Mobile operators are exploring a number of approaches to cope with the growing volume of video that is steadily filling up networks. In his role as the head of video at
EE , Matt Stagg is charged with exploring new approaches and technologies for managing video on EE's network, as well as contributing to the development of standards and technologies that are relevant in this area.
Previously Stagg joined Telco Transformation to discuss "content storms" -- the sudden spikes in traffic on the network, invariably due to video streaming from a particular event. According to Stagg, some of these are predictable, such as high-profile sporting events or software upgrades. But others come out of nowhere, creating a challenge for network operators. (See EE's Stagg Warns of Brewing 'Content Storms'.)
Despite these challenges, Stagg believes growth in video traffic is fundamentally good for business, because operators are in the business of selling mobile data. Anything that adds value to mobile data is also adding value to what they offer. The challenge is balancing that with a viable business case for the operator.
In this interview, Stagg discusses new technologies and standards that could help alleviate this challenge for operators, such as LTE broadcast, and a vertical-centric approach for 5G development.
TT: Are there any early warning signs on the network, that an extreme spike in traffic is building up?
MS: At the moment, no. Unless we are forewarned, and we know what's coming. But that's where something like AI and machine learning comes in. So maybe if suddenly people are going to BBC news, you know something has happened, and can expect more traffic to build up.
In the future, there are things we would like to be able to do, like switching to IP broadcast when everyone is tuning into the same content. And similarly, we know when software updates are coming, so we can also push those out via broadcast. There are more and more use cases like this emerging for LTE broadcast.
There are also many customers who don't want an iOS update, but could have their experience affected because others are updating their devices, and taking up network capacity. Activities like banking or viewing video -- we don't want to interrupt that experience. Having delays while dealing with the bank site or buffering, low bit-rate streams … if we can use broadcast for the heavy lifting, then it ensures that all customers have a good experience. Even with a sports game, not everyone wants to watch it. They should have good QoE, and so should the large volume of people who are watching the game. This can be enabled with technologies like LTE Broadcast.
TT: How concerned are you about social media, particularly social live streaming which will drive traffic via uploads, not just downloads.
MS: I think first of all, we have to remember as an industry, that growth in video traffic is good for the mobile industry. Regardless of what models you put in, we are in the business of selling mobile data so anything that is driving a rise in mobile data usage, is good.
But with video there are challenges. It's a great opportunity, but the solution cannot be just adding loads of bandwidth. Even with 5G, spectrum is limited, capacity is expensive. We have to find smarter ways of managing this growth in traffic.
The uplink in interesting. I think, to some extent, we didn't see it coming. For mobile operators, it's always been "the uplink is fine, we need to work on downlink capacity." Even in terms of capacity planning -- we didn't really look at it in the past, not for uplink. But we are doing that now. The technology is there, but yes, there is smaller capacity compared with the downlink.
We are seeing uplink traffic building now, at live events -- at Glastonbury [music festival] or at stadiums for sports and concerts -- it is building. We need to ensure that we don't treat uplink as a poor cousin, that we invest in uplink capacity. And that is happening now.
It's important because some of those experiences our customers are posting could be very rare, they won't come again. We need to make sure that these very important and personal moments can be captured, shared and broadcast at the resolution and quality that our customers want.
TT: With 5G coming, do you think many of these issues will be resolved?
MS: I think 5G does give us some more capabilities. We do have the ability to ensure that media and entertainment is addressed in mobile.
We are taking a vertical-centric view with the development of 5G, trying to understand the requirements for key verticals and make sure that their needs are catered for in the development of the technology. So right now we have a set of verticals -- automobile, eHealth, mobile broadband, manufacturing, etc. What we don't want is for all streaming or all video to just fall into the mobile broadband category. I think media and entertainment needs to be moved into its own vertical, with its own specific set of requirements. For example, ultra-low latency is a requirement for automobile, and that gets fed into all standards. We need a similar approach to be developed for mobile media and entertainment.
For example, if we want to use 5G as an alternative terrestrial TV technology, we need to get that in now, into the underlying architecture and technology. We also need to understand how technology will be used. Edge caching is another example -- it may be used for manufacturing, but the economics, business drivers and technology will be very different for media. Different verticals will have different needs.
We also need to also ensure a smooth roadmap and backwards compatibility. Backwards compatibility is really critical, especially as new services like LTE Broadcast are launched.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation