Analyst Report: How operators can manage the signaling storm in 2013


After the data tsunami, what could be more appropriate than facing a signaling storm?

The enthusiastic adoption of smartphones with attending apps and streaming videos has pushed mobile-­data traffic to levels that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Caught by surprise, many in the industry referred to this as the data tsunami, as if mobile operators were the victims of disaster they had no control over, while they were enjoying an unprecedented success in an area – mobile broadband – in which most of their previous attempts had fallen flat. Instead of embracing the challenge, many operators ran for cover. They tried to protect themselves with traffic caps, a move that probably had the unintended side effect of slowing down mobile-­data growth.

The same scenario appears to be repeating itself with signaling. Data traffic is growing at an accelerated pace compared to the earlier growth of fixed IP traffic, and the way we use mobile data is different from both mobile voice and data in ways that, as we will see, trigger an even steeper rise in signaling traffic. With signaling traffic growth outstripping mobile data traffic by 30 percent to 50 percent, according to 4G Americas,1 the concept of a signaling storm that threatens the stability of mobile networks and creates congestion is compelling.

But as with the data tsunami, is a storm the right metaphor? The connotation of an impending disaster from which we need protection projects a defensive approach that implies that the increase in signaling traffic is an enemy we wish to disarm. Instead, far from being the enemy, the growth in signaling traffic not only is an indicator of success but also shows that mobile data has come of age, not just as the mobile extension of the fixed internet but as an emerging way to stay connected.

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Mobile devices and signaling
  3. Beyond devices: network-­driven signaling traffic
  4. Prepare for the storm, don’t fight it
  5. Calming down devices and applications
  6. A leaner core with Diameter
  7. Concluding thoughts
  8. About Monica Paolini
  9. About GigaOM Pro

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