Friday, May 31, 2013

Yay! free mobile broadband for all: Cisco and Google


I don't like blogging on Friday. You people's mind is already on week-end and you don't care as much for the joys and anguish of the OTT video industry. I couldn't help it today, though...

Cisco VNI 2013 mobile video growth

As Cisco released the latest iteration of its Visual Networking Index, its CEO, John Chambers predicted at "All things D" D11 conference that improvements in mobile networks architecture and topology will progressively reduce costs and that mobile data will become free...
Not less expensive, inexpensive or cheap... free.
Wow, I am not sure how that happens. With the industry spending $300+ billions per year to increase networks capacity, and signs that LTE might need an LTE Advanced injection sooner than anticipated, the comment seems curious.
Cisco wants, like most of the enterprise vendors in the market to make wireless networks more IT than Telco. That means less differentiated boxes, more i/o, more centralized control, no proprietary interfaces, hardware, protocols. 
This is a good aim, but the reason why the Telco market has been historically highly proprietary has as much to do with its idiosyncrasies and politics (GSM, TDMA, CDMA, WIMAX, WCDMA, LTE FDD and TDD...IMS) than vendors. "Standards" have emerged by necessity but have always been the smallest common denominator for networks and functions to behave, leaving wide margin for vendor differentiation and proprietary "enhancements". That needs to be resolved first before you can see costs come down. At last, costs coming down do not necessarily equate prices going down... unless content starts to subsidize bandwidth like YouTube / Netflix with internet backbone. Talking about Google/YouTube....


This week as well, Google made the headlines, speaking to the Wall Street Journal. The company was quoted having plans to deploy and operate wireless networks in Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Orange CEO was boasting having made Google pay for traffic in Africa in February, that was a short victory.
After subsidizing internet infrastructure for YouTube traffic, implementing large scale wifi and fiber networks, Google is to build and operate wireless networks.The idea is that Google would build these networks to provide wireless broadband services that are proving to be great enhancements in people's quality of life, communication and prosperity, such as watching cats fall off TV sets on YouTube or playing massive multiplayer online games on Facebook.
More seriously, the implications of this move are tremendous. Google could have a completely integrated vertical content delivery form creation, to aggregation, to delivery and display. What will Google want in exchange for these investments? Maybe nothing, the CEO was quoted several times having Google working on wide ranging non-profit goals....
But then again, indirectly, maybe you will need an Android device to access these networks, or maybe Google talk, chat... will be free on these networks, but you will have top pay to use other apps or services...
Certainly, connecting the next billion subscribers to wireless broadband for free is an inspiring goal. The skeptics and cynics will see here another way to dominate a market by vertical integration.

Jury is out, but if you are a wireless network operator in these regions, you better start thinking about what that could mean to your business.

Monday, May 27, 2013

All bytes are not created equal...

Recent discussions with a number of my clients have brought to light a fundamental misconception. Mobile video is not data. It is not a different use case of data or a particular form of data, it is just a different service. The sooner network operators will understand that they cannot count, measure, control video the same way as browsing data, the sooner they will have a chance to integrate the value chain of delivering video.

Deep packet inspection engines count bytes, categorize traffic per protocol, bearer, URL, throttle and prioritize data flow based on rules that are video-myopic. Their concern is of Quality of Service (QoS) not Quality of Experience (QoE). Policy and charging engines decide meter and limit traffic in real-time based on the incomplete picture painted by DPIs and other network elements.

Not understanding whether traffic is video (or assuming it is video just based on the URL) can prove itself catastrophic for the user experience and their bill. How can traffic management engine instantiate video charging and prioritization rules if they cannot differentiate between download, progressive download, adaptive bit rate? How can they decide what is the appropriate bandwidth for a service if they do not understand what is the encoding of the video, what are the available bit rates, if it is HD or SD, what is the user expectation?

Content providers naturally push a content of the highest quality that the network can afford, smartphone and tablets try and grab as much network capacity available at the establishment of a session to guarantee user experience, often at the detriment of other connections / devices. It is wrong to assume that the quality of experience in video is the result of a harmonious negotiation between content, device and networks.
It is actually quite the opposite, each party pulling in their direction with conflicting priorities.
User experience suffers as a result and we have started to see instances of users complaining or churning due to bad video experience.

All bytes are not created equal. Video weighs heavier and has a larger emotional attachment than email or browsing services when it comes to the user's experience of a network's quality. This is one of the subjects I will be presenting at Informa's Mobile Video Global Summit in Berlin, next week.