Sustaining Service Performance in the Video and Gaming Age
How can MNOs ensure consistent quality and experiences for the evergrowing number of video and gaming users, across hybrid networks?
2020 is set to be a busy year for mobile network operators (MNOs). Not only do many have to contend with investments in 5G, many are also focused on the opportunities and challenges presented by the growth of mobile video and gaming. A clear understanding of these challenges is essential so that MNOs can capitalise on the opportunities.
“Demand for mobile video is expected to exceed 75% of all mobile data by 2025”
The growth of demand for mobile video is wellknown – it already accounts for more than 60% of all mobile data, according to the latest edition of Ericsson’s Mobility Report (October 2019). This is expected to exceed 75% by 2025. While some of this traffic is related to MNO video packages, much is from providers such as Netflix and YouTube. Customer expectations have also surged – the ability to stream video in real-time and to deliver a high-quality viewing experience are now critical factors in differentiating MNO offers.
Gaming has also become an increasingly important element of the mix, as mobile has become the preferred interface for many. That’s because mobile devices provide a convenient means to access games and are cheaper than traditional gaming consoles. Analysts at NewZoo suggest that more than 2.4 billion people played mobile games in 2019.
This growth translates to revenue. NewZoo also estimates that mobile now provides the largest contribution to overall global gaming revenue, delivering 47% of the $134.9 billion generated in 2018, up more than 12% from the previous year. With Microsoft and Google launching streaming platforms for games and lower cost smartphones becoming increasingly available, this growth is set to continue. Investment firm Wedbush reckons that mobile has the potential to triple the size of the overall global gaming market by 2030.
All of which means that MNOs must ensure that they can deliver the best experience to their mobile subscribers for both video and gaming applications, regardless of whether they provide them directly or simply enable access via their networks.
5G complicates the situation. On the one hand, faster data rates and reduced latency promise an enhanced user experience. On the other, few if any MNOs can deliver nationwide 5G coverage yet. This means that users are likely to move between 5G cells and existing LTE infrastructure, which will change the performance obtained. Think about the needs of passengers on a train or in a car, for example. The experience they obtain from video and gaming services will likely change, due to different connectivity conditions, demand from other users, latency, and more.
Factors that negatively impact user experience will significantly undermine efforts to capitalise on this growth. Sadly, users won’t really care about this – they’ll expect a great experience regardless. So, MNOs have a problem. They need to be able to deliver the most consistent experience to video and gaming users, whenever and wherever they try to access such services – and to maintain this experience as they move from one location to another – from 5G to LTE and back again.
To deliver a better, more consistent experience, regardless of the underlying network, MNOs need, first, to be able to understand service performance from the perspective of the customer and, second, to be able to take proactive steps to maintain and protect this. They need to be able to achieve this both for individual users, as well as for the complete subscriber base. How can MNOs accomplish this? The answer lies in advanced analytics.
MNOs need to be able to obtain analytics insights into service performance, which must extend to video and gaming services. In turn, such insights can be used to construct KPIs that reflect the required experience levels they need to deliver for each service. For video, relevant indicators include data such as resolution, video and audio bitrates, while latency is particularly important for interactive gaming.
“The necessary analytics information can be obtained by monitoring service streams and sessions through the use of passive probes and processing engines that can extract relevant performance and service information”
With the right solution, quality indicators, statistical information, such as average play time or session duration, as well as the transitions between different bitrates can be obtained – creating a comprehensive overview of individual and audience behaviour and how services are experienced.
Monitoring video and gaming streams also requires the ability to examine encrypted content. This is necessary because new, encrypted transport protocols, such as QUICTM (“Quick UDP Internet Connections”), as well as existing solutions, such as SSL, are typically used to support video and gaming sessions. By understanding the performance demands of individual sessions, MNOs can provide better services – predicting degradations, understanding demand for specific applications and content, and so on. Cumulatively, this data builds a real-time and historic picture of both individual and overall service performance levels.
Not only is this application-specific data now mandatory, MNOs also need to correlate performance across different network interfaces, ranging from UMTS to LTE and now to 5G NSA and, ultimately, to 5G SA. This requires the ability to monitor across all interfaces, as well as to extract the rich information contained in specific packets. Such information can be used to understand demand in specific locations and to predict future consumption patterns. It can also guide future investments, directing capacity to where it is actually needed.
Mobile video and gaming will dominate future network traffic. Users have an almost insatiable demand for content – and will expect to be able to obtain a consistent, high-quality experience. MNOs provide infrastructure critical to obtaining these experiences, so must take action to deliver, even if other stakeholders provide the content and games users enjoy.
“The deployment of advanced analytics solutions for both video and gaming traffic is now essential, so that MNOs can understand performance, troubleshoot effectively, and take the necessary steps to satisfy future demands – while also driving investments for coverage rollout”
Without the ability to access such analytics information, MNOs will be unable to capitalise on surging consumer demand, undermining their role in the ecosystem while losing subscribers to rivals that are able to deliver.