Easing the flow
Increasing data demand is forcing operators to look for data compression technologies to optimise network bandwidth and increase efficiency
Operators are constantly being challenged to handle the rising mobile data demands such as mobile TV and online gaming. While these demands are accompanied by revenue growth opportunities for operators, more and more operators are now optimising their networks through streaming and transcoding technologies that can save on data transmission time, while easing bandwidth capacity and increasing network efficiency.
As Sabri Amireh, vice president for MENA at Comviva says: "Data size and transmission speed have an inverse correlation, which makes it crucial for operators, especially in the 3G environment, to look into data compression technologies to optimise their networks, significantly reduce data file size, while accelerating transmission and lowering latency."
He quotes a Juniper Research study stating that the number of subscribers using the mobile device as a preferred medium to access a variety of online information and entertainment services is to reach 1.7 billion by 2013, representing 50% of total internet users.
Vantrix CMO, Patrick Lopez, points to analyst predictions that video traffic will represent 66% of all mobile traffic by 2014. He says that as mobile video takes a dominant place in people's lives, data compression will prove vital in helping to reduce data transmission time and increase network efficiency.
"The key concepts to understand here are that mobile networks have not been designed to deliver video very efficiently, and that video that can be found on the internet has not been formatted for wireless delivery. This situation results in an extraordinary amount of waste on bandwidth capacity," says Lopez, adding that lossless optimisation such as bit rate throttling and smart caching can help ease network congestion by delivering videos just-in-time.
For Lopez, one of the main issues with internet video delivery on wireless networks is that these videos are all delivered in the same fashion, at the same speed, which is the speed of the network at that point in time. However, he says that every video differs based on various aspects such as duration, encoding, bit rate, format, and resolution, which leads to congested networks as both high quality and low quality videos are all delivered at the same time.
"Our Bandwidth Optimizer can, in real time, adapt the delivery bit rate of each individual video, based on their encoding and the available network capacity, thus resulting in savings up to 30%," says Lopez. He says that maximum benefit can be experienced from `lossy' compression, where the optimizer changes various aspects such as format, size, encoding, quality, and resolution of the video in real time, based on network conditions. "This can result in over 70% savings in video size, and can remove buffering and video stop-and-go," he adds.
According to Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO of Synchronica, a mobile messaging solutions provider, a significant contributor to "bandwidth squandering" is email traffic, which is often associated with heavy attachments. Refering a recent industry study, he says that 1MB of data traffic could cost mobile operators up to seven times more than they would pay for a one minute voice call. "This underlines the important role that data compression technologies can play in reducing data transmission times, increasing network efficiency and keeping bandwidth costs to a minimum," he adds.
Areas of adoption
Data compression technology can be used at different layers of a network. Brinkschulte says: "Many service providers in the MEA region offer ‘all you can eat' data plans to encourage take-up. But there is a potential downside to this approach as more and more subscribers send and receive email messages with heavy attachments.
"We recognised sometime back that mobile email solutions needed to incorporate sophisticated data compression technology to allow MEA service providers to avoid racking up substantial wholesale internet bandwidth charges, which can be up to seven times higher in emerging markets than in the West," he adds.
"Our Synchronica Mobile Gateway 6 incorporates new advanced transcoding and streaming functionality, which enables mobile operators and device manufacturers to provide bandwidth-efficient mobile messaging comprising push email, instant messaging and social networking.
"The patented transcoding technology converts and optimises office and multimedia documents on-the-fly and streams the content to the mobile browser, reducing the consumption of network bandwidth by as much as 90%," says Brinkschulte. He adds that the technology allows for full document viewing even on feature phones without any complex attachment viewer applications.
However, Comviva's vice president for MENA region, Sabri Amireh, sees a different approach to optimising mobile data delivery. "With mobile data usage proliferating across markets globally, operators are experiencing three major challenges. They need to handle explosive data traffic growth cost-effectively, monetise the mobile data opportunity, and ensure a positive user experience."
He adds that to develop a ‘smart pipe' approach to mobile data, its delivery needs to be optimised by taking greater control of data management, while enhancing revenue growth by differentiating between data types, and charging them appropriately.
He says that Comviva has been delivering mobile data solutions based on the different types of data traffic from WAP to HTTP to multimedia and video, which are part of over 80 operators' mobile data strategy. "Our Mobile Data Platform (MDP) deploys a range of techniques to compress and accelerate internet traffic using smart caching algorithms to handle the demands of video and optimise bandwidth and hardware investment to significantly rationalise costs. The platform also exploits management and monetisation capabilities to deliver an enhanced service experience and drives revenue growth," says Amireh.
"I see the MEA region having some unique challenges, where the wireless infrastructure often provides the best if not the only access to broadband," says Lopez. "The needs remain the same, users want to watch videos, but in most cases the proportion of video is even higher than in other regions, because the traffic actually substitutes a larger part of the fixed line access." Vantrix customers in the MEA region include Etisalat group, Saudi Telecom group, MTN group, Qtel group, and Zain group.
Lopez says: "We believe the industry is at a tipping point, and in terms of the options available for mobile operators to handle the bandwidth crisis, I see six complementary mechanisms such as throttling; metered usage; intelligent traffic management including deep packet inspection (DPI) and flexible billing systems; increase capacity through network infrastructure upgrades such as LTE and additional spectrum; traffic offload to femtocell technologies; and bandwidth optimisation including transcoding, adaptive bit rate, and adaptive streaming."
Of these, Lopez says that media optimisation is the only short-term solution for significant savings at reasonable costs, and that it can be deployed and put in service within a month.
There are different layers an operator can perform data compression, with varying results. According to Lopez, data compression can be performed at every layer, but the savings vary greatly. In the case of deep packet inspection where traffic shaping is based on application and transport optimisation that includes layers of radio access, transport, application and web, the bandwidth savings are about 10%-15%. However, in the case of deep media inspection where traffic shaping is based on deep media analysis and media optimisation, the savings can be up to 70%.
Lopez believes that when it comes to video content delivery, only the operator knows which network technology and which device is accessing which content, making it the ideal broker to provide compression in a way that is fair to users.