to say that cloud-based applications and services are completely free from potential malware, but that it is more difficult for hackers to manipulate cloud service providers and their services than it is to distribute malware by creating and infecting individual applications in the various app stores. Having apps and services residing in the cloud mitigates the need for installing and maintaining highly complex virus-scanning and malware protection on the handsets themselves – although some on-device malware protection should always be considered.
Mobile cloud security
To prevent unauthorized access to mobile devices and to provide cloud-access protection, there are certain measures that can be taken, especially by organizations that maintain a number of smartphones for employees:
  • Cloud-access protection: To use strong authentication to ensure that only personnel with authorization can access cloud-based services. By using one-time passwords, rather than locally stored passwords on the handsets, it’s possible to maintain a higher security level in the mobile cloud.
  • Embedded device identity protection: It’s possible to embed an personalized configuration profile on each employee mobile device, thereby implementing a personal security token or credential on each mobile device. Hence, only employees with trusted devices that comply with corporate security policy can access corporate applications and data, e.g. in a private cloud setting.
These and other security features and policies can be enforced to maximize the security of mobile devices, especially in a corporate context. The mobile cloud is certainly an enabler for improving the security levels for smartphones and tablets that become increasingly more prevalent in business and everyday use.
photo: Alexey Arkhipov / Dreamstime.comThe Amazon Cloud Turns Five

This month, Amazon Web Services (AWS) turns five years old. As a leader in infrastructure as a service (IaaS), its impact can hardly be overestimated especially as an cloud enabler for SME‘s, new SaaS providers and, increasingly, an option for large companies that want to migrate infrastructure and services to the cloud.
In retrospect, it’s amazing to see the number of services that AWS has added to its portfolio in the past five years. The original offering that provides basic compute infrastructure and storage services has been expanded into additional compute products like Auto Scaling, networking products like Virtual Private Cloud and deployment tools like Beanstalk and, the latest, CloudFormation. In fact, these products have widened AWS’s approach into becoming a platform as a servce (PaaS) provider as well as an IaaS provider. AWS’s success can also be corroborated through demanding users like Netflix that run on AWS.
Revenue growth
AWS revenues have been growing at a relatively steady rate both in North America and internationally and, according to Trefis Forecast, are expected to reach about $1.7 billion in 2011 and to pass $5 billion by 2017. Despite this immense revenue growth, same sources estimate that AWS is only accountable for about 3 percent of Amazon’s business and will remain limited compared to the online retailing business – which provides an interesting context for the success of the online retail business!
AWS latest service – CloudFormation
With its latest service, the CloudFormation, AWS continues to make it easier for businesses and developers to provision resources without worrying about sequencing and interdependencies. CloudFormation allows users to run templates based on JSON scripting language that include the description of resources and the order n which they should be activated.
AWS offers several pre-made templates that e.g. include “stacks” of resources like compute (EC2), auto scaling, elastic load balancing, storage (EBS, S3), etc. and describe the software packages that are automatically installed, e.g. LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and WordPress. The primary benefit of CloudFormation is freeing users from determining how and in what order individual resources need to be provisioned. Apparently, the CloudFormation resulted in an offer for AWS customers after the Amazon’s own developers started creating templates for internal usage - avoiding manually building and managing the dependencies between resources. The CloudFormation can be deployed either through a command-line interface using AWS developers tools or using the AWS GUI Management Console.
Diagram illustrating the entire CloudFormation process
There is an excellent post by Jeff Barr describing the CloudFormation service in more detail at the AWS Blog.
Speedy innovation
Obviously it is very difficult to predict what new services AWS will be offering in the near future. It seems that a lot of its efforts are currently focused on its new availability zone or region, based in Tokyo, Japan. In fact, the AWS data center was launched only 10 days before the earthquake hit Japan with its tragic consequences. During March only, in addition to the new Tokyo Region, AWS has already announced support for Windows Server 2008, new internet access and virtual networking capabilities to its Virtual Private Cloud product, new identity and access management support for AWS CloudFront and new EC2 import connector for VMware vCenter. Considering the innovation pace at AWS there is perhaps no coincidence that it widely considered to be the leader in the cloud computing industry.

