Vodafone says upstream broadband data flows have doubled in some markets

Operator group Vodafone has shared an update on changes to activity across its European networks coz of Coronavirus.

Apparently a fifth of global internet traffic goes over Vodafone’s networks, so it has a fairly comprehensive view of what’s going on in certain regions. Principal among those is Europe and Vodafone says mobile data usage has increased by 15% on average across the continent. The more advanced the pandemic is, the more mobile data use has increased, so Italy and Spain are the main drivers of that increase.

A similar, but more exaggerated, pattern applies to fixed-line broadband, with Italy and Spain showing a 50% increase in usage. While streaming video will account for a lot of that, the most extreme changes have been caused by video conferencing, which is why upstream (originating from the user) data has increased by 100% in some markets.

“The biggest user of bandwidth on our networks is still the streaming of TV, film and games. Streaming traffic has increased by 40% on mobile and 50% on fixed broadband across European networks as a whole,” blogged Johan Wibergh, Vodafone group CTO. “Gaming traffic alone has increased twofold on mobile and nearly threefold on fixed broadband.

“This has put our mobile and fixed networks under strong pressure with evening peaks for mobile increasing by 20% in countries like Italy and Spain and fixed broadband traffic by around 35% in those countries, putting them near capacity during some parts of the evening. We have therefore brought forward planned upgrades to add four Terabits per second of additional capacity to our networks during March and April.”

Vodafone’s metrics tally with those published recently by Nokia. Operators and networking vendors alike are keen to stress how on top of the unique circumstances they are, but then again would they be blogging about it if they weren’t? Having said that there have been few reports of network problems that we’re aware of and our evening viewing of Tiger King yesterday went without a hitch, so what more could you ask for?

As YouTube defaults to SD worldwide, Ofcom offers connectivity top tips

With everyone stuck at home for the foreseeable future coz of coronavirus, telecoms capacity has become front page news.

Google-owned YouTube, the dominant social video platform for most of the world, has announced that it has set the default resolution for all video playback worldwide to standard definition. “Last week, we temporarily defaulted all videos on YouTube to standard definition in the European Union, United Kingdom, and Switzerland,” said the support update. “Given the global nature of this crisis, we are expanding that change globally starting today. This update is slowly rolling out, and users can manually adjust the video quality.”

The European move was matched by Netflix but they weren’t joking about the slow rollout. SD presumably means 480p and below, but our videos are still defaulting to 1080p in many cases. Since the UK has supposedly been restricted for a week, you have to wonder how long this fairly small concession will take to implement.

In the mean time Ofcom has published some top tips for ‘helping broadband and mobile users stay connected’. You can read them in full here, but in case you lack the bandwidth to do so here’s a summary:

  1. Use your landline or wifi calls if you can
  2. Move your router clear of other devices
  3. Lower the demands on your connection
  4. Try wired rather than wireless
  5. Plug your router directly into your main phone socket
  6. Test the speed on your broadband line
  7. Get advice from your broadband provider

“Right now we need people to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “Reliable internet speeds will be crucial so we can work from home where possible, stay connected with our families and keep up to date with the latest health information. I urge everyone to read Ofcom’s helpful tips and advice to ensure they get the most out of their broadband and mobile internet connections during these unprecedented times.”

“Families across the country are going online together this week, often juggling work and keeping children busy at the same time,” said Melanie Dawes, Ofcom Chief Executive. “So we’re encouraging people to read our advice on getting the most from their broadband, home phones and mobiles – and to share it with friends, families and colleagues, to help them stay connected too.”

BT suggests network traffic surge is no threat thanks to 17.5 Tbps horsepower

With suggestions telco networks might come under strain over the coming weeks, BT has unveiled the facts and figures of its network to calm fears of homeworkers and parents desperate for peace.

In a blog post, Chief Technology and Information Officer Howard Watson pointed to the capacity which has already been built into the network which powers the majority of broadband networks in the UK.

Interestingly enough, this is the first time a telco has stepped forward to calm fears with facts and figures. Most have simply been stating they would be able to deal with the increased network strain, though rhetoric is nothing compared to the security of hard facts. Hopefully BT’s rivals will follow suit with more detailed information to ease concerns.

“These facts give us confidence that the additional load on the broadband network is well within manageable limits and we have plenty of headroom for it to grow still further,” Watson said.

“But we’re not complacent. We’re monitoring the network closely and collaborating with the other UK networks and content companies. Our Network Operations Centre teams are operating around the clock to identify any issues and resolve them as rapidly as possible. And if more capacity is needed, our engineers are on standby 24/7 to make that happen.”

Watson suggests the BT/Openreach network is built with plenty of ‘headroom’ allowing it to support peak time traffic. The highest peak the network has seen, and dealt with, is 17.5 Tbps driven by videogame updates and streaming football. Normal day time traffic is 5 Tbps, and in recent days, the network has seen a surge in traffic of 35-60%, peaking at 7.5 Tbps. Even if these trends continue, BT is confident its network can stand up to the pressure.

This will come as welcome news, as hanks to the Openreach wholesale business unit, many customers around the UK are dependent on BT for home broadband.

