This article is part of our Essential Guide: A CIOs guide to the Internet of Things (IoT)

Connected cars driving into mobile traffic jams

Mobile network operators may face significant traffic management challenges as more connected cars take to the roads, says study

The growing number of connected cars on the roads may have serious implications for mobile networks in the coming decade, with many cells expected to see a 97% increase in data traffic, driven by connected vehicles, according to a new study commissioned by network analytics outfit Teoco.

Connected cars are key early-stage use cases of the internet of things (IoT), and car-makers world-wide are vying with one another to bring the first offerings to market, with Renault and Volvo among those most excited about the potential of connected vehicles at the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Matt Hatton, founder of Machina Research, which carried out the study, said  connected cars did not behave like smartphones and therefore represented a “diverse set of challenges” to operators through highly varied network traffic patterns at different times of day.

According to Hatton, certain cell sites alongside major roads might struggle to cope with the volume of vehicles moving through an area at peak times.

“If connected cars regularly cause network traffic spikes in a particular location that can’t be met, there are implications for operators in meeting service-level agreements (SLAs) and delivering a positive quality of experience,” he said.

Data volume

Speaking to Computer Weekly at Wi-Fi Global Congress in London, Chris Penrose, senior vice-president of IoT at AT&T Mobility, said in spite of the increasing number of connected cars using the network, the problem was not one of data volumes overall. According to Penrose, the impact of IoT at large would remain quite low.

Read more about connected cars

AT&T is working extensively with a number of vehicle suppliers, including Audi, Ford and General Motors, to supply connected car services. These include content on over the top (OTT) services, such as Hulu and Netflix, streamed to passenger devices.

“There’s no doubt there will be billions of devices online, but a lot of IoT systems are very lightweight in terms of network traffic, just sending short, chatty, low-bandwidth bursts of data,” said Penrose.

“While there will be lots of devices, network utilisation will be very low compared to what’s happening with mobile video,” he added.

According to Penrose, while connected cars would generally tend to rely on LTE mobile networks, other standards of connectivity, such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee or Bluetooth, could be pressed into service if needed.

Steve Bowker, vice-president of technology and strategy at Teoco, said operators would want to identify where and when they were seeing traffic spikes, measure the volume and analyse it.

“They’ll need to consider more seriously how to cope with demands for reduced latency, higher bandwidth, more signaling and higher quality of service. This requires a more sophisticated and comprehensive approach to mobile network planning,” he said.

Teoco set out a number of areas in need of prioritisation, including dynamic network management, support for greater diversity in access networks, investment in sophisticated planning tools, more emphasis on device management and a careful approach to spectrum re-farming.

Networks already at capacity?

In 2014, a separate survey conducted by network control systems supplier Infoblox found that many CIOs were already seeing their networks stretched to capacity.

A number of survey respondents worried they might struggle to cope with the deluge of new devices coming online in the next five to 10 years.

Infoblox reported that, in some cases, networks would reach a choke point earlier than previously thought. Over half of respondents said they were already stretched to the extent that network management tools were becoming a high priority.

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