HP’s Cloud Strategy and WebOS

It’s becoming increasingly clear that with last year’s purchase of smartphone maker Palm and its WebOS, HP is going to develop its own cloud offering. HP CEO Leo Apotheker announced this week that HP wants to provide the platform of choice for cloud services and connectivity and that HP will launch a public cloud offering in the near future.
Apotheker also says everything HP will do in the future will be delivered as a service. HP also intends to install WebOS on a variety of devices, not just smartphones like Palm did. PC’s and laptops  will have WebOS pre-installed and be able to run Windows as well. Apparently, to realize this vision, HP will perform a number of strategic acquisitions of innovative software and cloud-based service providers.
HP App Store
To support its cloud endeavors, HP plans to establish an application store for enterprise customers and consumers. The app store will not just be mobile specific, like most other current app stores like Apple App Store and Android Market, but targeted at a wider range of devices. “We will build an open marketplace,” said Apotheker speaking at HP’s analyst summit.
HP cloud vision
Considering Apotheker’s background as a former executive at SAP, it should not come as a surprise that HP aims to partner with large transactional systems like SAP and Oracle, with a special focus on analytics. In large, HP’s cloud vision seems to be focusing on business analytics and business intelligence that require “big data” and that have heavy processing requirements. It’s a very significant change in HP’s vision, moving away from focusing on PCs, printers and hardware in general to the cloud, connectivity, security and services.
Clearly, HP plans to capitalize on current hardware strengths and legacy – looking at platform services and hybrid infrastructure. HP enterprise customers will most likely be advised to expand their current infrastructure into the cloud, presumably HP’s cloud, creating a sort of a hybrid cloud environment with secure connection between, e.g. VPN and MPLS. Furthermore, HP also plans to establish a public cloud for e.g. Greenfield and those preferring migrating entire applications and services to the cloud and leverage lower costs.
The WebOS strategy
By pre-installing the WebOS on HP devices, they will be ready to utilize HP cloud services directly creating a large ecosystem for HP customers. And, HP does not plan on competing directly with other OSs like Windows but rather to run in parallel. WebOS might also be able to run alongside Android on smartphones for example, giving user’s the choice of switching between platforms, although it remains to be seen how and if users are willing to do that.
Is it viable?
HP’s strategy seems to require customers wanting to utilize the HP cloud to use an HP device running WebOS. This is a somewhat limiting strategy – unless users can install WebOS on other devices as well. Also, it’s unlikely that customers interested in deploying the cloud will be forced to purchase certain HP devices – but rather wanting to avoid a potential vendor lock-in situation. Furthermore, running parallel OSes on the same device may also have its flaws, especially when it comes to handheld devices.
Although an increasingly successful implementation in virtualized data center infrastructure, smartphone and tablet users are less likely to accept running two or more OSes and, it appears even more unlikely that WebOS, although a powerful OS, is going to quickly replace successful mobile platforms like the iPhone, Android and WP7. Having said this, it is going to be especially interesting to monitor HP’s progress and cloud endeavors.

The Growth of Cloud-Based Music Streaming

Cloud computing is gradually revolutionizing the music industry and the way digital music is being consumed. Instead of buying and downloading (digital download) songs over the internet, consumers are accessing to them via the cloud in the form of on-demand streaming services. This also brings  new services that helps users to create playlists and receive recommendations for songs and bands according to their music interests.
Cloud-based music services
Due to its enormous penetration and coverage, the mobile phone has become the device of choice for enabling cloud-based music services. As the leader in the traditional music download industry, Apple is currently preparing its iTunes music store to become a streaming service, perhaps to counteract its stalling music download sales figures. To separate itself from several other competing current streaming music services like Sony’s Music UnlimitedPandoraRhapsody and Spotify, Apple is focusing on providing higher-quality music for both its download and future streaming services. Google obviously has its own plans for digital music streaming for Android handsets and has been rumored to be working on a cloud-based digital music service, although it has not yet announced the relevant app or service.  It’s possible that the Google music service will be integrated with Android Market, similar to the recent book tab. In fact though, hackers have already found a way to implement a streaming music service by inserting the music player from Android version 3.0, known as the Honeycomb, into adapted Android smartphones.
When it comes to smartphones, service providers like Spotify provide a premium service supporting music streaming over WiFi and 2.5/3G networks. If the network connection is poor,  users can store songs and playlists in offline mode as well. Users can also sync their mobile and computer so that playlists are identical on each device. The Music and Copyright blog provides a good overview of the current cloud-based music service providers and which of them already offer support for mobile phones.
Smartphone streaming is the future
Some music industry professionals, such as Christian Ward, the digital music PR specialist from Clarity Communications, are claiming that any future for music streaming has to have mobile/smartphone as its focus.  Such a claim can be substantiated by several developments. For example, last month the San Francisco-based music streaming service Pandora Media filed for an initial public offering (IPO), a move that was largely affected by the skyrocketing use of its online radio service’s smartphone apps. In the past year Pandora’s registered user base has nearly doubled, mainly due to the smartphone apps, which are nearing 80 million users. Spotify, with its approximately 10 million users is planning on launching a Pandora-like mobile streaming music service, expecting a significant growth in its user base.
Revenue models
While some of the cloud-based streaming music service providers are charging a premium for mobile streaming, Pandora is among those offering free ad-supported versions. To obtain a large subscriber base it seems that free opt-in services with mobile ads will be the model of choice for the masses, while a smaller segment of users will prefer to pay a premium to obtain ad-free music streaming to their handsets.Tags: .

Storage and backup in the mobile cloud

When it comes to working with data and files on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, one of the most crucial issues concerns data storage – where and how the data is going to be stored, accessed, updated and backed up. Cloud storage assumes storing data in the cloud and making it accessible irrelevant of location and, sometimes, irrespective of terminal type. In a mobile cloud computing scenario, both mobile apps and data are stored and run directly from the cloud, increasing the relevancy of network servers, data center infrastructure and efficient network delivery while decreasing the importance of the storage capacity and processing power of the end-user device itself.
Cloud storage providers and online data backup intermediaries
There are many service providers offering cloud-based storage solutions, most of them already providing IaaS and/or PaaS services in the first place.  These include the Amazon S3and Rackspace CloudFiles storage services on the enterprise level and Google Docs and Microsoft SkyDrive for use by SMEs and individuals.
A number of intermediaries have built user-friendly services and interfaces that provide access to cloud data storage and backup from multiple devices, fixed and mobile. Some of the most notable include Box.netDropBoxJungleDisk and SugarSync. These often utilize the storage space provided by the large cloud storage service providers, such as Amazon and Rackspace, and provide a range of applications and interfaces for accessing and manipulating the stored data.
Online cloud-based data storage and backup services
In a 2011 review by TopTenReviews, the three online data backup services that received the highest ranking are:
  • SugarSync – the overall winner with the most features and options. Possible to sync and share data across multiple devices and supports a range of mobile devices including iPad, iPod, Blackberry, Android, iPhone and Symbian. SugarSync uses SSL encryption for secure file transfer and 128-bit AES encryption on stored data as well as backing up customer data in two separate data centers.
  • DropBox – has most of the required functionality except the ability to configure idle backups. Offers a free version of 2GB and Pro versions for 50 and 100GB. DropBox uses the same security features as SugarSync as well as support for mobile handsets.
  • IBackup – takes the third place and is also an excellent choice for both home users and business users, offering plans with up to 1000GB storage space. IBackup offers encrypted transmission and storage and geo redundant storage. However, IBackup lacks some of the smartphone festures offered by the others.
For more information, there is a great comparison of online backup services available on Wikipedia.
Assess the benefits and limitations of cloud storage and backup
Although online data backup services in the cloud offer many conveniences, they have their limitations as well. When it comes to backing up large amount of data (100GB or more) using an average internet connection for uploading the data becomes costly and time consuming. Therefore, some service providers offer so called “seed-load” of initial data backup. The service provider will either send a hard drive, or accept a removable hard drive to “seed” the backup account. The hard drive is then shipped to the provider who loads it into the server and from there on the user only needs to remotely backup additional files and changes.
Overall, the benefits of online data storage backup seem obvious, especially for home users and SMEs, both from an economical and security point of view – assuming that users verify the amount of data needed to be stored or backed-up and select the most beneficial way.
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LTE in the Spotlight at the Mobile World Congress

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week, most of the leading service providers gathered to give their view of contemporary and future technologies and trends. Much of the spotlight at MWC focused on future mobile broadband technologies, as well as the shift in focus from smartphone devices to smartphone platforms and ecosystems. One trend worth watching is the development of mobile broadband networks, particularly the 4G Long-Term-Evolution (LTE) technology.
Status of high-speed mobile broadband – LTE
A few mobile network operators (MNOs)have started to deploy and offer access to next generation mobile broadband networks, usually either LTE or WiMAX. Although both are great technologies, most agree that LTE will prevail as the 4G networking technology – especially after operators like AT&T and Verizon committed to LTE, taking much of the momentum away from WiMAX.
LTE is a direct evolution of 3G technologies, being driven by 3GPP who produced the 3G specification and in partnership with ETSI. In the US, LTE early adopters include MNOs like Verizon, which offer LTE in certain markets and airports and plans to offer nationwide coverage by 2013. Similarly, AT&T plans to begin deploying LTE by mid-2011 and to have more or less nationwide coverage by 2013.
In Europe, the situation is similar. A few MNOs, including TeliaSonera in Scandinavia, have started deploying LTE in certain well-defined markets and a host of others are planning their rollout in the coming months. Asian MNOs like NTT DoCoMo and China Mobile have either already started LTE deployment or have definitive plans for LTE deployment in 2011.
However, the primary usage scenarios are restricted to mobile modems/dongles for PC and laptop connectivity, as few handset devices currently support LTE speeds and networking standards. All this is about to change, as many new LTE handsets will emerge later this year with HTC Thunderbolt expected to be the first handset allowing simultaneous voice and data use on the LTE network.
LTE predictions at MWC
Google CEO Eric Schmidt believes the rollout of LTE networks and new cloud based services this year will mark the start of a new era of mobile innovation, where LTE will be the enabler. Schmidt points out that developers today start by looking into the mobile segment, because of its scale and growth. Smartphones have already surpassed PC and laptop sales and are increasingly becoming the platform of choice, together with tablets, for gaming, social networking, apps and so on.
Schmidt said the adoption of LTE will bring users a totally new type of mobile reality through interactive and 3D apps, augmented reality, e-health, and intelligent location based services, to give an example. Another interesting example is the translation of languages using the smartphone – immediately translating a user‘s speech into another language of choice and vice versa. The actual language translation would typically be taking place in the cloud.
Several other executives expressed similar views of the future, especially in the light of the forecasted mobile data growth explosion.
LTE growth predictions
Despite all the enthusiasm at MWC, LTE is expected to account for only about 4 percent of the world’s mobile connections in 2015, according to a recent report by Wireless Intelligence. This accounts for about 300 million users,  with the majority in Asian countries. Although the percentage may not represent a high proportion of total global subscribers, it will be, to a large degree, confined to mature mobile markets with the fastest rates of smartphone and tablet adoption. Therefore, the impact of LTE should not be undermined and will certainly bring many interesting and unforeseen services and applications and, perhaps, bring transformation to the mobile world.

The Forecasted Mobile Traffic Explosion and its Impact

There’s incredible growth in mobile data in the coming years, according to several vendors and analysts who have recently issued reports. This is a particularly interesting development for mobile cloud computing, as most of the forecasted traffic is expected to be driven by cloud-based services. In a new Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update for 2010-2015, issued by Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), there are clear indications of a real explosion in mobile data traffic. Some of the more eye-opening trends include:
  • Smartphones represent only 13% of total global handsets – but 78% of total handset traffic.
  • In 2010, 3 million tablets were connected to the mobile network, each generating 5 times more traffic than the average smartphone.
  • The iPhone and Android platforms generate most of the smartphone data use.
  • Mobile data traffic will increase 26-fold between 2010 and 2015.
  • Two-thirds of the world‘s mobile data traffic will be video by 2015.
  • There will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users by 2015.

Exponential growth in mobile data

These certainly are impressive figures and expectations and, in fact, have caused a lot of discussion on many news sites and blogs in recent days. In context, this means that mobile data traffic will grow from 0.24 Exabytes in 2010 to 6.3 Exabytes in 2015, or just over 6 million Terabytes. Not surprisingly, mobile video will generate the majority of the data growth, as illustrated in the figure below.
The second largest segment is mobile Web/Data. These two sources will be responsible for almost 90% of the total mobile data traffic.

How will mobile networks be impacted?

None of this is surprising in itself, except for the amount of data growth forecasted. The penetration of powerful smartphones and tablets will increase exponentially, resulting in more mobile data consumption. Although a great deal of the data will be offloaded to fixed networks by devices’ dual-mode feature, e.g. via Wi-Fi, the traffic growth on mobile networks in still impressive to say the least.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will be severely challenged to provide the needed capacity expansion in their network – otherwise the data traffic will simply clog their networks. As a result, there’s a strong chance that MNOs will also need to revamp their current subscription packages or price plans.
Certainly, to support the data growth, the forecast assumes a considerable augmentation in mobile broadband networks, especially through 4G with LTE (Long Term Evolution) that, theoretically, supports 100Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink speeds in optimal surroundings. However, according to other forecasts, LTE will only account for about 4% of global mobile connections, so it seems somewhat contradicting that MNOs can actually support the extreme growth predictions in their current 2G/3G networks, simply due to technological restraints. In any sense, it casts doubts on their capacity to handle this type of growth expectations.

MNOs subscription packages will change

MNOs data subscription packages will need to change from the current ones. MNOsknow that revenues will proportionally not keep up with increased data traffic, and therefore have to come up with other alternatives. According to an ABI Research paper, data revenues will only grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 15 to 18 percent until 2015, while data traffic is expected to have a 42 percent CAGR rate.
Certainly, “unlimited” data packages will be endangered – although these packages normally have actual limits. Other types of price plans, such as congestion pricing, tiered and metered pricing seem to be a likely alternative, although it is still premature to know in any detail.
From the perspective of mobile cloud computing, this is imperative. Users will always be sensitive to unexpected or unreasonable charges for data traffic exceeding their monthly limits. They are unlikely to accept the current MNO pricing plans that don’t seem to support or be favorable to the expected growth in data traffic. It will be fascinating to follow both how the mobile cloud will proliferate and how MNOs will adapt.

Advanced browsers are key to mobile cloud computing

The key requirements for mobile cloud computing are a web interface and Internet access to remotely stored applications in the cloud. Handheld mobile devices like smartphones and tablets require browsers that can quickly display and execute remote applications optimized specifically for mobile cloud computing. From a user perspective, this makes it less obvious that the application is not native or handset-centric, but run from the cloud.
To support mobile cloud computing, there is an increasing effort to develop better mobile browsers that closely imitate the execution and user experience of natively-installed applications.
Native and third-party mobile web browsers
There are basically two types of mobile web browsers available, those that are platform or operating system specific, or native, and those that are multi-platform. Normally, developers of a particular platform  develop and include web browsers as a part of the platform. For example, Nokia build its smartphone line on the open-source Symbian platform, currently with a native browser based on the open source WebKit browser engine,  called Browser 7.2 for Symbian^3devices. Similarly, Android has an native browser that’s also based on the WebKit layout engine, with some of Chrome‘s JavaScript features included. The browser is simply a part of the Android OS and has no specific name.
Then there are the multi-platform mobile browsers developed by third-parties, which can be installed and supported on different mobile operating systems. Examples of these include Opera Mini and Skyfire for smartphones running  Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone and Nokia S60. In many case,s these multi-platform browsers outperform the native browsers. For example, The Opera Mini  received the 2010 Reader´s  Choice Award Winner at as the best mobile browser.
Multi- platform development tools
Clearly, the development of more powerful and feature-rich mobile browsers will continue as the number of applications and services migrate to the cloud. To simplify the complexity of developing for multiple mobile platforms, several companies have started to offer solutions that enable developers to build new applications once but deploy them on different mobile platforms.
FeedHenry provides tools and cloud-based PaaS infrastructure that allows developers to start building and deploying new apps which will run across most smartphones – without requiring specialist knowledge of each smartphone platform. Another company,RhoMobile, similarly provides platform-agnostic development and deployment tools that support enterprises and developers in creating, distributing, deploying and manage cloud-based smartphone applications.
Cloud-based mobile applications
The future of cloud-based mobile applications certainly looks interesting. In a 2010 research report, Juniper Research predicts that revenues from cloud-based mobile applications will reach nearly $9.5 billion by 2014. This forecasted growth is largely contributed to several factors, including the increasing adoption and coverage of mobile broadband, sophisticated collaboration needs and technical novelty and standards like HTML5, the Open Mobile Alliance Smart Card Web Server as well as the GSM Association “OneAPI” standard, which allows mobile and other network operators to expose useful network information and capabilities to Web application developers.
All these trends add value to mobile cloud computing and help advance its development. Undoubtedly, we will see many new solutions that change our current perspective of the mobile cloud and enable new usage patterns of many apps and services.

Why Amazon SDKs support the mobile cloud

Most industry analysts agree that mobile cloud computing is going to proliferate in 2011. There are many reasons for this, including the increased coverage, stability and quality of broadband wireless networks like 3G and the growth of broadband-enabled smartphones and tablets that can access and display cloud-based applications.
Mobile cloud computing builds on the principles of cloud computing, bringing attributes such as on-demand access and software as a service (SaaS ) to the mobile domain. In mobile cloud computing, most of the processing and data storage is moved off the mobile device to centralized computing platforms located in the cloud. Applications are then accessed over the mobile internet either via a thin native client or web browser on the device. Additionally, mobile cloud computing can leverage several mobile network centric capabilities, such as location information and payment-as-a-service.
But what about cloud service providers – what are they doing to support and fortify mobile cloud computing? Except for Google, which is already providing close integration with its cloud based services and Android mobile OS,  few major cloud providers seem to have given this important cloud segment serious attention.
Amazon Releases Developer SDKs
One interesting and important exception is Amazon’s recent release of its Software Development Kits (SDK) for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. With these kits, developers are provided with tools that will simplify development of cloud applications stored on the Amazon Web Services cloud platform, or AWS. Developing apps that can use many of the already popular AWS cloud services offers many new opportunities for the developer community, especially due to its low-barrier-to-entry and affordability, enabling more developers with limited resources  to build and provision new mobile cloud services.
The new SDK includes libraries that simplify handling of HTTP connections, request retries and error handling, which used to be complex and arduous. Integration of applications with several AWS cloud services, like the Simple Storage Service (S3), SimpleDB database, Simple Notification Service (SNS) and Simple Queue Service (SQN) will be much more accessible than before. For example, it’s going to be interesting to see whether developers will build a viable messaging solution atop the AWS SNS service that can actually compete with mobile SMS services – which have been a long-time major cash-cow for many mobile network operators.
Although today’s smartphones have significant processing power and memory, they cannot equal the capabilities readily available in the cloud. Also, high-end smartphones are expensive gadgets, affordable for a relatively small number of mobile subscribers, especially in a global context. In fact, ABI Research predicts that computing power and data storage will move away from mobile phones and into the cloud, bringing apps and services to a much broader range of mobile subscribers. Furthermore, ABI forecasts that mobile cloud subscribers will have become about 1 billion in 2014, or nearly 19% of all mobile subscribers.
Cloud Deployment May Surpass Downloads
What this basically means is that today’s native and downloadable mobile applications will be displaced by its cloud-based counterpart. How will this affect cloud service providers? It’s certainly going to give them more leverage and demand a further infrastructure implementation to address the new mobile services and load.
As a result of significant growth of mobile cloud users, network burden and infrastructure load can be expected to increase dramatically especially as the mobile cloud becomes accessible to large subscriber groups in emerging economies like India and Pakistan. Cloud service providers like Amazon are taking proactive steps to prepare and impact this development directly. Others must follow or risk being left behind.

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