For mobile service providers, COVID-19 has been the catalyst recently for dramatic traffic growth as enterprises and consumers follow mandatory stay-at-home guidelines.
Fortunately, many OTT providers have throttled their video streams to reduce the strain on the network, but this has highlighted to service providers the importance of being prepared in the future with intelligent traffic management and video optimization solutions.
Currently, most online video providers use Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) video technology, which adjusts video quality to suit available network capacity. Unfortunately, existing ABR technology can sometimes cause more congestion problems, particularly during periods of heavy traffic. The worst-case scenario is that that any newly added—and increasingly vital—network capacity without a managing tool in place is automatically monopolized by video clients attempting to achieve higher bitrates and video stream quality.
Service providers typically use one of two network protocols—either TCP or UDP—to deliver content to users. For example, Netflix uses TCP to transmit streaming videos. In recent years, there has been an increase in UDP traffic on operator networks. QUIC (Quick UDP Internet Connections) was designed with the promise of secure, encrypted, low latency connections with better loss recovery and congestion control mechanisms. YouTube is driving a large part of QUIC-based traffic on mobile networks. Service providers need a solution that can offer optimization support for both protocols.
The challenge of video on the network can be met by improving the way TCP works on the mobile network. Implementing network optimization techniques, such as TCP Optimization, can significantly improve download speeds from between 30-150% while also improving network congestion. With this type of improvement, subscribers will have a greater quality of experience, leading to increased data usage and, in turn, increased provider revenue opportunities.
F5 can detect video streams and dynamically manage them using rate limiting for UDP-based video streams—such as YouTube and Hulu (using F5 ABR video detection and control). Selecting a UDP profile option will allow a rate limit on a UDP flow to the desired maximum rate. This will restrict the bandwidth usage and free up room for other traffic when the network is congested for example.
The increase in encrypted video traffic generates additional complexity—five of the top six video applications are encrypted, including Youtube, Facebook and Google Cloud. F5 can identify and rate limit encrypted traffic flows and identify key details about these traffic flows which can be exported and analyzed without having to decrypt the traffic.
A benefit of utilizing granular subscriber and application awareness is that SPs can then enable new tailored services based on subscribers’ preferences and profiles. The service provider can detect TCP and UDP traffic (encrypted or not) as well as identify specific subscribers and traffic types, and then a bandwidth control policy can be applied.
Policies can be time-based, or per subscriber, application, or device type. Right now, enterprise users have moved from their corporate network to working from home and using their everyday consumer network. A provider might offer a high-performance enterprise service that excludes Netflix or Hulu traffic and prioritizes Zoom traffic for example. Or, as the morning is the peak time for users connected to the network, corresponding video controls could be used to manage congestion. Performance tiers offer another opportunity: a gold plan subscriber may enjoy a video stream at 5 Mbps (suitable for 1080p resolution) while a silver plan subscriber is only able to stream up to 3 Mbps (suitable for 480p resolution).
And, critically, bandwidth can be reduced while still meeting the throughput and quality requirement—for Netflix HD (for 1080p resolution) and SD (480p resolution), as well as the throughput required for a quality experience on different devices (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.), thus maintaining the user experience.
Planning to proactively manage the amount of bandwidth used by video in your network can provide significant network resource savings—especially premium RAN resources—while maintaining and improving a quality user experience. Combining multiple tools, such as TCP Optimization, ABR Video detection and control, and subscriber awareness provides great flexibility. Managing bandwidth and maximizing traffic throughput allows the service provider to best manage the continued growth in IP traffic and the peaks and uncertainties associated with the pandemic. These strategies help you deliver increased performance, lower your TCO, and improve your subscriber QoE.
For more information on how F5 can help Service Providers successfully address the current climate, visit the dedicated section within the company’s COVID-19-focused business continuity resources: https://www.f5.com/business-continuity/service-providers-keep-the-world-connected
To address similar performance considerations in the broader context of the present pandemic, these articles may also be of interest: