London Mayor Boris Johnson announced his concerns that mobile networks could collapse during the Olympics, due to millions of additional downloads and web visits. Based on peaks in World Cup traffic from last year, London should brace itself for a data tsunami. ESPN Mobile generated more traffic than ESPN.com with 98 million visits to their World Cup content. Twitter achieved an all-time high of 3,283 tweets per second compared with their average of 750 during Japan's victory over Denmark.
Expectations are that there will be bursts of video traffic with a dramatic increase in uplinks and downloads as friends share their experience on YouTube and attending fans continuously using their smartphones and tablets to stay tuned and updated. In addition, just to add another challenge for operators, BBC has announced that they will be doing 3D broadcasts, where each video broadcast could conceivably take up twice the bandwidth.
There are several measures to boost network capacity, including upgrading to LTE, offloading to Wi-Fi, and rolling out additional macro cell sites and mobile backhaul lines. However, all of these steps require large capital outlays and take time to deploy, something that might not be practical given time limitations and the temporary nature of traffic challenges.
The more viable alternative is network optimization solutions that are designed to reduce network load in order to pack in more data and serve more users using the same infrastructure while ensuring quality video images and smooth browsing for a superior user experience.
Video Data Explosion
More and more spectators of events are becoming journalists on the scene, recording and posting results at the finish line to be the first to share with their friends. With the growing adoption of video-enabled devices and the increasing popularity of video content, the amount of traffic travelling over mobile operators’ networks is skyrocketing. In addition, with the proliferation of high definition video, the same video content on YouTube today consumes three times the megabytes compared with just a year ago.
In order to reap the most benefits, both in terms of revenues and customer loyalty, operators need to optimize video to reduce the load on the network without sacrificing viewing enjoyment.
In order to accomplish this, optimization systems monitor network status, as well as video and image quality and the smoothness of video streaming, and then select the level of optimization based on device capabilities. The rate of optimization is also adjusted in real-time based on network conditions. For example, as the quality of the connection deteriorates, the media encoding rate is decreased and then smoothly increased as conditions improve.
In addition, popular videos, such as YouTube's Top 10, are re-encoded and cached, eliminating the need to fetch from the Internet every time a subscriber makes a request. The process of optimization is also done offline whenever possible for improved response times and less interference with online viewing.
Cell-Based and Policy-Aware Data Optimization
Sporting events, such as the Olympics, create bursts of traffic in specific locations that are not representative of the level of congestion in the entire network. However, many optimization solutions apply the same techniques to the whole network, based on the highest level of traffic. This approach can reduce the quality of experience for subscribers unnecessarily.
Cell-Based Data Optimization uses dynamic policies to ensure the most relevant optimization technique is applied to each cell based on local traffic patterns. The level of optimization can be set based on expected busy hours, for example during the final minutes of a popular Olympic event, or adjusted automatically based on real-time traffic patterns.
In addition, the operator may choose to differentiate users in these locations during busy hours and congestions – so premium users can still enjoy high video and web quality. By varying the level of optimization, the network is used more efficiently while ensuring the best possible user experience for everyone.
The BBC announcement that they will be doing 3D broadcasts at the Olympics comes at a time when providing enough bandwidth to view standard video is already challenging. Yet the 3D mobile video is a buzz term that may become a reality. LG and Sharp announced last year the launch of 3D phones with built-in 3D cameras, and collaboration with YouTube for easy loading of 3D clips.
The way 3D video is designed, it takes up double the bandwidth to capture the same image as standard video, increasing the likelihood of bottlenecks. Optimizing 3D video also requires special care stripping down, compressing, and rebuilding to maintain the 3D effect. Not providing 3D optimization, or not applying it properly, could be an unpleasant surprise for operators and manufacturers, sabotaging the adoption of the new service.
3D and Cell-Based Optimization provide an added insurance policy by reducing the data load for sporting events like the Olympics. Adjusting optimization based on network, subscriber and device characteristics, and real time network conditions provides an extra level of sophistication to help manage bursts of traffic.
In the end, however, the success of all these network optimization techniques at the Olympics will be measured by the subscribers' quality of experience. The goal is that even with all the record breaking traffic, there will still be award winning 3D video viewing and streaming.
*Merav Bahat joined Flash Networks in 2008, bringing with her more than 12 years of marketing, product management and business development experience in the mobile industry. Prior to joining Flash Networks, Merav served as Associated Vice President of Strategic Marketing for the Value Added Services division at Comverse. She also held the position of Director of Marketing for the Voice and Video Applications business unit at Comverse.
Merav has a B.Sc. in Industrial Management Engineering from the Technion – Israeli Institute of Technology and an MBA from Ben Gurion University.