Short and long-term options for mobile operator network capacity to ensure stable video experiences for their subscribers
Over the last several years we’ve seen the mobile landscape headed further and further down a video-centric path; unfortunately most mobile operator networks are challenged to handle the demand with consumer demand for mobile video. Cisco’s latest Visual Network Index Report indicates that 50% of worldwide mobile data traffic this year alone will be video and that over the next five years, video traffic will grow 26-fold, reaching 6.3 exabytes per month by 2015. In addition Yankee Group estimates the number of global mobile video and TV users will grow to approximately 450 million by 2014 – a jump from 250 million estimated users in 2010.
Device Evolution, Fueling Network Capacity Crunch
These spikes are, in large part, driven by media-enabled devices such as the iPhone and iPad that feed users’ hunger for mobile video and data. According to Cisco, in 2010 three million tablets connected to mobile networks, generating five times more traffic than the average smartphone. Combined with the steady growth of smartphone sales– Android sales reached nearly 33 million in Q4 2010 alone – these numbers underscore what experts have known for some time: today’s mobile subscribers are motivated by media-enabled devices , and they are fueling record bandwidth consumption; this presents a serious threat to mobile networks.
Mechanisms for Change
The mobile industry is at a tipping point, and the way network operators and technology innovators respond will determine both the short and long-term health of the world’s mobile networks. The industry has offered several, many of which are complimentary, solutions to curb data usage and alleviate networks at maximum capacity. Here are some of the options, timeframe for deployment/impact and associated costs:
Time to Impact
Metered Usage and capped data plans
This can be introduced in a 1-2 years with most operators requiring sophisticated tools for charging differentially per service, subscriber, and content.
Intelligent Traffic Management such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), Policy and Charging Rule Function (PCRF), Flexible Billing Systems
Currently available and being deployed. Network impact in 1 to 2 years.
Network Infrastructure upgrades such as LTE, 4G, additional spectrum, increase number of cell sites
5-10 year operator strategy
Offload traffic to femtocells or mobile CDN
Mid-term solution. Network impact in 3-5 years
Bandwidth Optimization including transcoding, adaptive bit rate and adaptive streaming
Network impact in less than one year
$ = Millions of dollars
$$= Tens of millions of dollars
$$$= Hundreds of millions of dollars
The evolution of mobile networks and devices that are spurring consumer creativity and usage in the last few years is certainly exciting for operators, handset manufacturers, vendors and subscribers. Yet to ensure that the mobile evolution, and in some cases revolution continues, the industry must address bandwidth challenges that are currently and will continue to pose challenges to growth, ARPU and customer satisfaction. With Bandwidth Optimization, or the ability to maximize the network capacity providers currently have, they are able to make adjustments to the way in which mobile operators deliver content to end-users on-the-fly. Bandwidth Optimization can stop the network “waste” incurred by delivering videos “just in time” to smartphones, tablets and laptops. In doing so, and by overlaying other important lossy and lossless techniques, Bandwidth Optimization can effectively free up a significant amount of network capacity, thereby reducing the OPEX and CAPEX investments necessary to run converged multimedia.
With every day the bandwidth crunch is left ignored, operators are losing customers to the competition. Our industry needs to address the video growth now, in a holistic fashion. It has to become a core competency of network operators, just like voice or messaging have been until now.