COMMENT: Operator's need to deal with encrypted data

Indranil Chatterjee, on why telcos face congestion issues as video data increases
Congestion, Encryption, Issues, Management data, Marketing, Middle East, Openwave mobility, Operators, Region, Telecoms, Columns

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When was the last time you visited YouTube’s website from a mobile browser? Like the majority of users it was probably quite some time ago. Mobile video is currently growing at an incredible rate. With recently released figures suggesting that 34% of video plays are now taking place on a mobile device, most of these will be through apps and not web browsers. With the recent launch of Periscope and Meerkat, carriers around the world are under more pressure than ever to deal with an expected increase in encrypted mobile video streaming. Nowhere is this going to be more of an issue than in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), which is now the fastest region of growth for social media usage.

Whether it is watching a music video on YouTube, an ad on Facebook or the latest episode of Game of Thrones, mobile devices are swiftly becoming the dominant platform that we watch video. This is a double-edged sword for mobile operators. As Vodafone reported in 2013, 75% of the data traffic it was transporting was from video and web browsing. As the proportion of video data increases and shifts to encryption, mobile operators face serious congestion and subscriber experience issues.

Already encrypted data is making up almost a third of all traffic carried over a mobile network. And with more content providers following Google and Facebook’s lead of switching to secure protocols, this trend is only going to accelerate. Encrypted video is a huge problem for mobile operators, whose network infrastructure is often not capable of identifying it, much less optimising it. With networks now fully able to optimise the transfer of unencrypted data, the challenge now is to do the same for encrypted traffic.

As it stands, video content from providers such as YouTube and Facebook is often not optimised, leading to network congestion, higher operating costs and a less than desirable end user experience. Making this all the harder is the fractured nature of how users access mobile video.

With an 86% share of users’ time spent on a mobile device, apps have a strong grip on mobile data. With developments such as Google’s Project Ara lowering the cost of smartphone ownership nearer to the ‘sweet spot’ of $25-50, smartphone penetration in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa will naturally increase. All of which will lead to increased usage of mobile apps.

However, 14% of a user’s time will still be spent on a web browser, meaning that mobile operators in the MEA cannot neglect this traffic either. This split in usage causes problems for mobile optimisation as data is spread across different types of encryption.

The two parts of the network that operators need to focus on are the transport layer and the application layer. Optimising both allows carriers to dramatically increase the speed of encrypted and unencrypted data from web browsers and crucially apps too. Traffic such as HTTP and HTTPS, which makes up a large section of the TLS / transport layer can be optimised to help reduce the amount of bandwidth needed.

Optimising the application layer will further improve the user experience with faster app downloads and audio and video streaming. By doubling up on the optimisation, operators will also see significant data savings on encrypted traffic without users having to worry about their privacy being compromised. New solutions for managing secure traffic can now recognise the fingerprint of high data objects such as HD video, games and apps, and focus on optimising only the payloads that need attention.

The fact is that video, encryption and app usages are becoming major issues for Middle East and African mobile operators. As encrypted traffic continues to increase on mobile apps, operators will need to look at new optimisation techniques. Smart operators however will turn this into a win-win situation for themselves and their subscribers. The right optimisation will boost download speeds, preserve privacy and crucially free up bandwidth.

Indranil Chatterjee, VP product management, marketing and strategy at Openwave Mobility, comments why telcos face congestion issues as video data increases.

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