Mobile video through the roof - is optimisation the answer?

Features

Growth of mobile video brings optimisation headache

Video optimisation company Mobixell has said that it is now optimising a petabyte of mobile video traffic a month.

Mobixell is predicting that its one petabyte will grow to five petabytes a month by the end of 2011 - growth that doesn't reflect absolute growth in mobile video traffic, but rather the increasing role of mobile video optimisation within mobile operator networks, and Mobixell's own contracts coming on line. (A petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, or a million Gigabytes. A statement from the company claimed that is roughly equivalent to 350 million YouTube minutes of video.)

Mobixell added that mobile video traffic is predicted to reach more than 70% of all mobile traffic over 2011, "which means every operator, large and small, should be exploring creative ways to reduce that volume of traffic, as part of a wider traffic optimization strategy in 2011.”

There is certainly agreement in the industry that mobile video accounts for a significant portion of data traffic, and its share will grow over the year. Earlier this week Bytemobile forecast that mobile video would account for more than 60% of total mobile network traffic in 2011. Mobixell thinks that number could reach 70%. An Allott Mobile Trends report in September said that mobile video accounted for 35% of all mobile data bandwidth at that time. And Bytemobile said that video accounted for 48% of total network traffic as at the end of 2010.

Companies with an interest in selling mobile video optimisation platforms will of course highlight the need for traffic optimisation, and all this data is sourced from those companies themselves. But a figure of about 35-40% of mobile data being mobile video traffic accords with what some operators have told Mobile Europe over the past year. And many expect the overall volume to double through 2011, as more devices come on line with better video capabilities.

The questions are, is mobile video traffic necessarily something that needs to be optimised? Is the ROI on optimisation sufficient for mobile operators who see mobile video spikes. And are content providers and users happy with having content throttled or compressed?


Noam Green, Associate Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Mobixell, told Mobile Europe that optimising the traffic in the network "saves" about 30-40% of the bandwidth required without optimisation. Patrick Lopez, CMO of Vantrix, said his company can achieve bandwidth reductions of up to 70%.

As well as squeezing more from existing network capacity, Green said that optimisation can help operators increase their brand perception, by giving users a quality of service appropriate to the network conditions they are experiencing. For instance, a user trying to download an HD video may see the video buffer or fail to load, whereas one looking at a compressed video gets the video first time.

Optimisation can also allow operators to monetise content, Green said. He claimed that in a survey conducted for Mobixell last year in the UK, 48% users said they would be willing to pay for optimised content.

Lopez said that optimisation was not just about volume, but about understanding the impact that optimisation is having upon the user.  "It's easy to talk about the amount of optimisation you are achieving. After all, if you removed the video from a video, leaving only audio, then you've achieved a 90% optimisation!"

To address this, Lopex said that Vantrix will use Mobile World Congress to launch two new metrics that look at optimised content from the point of view of the user - providing a "scientific look at the output of the video quality versus the original." This will give operators the level of optimisation they need to enforce without "alienating" the user, Lopez said. 

But what of the content providers? Are they happy to have their lovingly created content squeezed or degraded, to suit the network rules of the mobile operator? Green said that he has not heard from content providers with a beef on this matter. Lopez, however, said that members of the value chain are often "diametrically opposed".

"The content providers and app developers want to deliver the highest quality content at any time. The handset developers are designing devices that will grab as much network capacity as possible, and the operator has to deliver the best user experience possible without bringing the network to its knees," he said."

Some content providers apply their own optimisation at source, but it is hard for them to have the full set of network information that allows them to judge the end user experience, Mobixell's Green said. That leads back to operators being the best placed party to judge the user experience, and apply optimisation accordingly, Green said.

"There are a lot of content providers that are unhappy with the state of play today," Lopez said. "That is, that without optimisation the user experience is mangled - with network congestion leading to long loading times, congestion or buffering. It's rare that subscribers express satisfaction with video in mobile networks."

Yet that puts operators in a difficult situation - squeezed on both sides by consumer and content provider. One way out is for operators to apply QoS to services, so they can perhaps charge accordingly for useage rather than degrade or throttle service for all. But QoS is hard to apply in 3G networks, beyond offering some service prioritisation, and also requires new charging tools.

"They haven't got the charging mechanisms to charge for the increasing level of useage they are experiencing, so something's got to give" Lopez said. "There are categories of customers who are ready to pay a premium for different QoS, but then that goes against the announcements seen from T-Mobile in Germany, for instance, which has increased its cost to the user without a counterpart in terms of added benefit."

"I'll think we'll see network operators approach this from different directions," Lopez added.

One approach has been to combine optimisation with policy management, Lopez said. Vantrix's video optimisation platform has, for instance, been OEM'd by "a number of parties" with their own policy capabilities, Lopez said.

So video optimisation, which looks at first like a simple enough network play, in fact illuminates the key strategic issues facing mobile operators today, both in terms of how they communicate with customers and with their content partners.