Can networks carry big video’s ultra-high definition burden?
The past decade has seen the multi-fold growth of online content consumption on mobile devices. We’ve never spent as much time (and data) on our smartphones, getting work done, browsing the web, scrolling through social media and … watching videos, writes Brendan Gill the chief executive of OpenSignal.
Not only are videos the most popular content of choice, they are also responsible for eating up the largest chunk of subscribers’ data plans.
Thanks to the popularity of over-the-top (OTT) services and apps such as Netflix and YouTube, demand for video content is rising exponentially. According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, videos account for more than half of an average mobile user’s data usage today. And it will only grow further. In a mere five years, Ericsson predicts that video will make up 75% of a user’s mobile monthly data traffic – expected to reach 17.9 GB by then.
Increased demand is just one aspect though. Ultra-high definition video formats such as 4k and 8k may soon become more common for videos viewed on connected devices. As video quality rises, so does the need for faster connections to enjoy seamless streaming.
As users are further drawn into consuming more data-intensive content, it is time we ask: are networks ready to cope with the video deluge?
We’ve got the speeds … but we’re lacking the access
Many are looking at 5G to save the day. Naturally, as the next generation of wireless technology promises – among many other things – lightning fast connections that will revolutionise mobile usage. But users don’t need 100 Mbps speeds to enjoy superior video experience.
To be able to seamlessly stream an HD video requires download speeds less than 5 Mbps while an ultra-HD 4k video needs around 15 Mbps. Both figures are comfortably below the global average 4G speed of 16.9 Mbps OpenSignal recorded in our latest report analysing the state of LTE worldwide. In fact, only 20 of the 88 countries we examined were not able to provide a speed of at least 15 Mbps.
But fast speeds are of no use if they aren’t accessible. While we’ve seen significant improvements made in LTE reach on a global scale, ubiquitous 4G coverage is still far away. Even developed nations, such as the United Kingdom, are struggling to provide access to an LTE connection at least 80% of the time. What happens in the remaining 20%?
When users lose their connection to a 4G network, their smartphone will usually connect to a lower-grade (usually) 3G network. And attempting to stream a high definition video on a 3G connection (which can be up to 5 times slower than 4G) is typically a more frustrating experience.
Understanding the experience that matters
Superior or poor, the experiences users have while watching videos online is of huge importance to them. It will therefore be essential that operators have access to real-world insight and a clear understanding of the quality of mobile video, and the real-world experience of those watching, across their network at any given time.
By tapping into the mobile experience analytics offered by on-device measurement tools, operators can effectively measure and manage mobile video on their networks. These insights will enable them to make better investment decisions, provide higher quality of service and allow for a better mobile experience in the long-run.
The need for a reliable connection today
While 5G may come to the rescue when an even greater demand surfaces, it will be built on the existing 4G infrastructure we use today. If poor 4G availability is left unaddressed it will mean that the emerging 5G services will start with equally poor accessibility. That’s definitely not a win for the industry.
While the industry awaits the next video revolution, subscribers are still all too familiar with network drop-offs, speed fluctuations and blind spots impacting their mobile experience. And they are looking to their 4G providers to measure up to the task…today.