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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mobile traffic management - the Inter-technology war begins

I've been following the proliferation of mobile broadband traffic management technologies for some considerable time now, having published a reseach paper on the bewildering range of options a few months back.

The continued hoo-ha around Net Neutrality is starting to catalyse open warfare between the advocates of different approaches to solving the mobile capacity crunch.

WiFi vs. femtocell offload competition is nothing new, but it's interesting to see new rivalry springing up between other purveyors of policy management and control. Flash Networks, for example, is one of a number of vendors that compress/optimise traffic, especially video destined for transmission over cellular networks.

There is quite a lot that can be done at the interface between the operator's gateway and its main Internet peering point - reformatting video, changing codecs or frame-rates, buffering cleverly and so on. Flash has made a very pointed Tweet to say that this is a much better option than performing brute-force traffic-shaping somewhere else in the operator's core or access network. Basically, they are suggesting it's better to compress traffic actively by modifying, rather than force the "natural" content to squeeze through a narrowed pipe.

(The Flash Tweet in full: Nice illustration of watching video with not enough bandwidth, or why bandwidth SHAPING is a DISASTER for online videos http://ow.ly/2upYv)

Of course, the content-optimisation approach to traffic management is not without its flaws either. Firstly, it changes the data transmitted, which is very much the spirit of Internet connectivity. Secondly, it is typically not "bearer-aware", only compressing the traffic if there is actual congestion. Most such solutions are also blind to whether the device is connected via femto or macro networks as well - there is almost no justification for changing content delivered over the user's home broadband and femto.

I don't want to single out Flash here, it's just an example of what I see as an emerging trend for warfare between the various options for traffic management.

Frankly, until we get closer to what I term "holistic traffic management", none of the options will be without problems. There needs to be much more awareness of content, user, network, device, application, actual congestion, pricing/tiering and numerous other criteria in order to make rational and customer-friendly policy decisions.

If you're interested in working through the mobile broadband policy/traffic minefield, please get in touch.


Flash Networks said...

Thank you for your perceptive analysis. Just to clarify, Flash Networks' unique technology is bearer aware – we have several levels of video compression and we output the one that is most appropriate depending on cell congestion, user data plan, and time of day.

Openwave said...

Thanks Dean. Timely post.

Web optimization is a mature technology. From a tech standpoint, the only thing new is HTML5 and even here the key innovation is the introduction of video tags to provide easy inclusion of video content on web pages. Due to the degree of standardization and maturity of web content (minus video) a sledgehammer approach for optimization may work there.

As you infer in your post, all the action is happening around video. Operators need an intelligent video optimization function for following reasons:

1. Video optimization is an extremely compute-intensive operation. The question becomes: how much hardware you want to throw at the problem to get the same benefits as you get on Web Optimizer.

2. Unlike web content, there are very few lossless optimization techniques for video. Most of the content on the web is H.264, which is already well optimized. So compressing a video which is already encoded using a very efficient codec is likely to result in quality artifacts.

So the question is how can operators compress videos that results in least amount of visible quality artifacts for the human eye, AND only apply video optimization when it is absolutely essential to keep the overall TCO low? We feel Openwave has the answer in its Media Optimizer solution.