Why encryption is still impacting mobile video quality of experience

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article Santiago Bouzas, Director, Product Management at Openwave Mobility looks at some of the underlying issues surrounding video encryption.

At a time when data breaches occur on an almost daily basis, undermining consumer confidence in enterprise IT’s ability to secure and protect private data, it might seem like the best solution is to increase efforts to encrypt data.

While encryption is an important part of securing data, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device, especially in terms of the processing power required. On a surface level, encryption transforms one block of data reversibly into another. However, below the surface, encryption requires mathematical computation on data that needs to be read, reread, rewritten, confirmed and hashed.

Encrypting a text message is relatively simple. Encrypting video, however, is quite complicated, as computations occur on massive megabytes of data that’s constantly stored and retrieved. Moreover, video traffic is growing, especially as operators begin deploying 5G networks.

For instance, by the end of 2019, streaming services are expected from Apple, WarnerMedia and Disney+. In fact, video is predicted to account for nearly four-fifths of mobile network traffic by 2022 and almost 90% of 5G traffic according to the Mobile Video Industry Council, underscoring the need for mobile operators to build networks that can effectively handle the massive increase of encrypted traffic their networks are expected to carry.

The growth of video encryption

The increase of encrypted traffic isn’t a new challenge for operators. 4G networks brought about a seismic shift in connectivity and mobility, spurring the launch of millions of disruptive application-based businesses, including Spotify, Uber and Waze. But the unbridled freedom these new players enjoyed was short lived.

In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed how global intelligence agencies were accessing mobile data, often in collaboration with technology companies. Quick to react, Facebook, Google and others began encrypting data with secure protocols, and that encryption has remained in place ever since.

By the end of 2018, about 90 percent of mobile internet traffic was encrypted, and there was no single standard followed for encrypting that data. For instance, Google uses QUIC, an encryption protocol based on the user datagram protocol (UDP). By contrast, Facebook and Instagram use zero round trip time resumption (0-RTT).

The QUIC protocol already accounts for between 30 and 35 percent of the market, and it is considered one of the most popular and efficient delivery mechanisms for video streaming. However, both protocols make it extremely difficult for operators to profile or optimize data with conventional traffic management tools, hindering their ability to deliver consistent quality of experience (QoE).

Without question, dedicated streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are contributing to the increase in encrypted video traffic. However, Facebook is quickly becoming the primary channel for sharing video content. Facebook’s strategy is based around sharing video and merging its platforms, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. And that strategy is clearly paying off.

While Facebook has been sharing video from its vast content delivery network (CDN) for some time, the volume of video data shared across its different properties is 10 percent higher than that shared across all of Google’s entities combined. This is especially true on mobile, where there is a strong demand for social media, for which Facebook and Instagram are the dominant platforms.

Additional advertising investment is further cementing Facebook’s position, so much so that Facebook could soon overtake Google as the key driver of both video consumption and encryption protocols. Interestingly, Facebook is moving away from using the 0-RTT protocol and is also beginning to embrace QUIC.

In time, Facebook is expected to change protocols again, likely to Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3, a more robust and secure cryptographic protocol. Those plans have significant implications for mobile operators looking to deliver the best possible QoE.

Additional complications for video

Not only must operators contend with different encryption protocols, they also face challenges from the quality (resolution) of video that traverses the network. For instance, more than half of video traffic is expected to be high definition (HD) by the end of 2019. HD video consumes three times the amount of data as standard definition (SD) and requires three times the bandwidth.

As we near deployment of 5G networks, operators likely will have to contend with ultra-high definition (UHD) video, which will consume three or four times the data as HD video. Moreover, operators won’t just grapple with the need to monitor and manage video data. They’ll need new and different capabilities to detect and manage demand created by the obfuscation of encrypted video traffic.

The deep packet inspection (DPI) method that operators employ to analyze and optimize network usage will need to be sufficiently agile to handle the change in encryption protocols. Heuristic evaluation models and reporting structures will need to adapt, as well. Without these improved capabilities, operators will find it increasingly challenging to deliver the QoE expected for video content.

Failure to adequately address the increasing complexity of video traffic will result in increased buffering times, which is the death knell for consumers of mobile video. In an increasingly competitive ecosystem, customers that aren’t happy with network quality for video will have a myriad of competitors to churn to.


SantiagoBouzasSantiago Bouzas is the Director of Product Management at Openwave Mobility and is an expert on mobile internet connectivity. Santiago has over 12+ years of experience in telecoms, holding product management, sales/pre-sales and professional services roles in both global and start-ups.

