Feature Article

April 25, 2016

Braced for Impact: Maintaining QoE for Mobile Video

By Special Guest
Cam Cullen, VP of Global Marketing, Procera Networks

There’s no escaping the mobile video revolution. The rise of Netflix, YouTube (News - Alert), and countless other services, combined with the expansion of LTE networks, has created an environment primed for streaming content on the move. Carriers have long been faced with growing demand in this regard, yet it’s only in recent years that expectations for mobile video have taken a considerable leap forward and created fresh challenges in terms of meeting subscriber needs. It’s now reached a point where on demand video represents one of the biggest Quality of Experience challenges faced by carriers today. If they are to avoid service disruption and customer churn in such an unpredictable operating environment, it is essential that carriers are able to manage the impact of video traffic on their networks with complete control.

With this in mind, and with mobile networks under greater strain than ever before, having the right tools in place to effectively monitor and analyze the subscriber experience has never been more important.

The QoE challenge created by video

Maintaining consistent network performance has always been vital to carriers. In the age of mobile video, however, it’s arguably even more important than before. When you consider how the delivery of video has become a new standard by which network performance is measured, consistent performance has become an issue that’s exacerbated by the sheer number of streaming services now available.

Netflix is arguably the market leader in Video on Demand, currently boasting 75 million active subscribers worldwide. Yet Netflix is only one service among many. Mobile subscribers have never had such a wide array of content platforms to choose from as they do today, with mobile-led live video services, including Periscope and Meerkat, also contributing to the overall growth of this traffic on the network. Combined with the fact more than half of YouTube views now originate from mobile devices, according to the streaming giant’s latest statistics, it’s become clear that demand for mobile video isn’t going anywhere.

The challenge presented by mobile video, of course, is that it puts additional pressure on carriers to ensure a consistently high quality experience for subscribers when accessing this type of media content. However, it’s a problem that’s also compounded by the fact carriers cannot afford to neglect other forms of traffic in the process. After all, other users do not want to see overall QoE suffer due to bandwidth hungry video traffic congesting the network and impacting their mobile experience.

Data at the heart of QoE

This presents carriers with a problem, not least because it’s widely accepted that standard performance KPIs, traditionally used to collect and assess network traffic, are not accurate indicators when it comes to mobile video. In fact, these performance indicators can hide the true QoE implications of network services like video streaming. Instead, to address this challenge more effectively, carriers need end-to-end visibility of all new video services and content platforms likely to cause a surge in demand on their networks. It’s also important for them to know when and where on the network a surge is likely to occur. It’s only by having this level of actionable data that carriers can truly meet the needs of today’s subscribers rather than just serving a small data hungry subset of their overall user base.

Network intelligence and traffic management tools, supported by Deep Packet Inspection, are therefore vital. Not only will they help operators meet this goal, they will also be key in supporting the mobile video trend going forward, especially when demands on the network increase even further with the rise of 4K video.

It’s only by using DPI tools that carriers can identify what video traffic is flowing on their networks in real-time, identifying where the network is congested and taking steps to address it. For example, if there is a surge in demand for video that threatens overall performance of the network, a carrier can reduce the average bitrate used per video stream. In doing so, this will ensure the quality of critical communications also being carried by the network – such as voice calls – while the impact on video traffic will be minimal.

Scoring network performance

Maintaining a consistent QoE also depends on having complete visibility into what the network is capable of delivering at any given time. In today’s hyper-connected mobile environment, fuelled by data-led services, operators need a much more granular view – one that delivers insight into the service, application, geography, and subscriber, at any given time, which can now be achieved by rating network performance based on geo-location data or the QoE of services. This ‘scorecard’ system helps operators drill down and reveal the root causes of service degradation and poor QoE based on the analysis of location, category of subscriber, and network topology. For example, if video QoE has a low score in a particular location, operators can identify poor performing cells then drill down to find the root cause of the problem.

As the trend for mobile video consumption continues to gather pace and exceeds growth expectations in the coming years, carriers are going to meet new challenges when it comes to managing the subscriber experience. It’s no longer enough to present a best-effort approach to maintaining a consistent QoE. Instead, carriers need to inspect every data packet and measure their networks for the delivery of a variety of different services. Only by adopting this approach will they be able to handle the mobile video revolution and tackle the next network performance challenge to arise, whenever that may be.

About the Author

Cam Cullen, VP of Global Marketing at Procera Networks responsible for Procera's overall global marketing and product management, and an active blogger with extensive experience as a network security expert.  Prior to Procera, he held senior product management and marketing roles at Allot and Quarry Technologies/Reef Point Systems, and held various roles in business development, marketing, and sales at 3Com (News  - Alert). Mr. Cullen was a captain in the US Air Force where we worked at the National Security Agency and the Air Force Information Warfare Center, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alabama.

Edited by Peter Bernstein

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