Vodafone, one of Britain’s “Big Four” Mobile networks (and second biggest in the world by user base) has announced that Vodafone working with Imperial College London on improving their bandwidth using mini data centres.
Vodafone working with Imperial College London:
The research being carried out between both institutions is to see if mini data centres placed directly at mobile masts (or base stations) would help improve latency (or data lag) between users and content they are streaming.
Since the launch of the original iPhone (or in Android’s case, the Google G1) kicked off the Smartphone race, users have been getting more and more data hungry, and networks such as Vodafone, o2 and EE have been struggling to keep up. Now that you can stream live video to your phone from anywhere (by using apps such as Netflix, Sky Sports and others), the load on mobile networks has increased. The problem lies not in the bandwidth of available to the phones and their users, but in where the data is stored.
Currently, when you want to stream a video (say, the latest episode of Game Of Thrones), your mobile contacts the local Cell tower (or base station) which then gets directed to the content location (wherever that might be). If the distance between the base station and the server is a long way, it takes longer for the episode to be buffered to your device.
The theory that Vodafone working with the Imperial College London are working on is that if there were mini data centres at the same location as the base station, your device wouldn’t have to relay between several different places, just the one, therefore cutting down on lag.
This would also work great for sporting events, concerts or mass participation spectacle. If the base station (and therefore the mini data centre) were close to the event, broadcasters could choose to store local videos nearby (such as most game interviews, training or green-room feeds) at the local mini data centre. This would mean that participants at the event would be able to watch all the videos without much problem. They would also be able to upload their videos and photos without much latency.
If data centres were spread out evenly across the country (for sake of argument, 1 per county) then the national load on networks would be much easier. It must be stressed at this point, however, that the technology isn’t quite there. Not to mention the cost of building data centres everywhere and the potential security risks inherent in that. Although no pricing was mentioned by either Vodafone or Imperial College London, it’s fair to say the price would be substantial, and something of a long-term investment. As Dr Wolf of Imperial College London put it:
The user is ready, but not necessarily the operators.
He added by saying:
From a technical and hardware point of view, the technology is quite mature. The software to manage it is a bit less mature, so that’s maybe more in the realm of a few years.
UK Network Rivals EE were unavailable for comment regarding if they were also taking part in the research.