Europe asks Netflix to save networks by restricting HD streams

European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton has been on the phone to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to officially request the streaming service slow down downloads.

Under the hashtag #SwitchToStandard, Breton has asked Netflix to enforce a slow down on customers who might be tempted by HD standard content. With HD content requiring 4-5X more data than SD, the threat to networks is quite apparent as more of the population are forced to stay inside and binge watch any new recommendations.

The issue being faced by the telecommunications industry is the perfect storm for network congestion.

Firstly, video consumption places much more of a strain on networks than any other type of internet traffic. These applications are incredibly data intensive, and while Netflix only requires a consistent 5 Mbps connection to function properly, the consistent streaming over sustained periods of time by millions of customers starts to add up.

Over the first half of 2019, video accounted for 58% of the total downstream volume of traffic on the internet, according to network management firm Sandvine, with Netflix accounting for 15%. Another issue which home broadband networks might face is more people connecting devices to routers.

“People are watching a bit more YouTube than normal (because it is a great source of information from a wide variety of sources) to try and figure out what is actually going on and to learn about what they should be doing,” Cam Cullen, VP of Global Marketing at Sandvine said in a blog post.

“And unlike normal, where their usage is divided between mobile networks, work, or school networks, and random wifi hotspots, it is all centred on home networks.”

With more people working from home, more devices are going to be connected to the home broadband networks as opposed to mobile, public wifi or more powerful work networks. Video conferencing will become much more popular, people skiving will have something on the TV, while kids needs to be kept busy as well. With parents attempting to work, whacking an episode of Paw Patrol or Pepper Pig on Netflix might have to suffice.

Another element to consider is the rise of online gaming, both on consoles and mobile devices, which will also be running off home broadband networks. Telecom Italia has attributed a material proportion of the 70% surge of internet traffic on its networks to increased use of games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Italy, France and Spain are all countries which have gone into full lockdown mode, while it seems it will only be a matter of time before the same happens in the UK. Without the pub, clubs, cinemas, theatres or gigs to distract consumers, more will turn to the endless treasure trove of harmless comedies and rabbit hole documentaries to fill time in the evenings.

BT has already said it builds networks to deal with peak time traffic, therefore it does not foresee a problem, but what could be about to be unleashed is a monstrous amount of internet traffic as children are no-longer distracted by education or adults by alcohol.

All of the telcos are furiously working to increase capacity on networks which are potentially under threat, though whether the work can be done quick enough to mitigate the rise in traffic remains to be seen. It might not seem like a significant change but considering the popularity and increased use of streaming services over the coming weeks and months, downgrading to SD might have an impact if everyone makes an effort.

Netflix dominates the internet, but keep an eye on gaming geeks – Sandvine

Netflix currently accounts for an incredible proportion of global internet traffic, though the gaming segment is starting to throw its weight around.

According to research unveiled by Sandvine, The Global Internet Phenomena Report, Netflix now accounts for 15% of the total downstream volume of traffic across the entire internet. This is an astronomical number when you consider the service only has 130 million subscribers, a large number but some would perhaps has thought higher, while there are roughly 1.7 billion websites on the internet. Video on the whole accounted for 58% of the traffic meandering along the digital pavements.

Netflix, and video on the whole, dominating trends is not a new idea. This is something the telcos have been preparing for, though the gaming segment has been rarely discussed. Gaming has traditionally been reserved for very niche demographics, though with more content providers targeting mobile applications, the target audience has been increasing substantially, as has the depth and scale of the games themselves.

Looking at the contributions to the bottleneck, in Europe two of the top ten owners of downstream traffic volume are relating to gaming; PlayStation and Steam (focused on PC-based gaming). PC games can be as much as 100 GB in size, owning to consumer demands to make more larger and more immersive environments, though telcos would be wary of the continuing momentum for mobile games. With data becoming cheaper for the consumer and devices becoming more powerful, content developers are being encouraged to introduce mobile games which are more on par with those on other platforms. The sheer breadth, depth and variety of these titles on the app stores is quite staggering.

This of course will stress networks, especially considering many users of these games will use them when out and about, not connected to home broadband or public wifi. Ensuring these mobile games meet the demands of the consumer will be critical, as it may well soon become another stick to hit connectivity providers with.

Another interesting statistic to emerge from the data is the level of encryption. Sandvine estimates 50% of internet traffic is now encrypted, though this might be a conservative guess. The estimate only accounts for sources which are encrypted consistently, the number might well be higher, and it is certainly increasing. For consumers, this is a promising trend set against a backdrop of data privacy scandals and breaches, though it is an added complication for the telcos.

Encryption of course protects the consumer from wandering eyes with nefarious intentions, but it also prevents the telcos from keeping an eye on what is going on. Without visibility into what type of traffic is traversing the algorithmic piste, the telcos cannot tailor the delivery and enhance the experience for the consumer. The blame of poor experience might be thrown towards the telcos, but with encryption trends heading northwards, they are relatively helpless.