Cloud gaming could account for half of 5G traffic

Video traffic management outfit Openwave Mobility chatted to some operators and they reckon cloud gaming will account for 25-50% of 5G traffic.

The anecdotal finding was arrived at during a livecast hosted by Openwave, which was apparently attended by a bunch of operators. Most of them, we’re told, believe cloud gaming could represent 25% to 50% of 5G data traffic by 2022. This assumption was heavily influenced by observing the trajectory of the cloud gaming industry in general.

“The recent emergence of cloud gaming platforms including Google Stadia, Apple Arcade, Microsoft xCloud and Snap Games has not escaped the attention of the operator community,” said John Giere, CEO of Openwave Mobility. “OTT players have ambitious plans to become the ‘Netflix for gaming’, hosting libraries of thousands of instantly accessible games that, ultimately, will consume three to four times the amount of bandwidth on 5G networks, compared to standard definition video traffic. Needless to say this will impact mobile operator data strategies.

“While 5G network rollouts are still in their infancy, OTTs are already planning Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality services, in addition to cloud gaming. Combined with the expected continued growth of streaming video, these services will rapidly eat into the additional bandwidth provisions of 5G.”

While still in its early stages, the potential for cloud gaming does seem huge. At the very least, being able to offload the processing of gaming to the cloud will open up a new generation of thin client devices. On top of that there are things like mobile MMOs, augmented reality and virtual reality, all of which will rely not just on the increase bandwidth of 5G but crucially the low latency characteristics. So while this straw poll is hardly definitive, it’s easy to imagine cloud gaming exploding in the 5G era.

Telcos didn’t predict HD video uptake hitting 38% – Openwave Mobility

New research from Openwave Mobility claims the stress on mobile networks around the world can be put down to user uptake of HD video, which now stands at 38%.

Openwave Mobility didn’t go as far as to say telcos are not prepared for such uptake, but it is a logical conclusion. If telcos didn’t anticipate it, and are now experiencing bottlenecks on the network, preparation was lacking.

The research is based on live deployments at 30 mobile operators around the globe from 2013 to 2017. HD video only represented 5.7% of video traffic four years ago, though this number has swelled to 38%, with the team expecting this trend to continue upwards to 50% by the end of 2018. This has been pinned down to the popularity of OTT streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix on mobile devices.

“OTTs have launched a land grab,” said John Giere, CEO of Openwave Mobility. “In 3 years OTTs wiped out voice revenues. In 2.5 years they wiped out messaging revenues. Is mobile data next? You bet. Along with encryption obscuring mobile networks, operators have to grapple with the unstoppable appetite for HD video content from OTT players.”

It is a story which we have become very familiar with over the last couple of years. The telcos pay for the infrastructure, only to collect the crumbs as the insatiable appetite for data continues to grow. The OTTs are only encouraging this gobble of data, while simultaneously offering free services which wipe out the cash cows of the telcos. It’s a trend which will have a lifetime, but the end doesn’t seem to be in sight for the moment. The OTTs seem happy to continue biting the hand that feeds them.

Telcos have continually been frustrated by trends, and you have to have some sympathy for them. Admittedly they were slow off the line and never got ahead of consumer trends, but the commoditization of data is essentially ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this report is the need for HD video. We understand it will produce a better resolution, but considering the size of the screen on most mobile devices, you have to question whether the benefit outweighs the increased data demands (or whether there is any notable benefit to start with). This is one instance where data throttling might be considered appropriate.

Another area of frustration for the telcos is increased volume of encrypted data. There are of course security and privacy benefits to encryption, but from an experience perspective, how can the telcos improve something which they are not aware of.

“Facing an onslaught from OTT encrypted traffic, the challenge for operators is – how can you manage what you can’t see?” said Giere.

Users are becoming less and less tolerant of buffering, though telcos are seemingly unable to do anything at the moment. The research claims 75% of all mobile traffic is now encrypted, stifling the mobile operator’s ability to maintain subscriber Quality of Experience, as encryption protocols prevent operators from being able to profile or optimize data using conventional traffic management tools.

Most of the time we are perfectly happy to point the finger at the telcos and say they are not spending/being adventurous/thinking long-term enough, but this is an area where you have to have a bit of sympathy. It is questionable whether HD is necessary, and they can’t even do anything to optimize it.