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WAN Optimization On Cell Phones? Why Not?

Innovation doesn't have to come in big paradigm shifts. Innovation can be small in scale, something that that makes life easier, simpler, or better. Last week at the Riverbed launch, I was talking to Apurva Daveacute about WAN optimization and where the pain points are. It's one of those conversations I often have with vendors about big sky stuff. But I got a Droid last week, so my interest in mobile computing is piqued. "When are you [Riverbed] going to make a client for the Android?" I asked. It's not a wacky idea. At least I don't think so.

Cellular providers are in a tough position when it comes to 3G/4G broadband. Consumers and business users alike are getting sick of purchasing "unlimited broadband" packages capped at five or ten gigabits of traffic per month. If you're just using a smart phone like an Android phone or iPhone, that cap may not be an issue. But if you use a 3G/4G card or pay extra to tether your smart phone to your laptop for Internet access, you can easily hit that cap. Once you go over, you start paying extra. Perhaps the cellular providers are trying to reduce abuse and bandwidth hogs from downloading DVD's and what-not, but let's say that a business user has legitimate reason for going over the caps just checking email and transferring files.  All of a sudden, a data plan with a cap is a less than interesting proposition. Oh, sure, you can use 802.11 wireless, if it is available -- if you remember to turn the radio on -- and if you can find a free AP. But leaving the 802.11radio on is just one more thing to drain your battery.

Using something like WAN optimization, including protocol optimization and de-duplication, can probably help reduce WAN bandwidth. Consider the Droid: it comes with 16GB of an SD card. 16GB, that's an awful lot of space. You can save photos and songs on the SD card, but you can also hunk off a few GB for a de-duplication dictionary and hardly know it was missing. If you really need space, an aftermarket 16GB micro SD card is a measly $42 and probably less in bulk. From what I know of WAN de-duplication, you can likely save quite a bit of data transfers. Of course, whether the phone's CPU can handle the extra processing is a different matter, but given that today, the data transfer rates are pretty low—sub Mbps rates—chances are that the 3G/4G network is likely your bottleneck.

As I type this, my hotel wireless connection, which I paid $9.95 for, is "very poor." I'd probably get a better data rate over Verizon Wireless's 3G network tethering my laptop to my phone.  There are other times I'd rather have a 3G/4G network handy than rely on 802.11 networks. I'd rather not pay for a national 802.11 wireless plan in addition to my home Internet and PDA Internet plan just so I can get on-line in an airport. With WAN optimization on the phone, tethering becomes much more interesting was well. Oh sure, Bluecoat, Juniper, Riverbed and Stampede have WAN optimization client software for traveling users, but the same attachments that I download onto my laptop, I probably would download onto my Droid for reviewing or editing. Adding WAN optimization software to the phone makes sense.