Internet Service Provider Network owner Subscriptions
BT Openreach 9,110,275
Sky Openreach 6,216,219
Talk Talk Openreach 4,680,000
Virgin Media Virgin Media 5,271,000
Vodafone CityFibre 687,000

Statistics curtesy of Omdia’s World Information Series (WIS) – accurate to December 31, 2019

Interestingly enough, roaming traffic is decreasing by roughly 10% a day, down 55% over the last five days, which will ease some of the pressure on mobile networks. More people connecting to wifi routers which will also help the mobile network, while it is also becoming more evenly distributed across the country as less people travel into the urban centres. This is welcome news, but also presents a challenge as less urbanised areas, which are perhaps less resilient, will have to be scaled up.

The resilience and adequacy of the UK’s network will certainly be tested over the coming weeks, though it does appear BT is in a strong position, both in terms of mobile and broadband, to respond accordingly.

4G is over-congested and 5G is the solution – Opensignal

Network monitoring outfit Opensignal has published its latest global report, which concludes congestion is messing with the 4G user experience.

In some countries the 4G download user speeds experienced by consumers can vary by 30 Mbps over the course of the day thanks to network congestion. European countries seems to be the best at dealing with this congestion, with the US in the middle and some Asian countries struggling. Globally, peak traffic speeds are around have the level of the quietest times.

opensignal average 4G speeds

“To launch all the most demanding new applications, such as augmented reality or autonomous driving, operators and app developers must be able to break free from today’s limitations where they are forced to create services and apps for the worst-case congestion conditions,” concludes the report. “The world needs new 5G networks to offer increased capacity, and more consistent speeds to sustain new innovations.”

It also notes that 5G is best suited to cities because of the shorter range of the higher frequencies, which is handy because that’s where the worst of the congestion is. Here’s a handy chart showing the speed ranges experienced by country. Looks like Belarus could do with a bit of 5G magic.

opensignal country 4G speeds small

TIP 2018: what’s in it for Facebook?

At the Telecom Infra Project Summit 2018 we spoke to the Facebook execs behind the initiative to find out why they decided to get involved.

When Facebook first started talking about getting involved in in the telecoms industry via TIP and even developing novel wireless technologies such as Terragraph, it felt like a frustrated OTT going through the motions to light a fire under the sector. Facebook’s vested interest was clear: the better and more ubiquitous the connectivity, the more people will use Facebook.

As we explained earlier, a big part of this involves efforts to make telecoms infrastructure cheaper to buy, roll-out and maintain. In that respect TIP is a direct threat to the traditional big kit vendors, not only because tower networking costs probably equate to lower profits for them, but a major aim of TIP is to expand the whole telecoms ecosystem, thus creating additional competition for them.

In a couple of small media gatherings at the event we spoke to Jay Parikh, Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, and VP of connectivity Yael Maguire. Parikh explained that TIP is not just a product of Facebook’s own connectivity needs but also of conversations he was having with operators two or three years ago in which they implored Facebook to get involved.

The biggest mutual problem faced by Facebook and the operator community is the exponential growth in traffic over networks combined with the increasing difficulty and cost of providing it. “We were worried that innovation was slowing down,” said Parikh, in reference to the collective concern felt at the time, one which the big kit vendors were failing to sufficiently address.

In response to persistent questioning about the return Facebook expects to get on its significant (but unspecified) investment, Parikh insisted that this isn’t a short term thing for his company. The strategic objective is to catalyse the telecoms industry and ROI will be gauged by the presence of novel connectivity innovation, as opposed to direct financial considerations.

It’s easy to be sceptical any time a company claims to be doing something for the greater good, but equally this would be a strange area for Facebook to diversify into if it was only looking for a new profit centre. Having said that the world’s dominant etailer now makes much of its profit from its cloud business so you never know.

Parikh kept his cards pretty close to his chest regarding any TIP financial metrics but it’s relatively easy to believe that a cash-rich Silicon Valley company might be prepared to spend money a bit more speculatively than a traditional outfit. Facebook considered its own fortunes to be intrinsically allied to those of the global telecoms industry, so helping it innovate is viewed as sufficiently self-interested by itself, for now at least.

When asked what the top priorities are for Facebook from TIP, Parikh cited the connectivity insights programme, which aims to give operators additional data to help operators make informed decisions derived, in part, from anonymised Facebook user data. Rural access work is also important as Facebook seeks its next billion users, and Telefónica’s work in Peru was cited as an example of this.

The third priority is Terragraph, which is positioned as an alternative to fixed wireless access delivered over unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, of which there is plenty, with an emphasis on backhauling wifi. This is a key concern of Maguire’s, who noted that average video speeds are declining across the board thanks to the aforementioned imbalance between demand and supply.

Maguire explained that Terragraph started as a project designed to look into the viability of using the 60 GHz spectrum for backhaul. At such a high frequency there are a bunch of propagation challenges, with even oxygen itself contributing to signal degradation. But it turns out that if you get the precise line of sight alignment right and don’t try to transmit any further than 200m, then it can be used in much the same way we’re talking about FWA over mm wave for 5G.

In keeping with Facebook’s general tone on this stuff Maguire played down any direct antagonism between Terragraph and mm wave FWA, insisting they just wanted to offer up alternatives. I was also keen to stress that this technology is specifically intended for high bandwidth wireless backhaul. “It’s not a solves all problems technology,” he said.

So, in summary, Facebook says it’s not looking for any immediate return from its involvement and investment in TIP. Instead it expects to benefit from the telecoms industry innovating as a faster pace than it would have if Facebook hadn’t decided to get involved. Aside from justifiable scepticism about any company being so sanguine about immediate, demonstrable ROI there’s little reason not to take Facebook at face value on this, while also keeping a watchful eye out for mission creep as things progress.

World Cup: Understanding is the key to avoid scoring own goals

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Derek Canfield, General Manager, Business Analytics at Teoco talks about the network challenges associated with major sporting events like the World Cup.

Imagine the scene. It’s the World Cup final and 80,000 people in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium are craning their necks from the seats to watch a referee look at his small video screen beside the pitch. Meanwhile a worldwide TV audience expected to top one billion people will not only see the replays themselves, they’ll have experts and former referees explaining what is happening to them.

This situation is common for the American sports fan. The lead official at an NFL game can often be seen going under the hood to review on a private screen a tight call in a game that has countless interpretations available. And while the crowd boos or cheers the big screen replays, the audience at home get a detailed explanation from an ex-official or rules expert on the situation unfolding and the possible verdicts.

But is it right that the paying audience in the stadium, often including the most passionate fans, is left a little in the dark, so to speak? Of course not, and thus we see a good number of them will have their smartphones out trying to track what’s happening, and get the inside scoop on the likely decision moments before it is revealed. In fact, our digital world is intended to give the passionate fans the best of both worlds: the energy and of the live event, enriched by readily available content and analysis on their respective devices.

However, unless the stadium’s communications capacity is being actively managed and flexed to allow the live audience to keep track of developments on their mobiles, it is possible and even likely the stadium will score a network own goal and leave its audience frustrated.

Simply cranking up the network capacity is only part of the solution. To really improve things for the fans on site, operators need a much better understanding of what the spectators in the stadium are actually doing. This involves tracking the apps they are using, the feeds they are watching, and understanding all of the services they are trying to access. Without access to that level and granularity of data, it will be almost impossible for the stadium service provider to really improve the quality of service being provided.

Unfortunately, the challenge in those circumstances is that the majority of the data traffic in the stadium will be encrypted. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by next year as much as 80 per cent of all web data traffic will be encrypted. So how can the operators know what’s going on, if they can’t actually see the services being used?

With advanced analytics solutions, operators have found it is possible to gain actionable insights and make their massive event preparations run smoothly on the big day. By applying machine learning and heuristics together with our real-time digital analytics to the problem operators get deeper visibility into the big blind spot of encrypted data traffic to extract the metrics. Armed with this intelligence, they can make adjustments to the network and service without compromising data security and privacy.

Machine learning is used to provide sufficient visibility of the encrypted data and the traffic flow so that the network can effectively ‘self-identify’ the application service being used, for example streaming video on demand from specific sports app playing in HD resolution. Armed with that knowledge, the operator can then apply modelling to understand how it should adjust the network to deliver the best experience.

At this year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis we worked with the stadium network operator to provide real-time analysis of stadium upload and download network traffic. At any point during the game the operators could see a full picture with subscriber-level granularity on numerous items. Some examples include top ten apps services being used, the balance between HD and standard definition in terms of video streaming, how much content people were uploading, and what average data speed was being achieved.

With spectators messaging friends, capturing videos and pictures of themselves or the players to upload to Twitter or searching for feeds showing highlights and replays; it’s vital to track all that network activity in real time. As well as maximising network performance, it becomes possible to detect any part of the stadium with connectivity issues, or even highlight a rogue user consuming a vast amount of data by trying to live stream the whole match.

At the World Cup, the service providers will also be dealing with roaming subscribers from all over the world, many of whom will only wish to use free operator stadium Wi-Fi. Without that full network traffic visibility in near-real time, managing the service to deliver a quality experience will be all but impossible.

But here’s the thing – spectators at an event have an increasing appetite for internet services and content. They represent a captive audience whose interests have been defined by their very presence in the venue – making them prime targets for special offers, promotions and add-on services. Those operators able to track ‘what’s going on’ within the network in real time, will not only provide the best customer service, they will also have the best knowledge of customer behavior to sell additional airtime and game-related services.

By enabling users to do what they love to do, when and where they want to do it, operators have the ability to enrich life’s experiences. And in doing so, operators have the ability to create additional content services opening up new revenue opportunities. Keeping the activities and priorities in sync is fundamental for the operator to score profits while players on the field vie to score goals.

 

Derek Canfield - TEOCODerek Canfield is the General Manager responsible for Business Analytics at Teoco. He is a veteran of the telecom industry, having spent the first half of his twenty-year career working for a North American operator and the second half with Teoco. At Teoco, Derek leads the go-to market strategy for the analytics suite of products and services focusing on that key tenant of aligning technology with business objectives to drive innovation and market leadership.