Bandwidth Caps & 4K TV: A Glimpse into Telco’s Future

Posted: April 28th, 2014 | Author: Steve Hateley | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Last month, Sky and TalkTalk announced that they would be teaming up to build fibre-optic infrastructure across a number of cities in the UK.  This is an important landmark, as more operators look ahead into architectures based entirely on IP.

As Sky and TalkTalk experiment with an architecture that can pipe broadband direct into homes and businesses, this new infrastructure will provide customers with one of the most exciting things on the horizon: 4K TV.

4K TV is about four times as high-definition as regular HD TV, but the crystal-clear picture comes with a diamond-like price. Most consumers aren’t going to adopt 4K TV until that price drops and, until then, there’s another problem – 4K movies consume anywhere from 45 to 60 gigs of bandwidth when downloaded. Still, that hasn’t stifled the enthusiasm for this kind of media. When Comptel was at Mobile World Congress, 4KTV technology figured centrally into a lot of devices on display at the show, as you can see to the left.

This data demand will have big implications for communications service providers (CSPs). Deutsche Telekom said that customers today use about 15GB to 20GB each month. The operator, among many others, is looking at capping bandwidth usage. In this case, a lower-end plan would be capped at 75 GB.

So if 4K media becomes widely used, CSPs may have to radically change bandwidth models to accommodate the sheer diversity of Internet use – some people will be using astronomically more data than others. And by taking a closer look at the situation with 4K TV, we can get a glimpse of this future.

DSL, Cable and Consumers

The current battle in the European Union is between cable and DSL connections. DSL currently makes up 74 percent of broadband connections. While 93 percent of households in the U.S. can choose between cable or DSL, only 42 percent of households in Europe can choose a cable connection.

That leaves a long way to go when you consider the bandwidth requirements of something like 4K TV. Infrastructure will have to be upgraded significantly to allow for higher speeds, or Europe will have to pursue fibre-optic connections, which may or may not be economically viable. Especially in the current climate.

That may be why Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, is convinced that 4K TV will be “the first format that is Internet only.” He believes that broadcast, cable and satellite won’t be able to support the technology. Netflix has already stocked up on some ultra HD videos and even plans to shoot the second season of its self-produced, award-winning series, House of Cards, in 4K.

But which consumers will be able to afford the bandwidth these videos use, given the slow and steady implementation of new caps? Netflix is already planning ahead for this, offering most videos in four different formats and helping users skirt these data limits.

If 4K can’t be broadcast through the digital air without a specific platform on the CSP’s end, subscribers will have to instead find ultra-fast connections just to experience it. The odds are good, too, that they’ll be streaming video from different devices. And, in doing so, they’ll need more bandwidth than ever before.

More Control, More Options

As we’ve seen with the U.S.’s ruling on net neutrality, CSPs are trying to figure out the best way to price the fluctuating costs and rapidly growing requirements of bandwidth usage. With enormous and diverse audiences – and new, bandwidth-heavy innovations like 4K TV – it’s becoming apparent that CSPs need to find a different way to manage traffic. In many cases, this may be where software-defined networking (SDN) and network field virtualization (NFV) come into play, because these technologies will help create a more intelligent and seamless process when it comes to managing changing data needs.

A lot of these changes will also have to do with making the network and service fulfillment process able to deliver an excellent customer experience. It may require applying contextual intelligence to optimise connections for high-value customers. As CSPs create new plans to accommodate more people than ever before, finding a way to get the right service package to them – as fast and efficiently as possible – will become paramount.

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Are We Already Entering a New Era for Policy Control?

Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: Bob Machin | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | 8 Comments »

Last week, Comptel attended and sponsored Informa’s Broadband Traffic Management conference at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London.

To judge from the numbers and the buzz, data traffic management is a very hot topic. This was the second outing for the Broadband Traffic Management show, and numbers had more or less doubled since last year, as the eyes of the industry increasingly turn to how the undoubted boom in data services can be turned into significant revenues.

In truth, the scope of presentations was a lot more than strictly traffic management; although a significant number of speakers examined purely engineering issues (with congestion in the Radio Access Network, a particularly hot button), while others (including Comptel’s Ihsen Fekih on Wednesday’s panel discussion) looked at the crossover between network and software solutions. The overall scope was much more about the balance of traffic, investment and revenue, or as Comptel puts it: balancing revenue, customer satisfaction and resources.

It was interesting that almost everyone is still starting from the same point. That familiar slide, which shows the cost of supporting traffic volumes diverging from anticipated revenues, has become more or less iconic (to the extent that you need only to see its shape to get the point), but it came up many times, usually accompanied by a wry smile on the part of the speaker.

Balancing Customer Satisfaction, Revenue and Resources

But across the two days it was clear that emphasis is now on using the levers of control and charge much more to encourage and allow use than to deny access—not least because traffic patterns seem to be swinging dramatically away from peer-to-peer dominance and towards a more mass-market, consumer-oriented pattern of use dominated by Internet access and content download. The real pressure on networks is from video-based services (primarily YouTube) and streaming media from providers, such as the BBC and Netflix, used by a wide consumer demographic—not just teenagers exchanging illegal games, movies and music. This looks certain to accelerate with the increasing penetration of more powerful smartphones and highly portable tablet devices.

It could be that we’re already moving from Policy Control 1.0 to Policy Control 2.0 in a way which is almost philosophical. Where the first wave was dominated by the need to control (and indeed deter) the use of data services, the second is about taking a much more liberal approach which encourages data use but aims to flatten out peaks and troughs in demand, spreading usage more evenly across networks, geographies and timespans to allow a much better return on capital investment. A number of speakers indicated how solutions to traffic management are by no means all about smarter and cheaper engineering. Good business analytics are key to a better understanding of customer behavior, and can be used alongside levers, such as variable charging, usage control and targeted promotions, to shape usage and maximise return. Taken alongside a number of parallel approaches which are finding real economies in the engineering of data networks, it’s starting to look like gold could be buried in those mountains of data after all.