Monday, March 16, 2015

Blueprint: Next Gen Mobile Video Optimization

Mobile Streaming is the Future – It’s Also the Problem We Must Solve

by Mark Fisher, VP Marketing and Business Development at Qwilt

To be sure, streaming video really is the future. The online video phenomenon is creating a market and technology transformation that rivals some of the greatest technology disruptions in history. Just like the disruption of broadcast radio and cable television in their day, streaming video is transforming both consumer behaviour and business models. While the early days of online video were novel, limited to watching clever three minute YouTube videos, it was the advent of long form HD video from sources like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu that ushered in a new generation of viewers.

For many of us with a Netflix account, the notion that you once had to wait for a TV show to come on air in order to view the broadcast already seems laughable. But, the implications for consumers worldwide and the network operators who serve them are profound. We have reached a point where the 40 year old and highly asymmetrical model of broadcast television is being turned upside down. Consumers are now fully in charge – they choose the content, device, time and place. As such, many cable operators are beginning to recognize and, in some cases, admit publicly, that as time goes on, their broadband internet service offering, not their cable TV service, will be their strategic product line.

Furthermore, this transformation ripples out in many directions. High quality video streaming is not only making its way into our living rooms, via the popular uptake of connected smart TVs, but increasingly onto our mobile devices too. Today’s viewers expect to be able to watch their favorite TV show or film, anytime, anywhere and on any device, such as a smartphone or tablet. With research showing that more than half of a mobile viewers’ time is spent watching videos that are longer than 30 minutes, and live streaming of sporting events looming as the next tidal wave to hit mobile networks, it is clear that streaming really is the future. Therefore, it is critical that operators prepare their networks for the future of online video, or else customer satisfaction and retention will be at stake.

This transformation has even more profound implications for mobile networks for two reasons. First, 4G and 5G access speeds now rival fixed broadband performance in many regions. And second, the vast majority of consumers in the coming years will rely on mobile broadband services as their sole access to the Internet. According to Cicso’s 2015 VNI report, by 2019, 4.6 billion smartphones users will drive 97 percent of all mobile data and 72 percent of this mobile traffic will be streamed video. So, the implication for mobile network architects is that consumer will increasingly expect a “broadcast TV” experience while streaming video to a mobile device.

The Problem: Packet loss, Buffer Bloat and Latency

Driven predominantly by the mainstream adoption of over-the-top (OTT) services from popular video-on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and from live-streaming sources like ESPN, NBC and Twitch, this exponential growth in demand for content will push existing mobile networks to their limits. Today’s mobile network operators face two unique challenges: first, they must optimize streaming video traffic so as to make efficient use of expensive RAN resources and, secondly, they must ensure Quality of Experience (QoE) for viewers who expect a high-quality, mobile viewing experience that rivals that of ‘broadcast TV’. The new mobile video optimization architecture must simultaneously resolve these two critical challenges – traditionally at odds with each other.

The technical performance problem faced by mobile networks given their current architecture is twofold: first, packet loss and buffer bloat across the RAN results in under-utilized Radio resources and second, latency and packet loss across the backhaul network and through the packet core result in underutilized and congested backhaul networks. The increasing amount of streaming video traffic on mobile networks exacerbates both of these problems as the streams are delivered from origin servers upstream of the packet core. The aggregate latency across this network path, from core to RAN, is a key driver for the downstream problems of packet loss and buffer bloat, which greatly hamper RAN efficiency. These conditions call for a new mobile architecture to address the onslaught of streaming video.

A New Architecture is Needed

Conventional wisdom would guide an operator to address this problem with brute force – buying more routers, switches and links to increase capacity. This is no longer a scalable or cost-effective approach. Choosing an intelligent open architecture and open caching solution can dramatically reduce the volume of repetitive streams clogging up the network by identifying, storing and delivering the most popular, high-quality video content from inside the service provider network. It’s interesting to note that an effective open architecture and open caching platform can reduce streaming video traffic demands by as much as 60 to 80 percent in some cases.

The Solution – Move Content To The Edge

At the heart of the new mobile network architecture is a simple principle: move content to the edge of the network, as close as possible to consumer.

From a technical perspective, this new architecture calls for an open caching function, which is integrated with the eNodeB. There are already a number of disruptive forces at work in mobile architecture, including the notion of a Cloud RAN, which employs innovative front haul technology. This virtual RAN architecture can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems. The integration of an open caching layer at each eNodeB can be accomplished through Network Function Virtualization (NFV) as the caching function can be enabled entirely through software running on commodity hardware. Furthermore, this NFV-based cache can use local compute and storage resources as needed to manage content at peak demand, when resources are strained. During after peak hours, the compute and storage resources can be assigned other tasks leveraging the NFV architecture.

In combination, this new open caching architecture dramatically reduces network latency and, pivotally, improves viewer QoE. Resulting in substantial increase in RAN efficiency and dramatic improvement in capital utilization, hidden network capacity is unlocked. In addition, mobile operators can optimize their backhaul capacity spend, thereby tackling the next bottleneck in LTE networks.

Ultimately, this new mobile architecture results in a substantial reduction in end to end latency. The impact on RAN utilization is significant as radio resources are able to manage streaming content with greater efficiency. Many technology providers expect this new architecture to improve RAN efficiency by 20 to 30 percent. So, at the end of the day, this new architecture will allow mobile operators to continue to leverage current radio network assets, unlocking capacity that would have otherwise been lost.

Consumers have spoken – It’s time to build the new network for mobile video

As network operators and the technology companies that support them, we don’t have the luxury of pondering the outcome – consumers have spoken. They love the freedom and choice that comes with this new model of streaming video. It’s up to us now to create the infrastructure in mobile networks that will profitably support this new model of consumption.

The Internet can certainly be relied on to deliver television, but only if network traffic is managed appropriately. Given that video is swiftly becoming a standard fixture in the consumer web experience, and deterioration in end-user Quality of Experience (QoE) can drive churn, operators must have the right network architecture as a starting point. It is this new architectural foundation that will allow mobile operators to deliver the future of streaming video to the consumers who want it so desperately.

About the Author

Mark Fisher leads strategic marketing and business development at Qwilt, bringing over 20 years of marketing, product management and business development experience in communication technology start-ups to the Qwilt team.

About Qwilt

Qwilt addresses the impact of OTT video on operator networks with a unified, turnkey solution that combines open caching, video delivery and analytics technologies deployed at the subscriber edge. Qwilt QB-Series Video Fabric Controllers optimise delivery of streaming video content to relieve network traffic congestion for operators and deliver a higher quality viewing experience for their customers. A growing number of the world’s leading cable, telecom and mobile service providers rely on Qwilt to optimize their networks to support growing consumer demand for online video content as a primary entertainment source. Founded in 2010 by industry veterans from Cisco and Juniper, Qwilt is backed by Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Marker and Redpoint Ventures.

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