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Friday, June 10, 2011
Three ways Google can work with mobile operators to relieve network congestion
Google’s YouTube consumes 17% of all mobile data traffic, but Google is reportedly willing to help mitigate some of that impact
At some point, carriers and Internet content providers were bound to sit down and have a heart-to-heart over the devastating impact video and other high-bandwidth services are having on carriers mobile data networks. According to Bloomberg, we’ve reached that point: Google is in talks with some of the world’s largest operators about reducing the impact YouTube and other video services have on 3G and mobile broadband networks.
The choice of ambassador from the Internet industry is apt. Google isn’t just a powerhouse when it comes to mobile services and software, its YouTube division is the single largest culprit when it comes to eating up mobile bandwidth. Traffic management vendor Allot Communications’ most recent survey of its wireless customers networks found that YouTube alone accounted for 17% of all mobile data traffic, and 45% of all mobile video traffic in the second half of 2010—and it’s rapidly growing. In Europe and developed parts of Asia, YouTube is now more than 20% of mobile data traffic, according to Allot.
Bloomberg quoted YouTube executive Andrey Doronichev as saying that YouTube is exploring congestion mitigation policies with a number of operators and handset makers, though he declined to name the specific companies. In a separate story, Bloomberg reported that France Telecom was in talks with Google over similar issues.
What will those network bandwidth sparing policies or technologies look like? Bloomberg’s sources didn’t name specifics, but Allot marketing director Jonathan Gordon shared several possibilities with us:
1) The most direct method would be to simply have content providers compensate operators for the traffic they consume on their networks through revenue sharing deals, Gordon said. That’s probably the least likely scenario. Google would set a pretty dangerous precedent if it started paying operators for access, and it could also set itself on unequal footing with content providers who didn’t choose pay carriers for carriage. But operators could make such agreements more appealing to content providers if they offered something in return. YouTube might be exempted from data caps or metering, allowing unlimited use, if Google compensated the operator for every byte consumed. Operators could also prioritize YouTube traffic over other video on their networks to earn their fees, though such policies could easily run afoul of net neutrality.
2) The second method would be to cache YouTube and other Google content closer to subscribers, essentially extending Google’s content delivery networks (CDNs) into the mobile network, Morgan said. Wireless vendor Ericsson is already working with CDN company Akamai on such capabilities (CP: Ericsson, Akamai partner on mobile cloud acceleration). Using CDNs would alleviate a lot of traffic in operators’ transport and core networks, and possibly even the backhaul network if CDNs were pushed to the cellsite or aggregation node, but would do little to help out with the biggest—and most expensive—point of congestion, the radio access network. Customers, however, would definitely experience better video as there would be fewer bottlenecks up to the cell site, Gordon said.
3) The third method is video optimization or traffic shaping, which is still controversial but ultimately inevitable as networks become overloaded. Gordon pointed out that much of the video traffic on the network isn’t optimized for the device it’s being sent to, resulting in a lot of data being tossed out once it reaches its terminus. “The network can recognize the type of device on the fly, and, for example, transmit to an iPhone a lower quality stream than it would, say, an iPad,” Gordon said. . Since the video stream has only been downgraded to the maximum useful resolution of the device, customers would see no difference between an optimized and an un-optimized stream. While bandwidth is being limited, customers might actually experience better quality video, given higher quality streams have to fight their way through over congested networks, Gordon said.
Operators could take optimization one step further—and here’s where it gets controversial—by dynamically upgrading and downgrading video quality as network congestion levels on the network change. In such a scenario, the iPad user might only get an iPhone-quality YouTube stream if the cell it happened to be in was crowded. Operators would certainly face protests on net neutrality grounds, but Gordon said operators could avoid this by making it an opt-in service. Many customers might be willing to agree to such video constriction if it spared their data plans, Morgan said. Why pay full price for choppy video?
But carriers may ultimately implement such shaping policies network-wide, arguing that they benefit their subscribers as a whole. “It’s a trade off,” Gordon said. “Do consumers want high-quality video that stops and stutters, or do they want lower resolution video that streams normally?”
What route Google and the operators take—or even whether their talks amount to anything—remains to be seen. Bloomberg reported that compensation for access is off the table in Google’s discussions with France Telecom. That would mean some kind of network policy or traffic shaping solution is the most likely candidate, unless their exploring alternative access methods like Wi-Fi. Either way, any agreement between an operator and Google to mitigate network congestion would be of enormous import in this industry. It could even head off the almost inevitable showdown between operators and the content providers that use their networks.source