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Does T-Mobile US (T-Mo) need to limit ‘Binge On’ to specific video partners? Could other Mobile Operators optimize even encrypted or tunneled Video traffic from any source?

by Sue Rudd | Dec 31, 2015

T-Mobile currently limits ‘Binge On’ to specific partners but maybe all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) could adopt clever ways to identify video traffic more transparently and deliver non-partner mobile video streams that are similarly limited to DVD quality (480p+) quality as agreed with subscribers.

In a November Report 'Video the New Battleground for US Operators as T-Mobile Launches Binge On’ , Susan Welsh de Grimaldo noted that T-Mobile’s current ‘Binge On’ approach probably does not violate Net Neutrality rules and FCC Chairman may agree. But it appears from published statements that T-Mobile’s approach relies on the Mobile Gateway to recognize Video Traffic using a special identifier and assigns it to the right low bit rate traffic path based on the Adaptive Bit Rate Manifest.

T-Mobile’s Technical Approach

T-Mobile’s current approach is briefly described in a technical summary that indicates T-Mo uses some kind of 'video detection signature' which is recognized “on the Mobile Gateway before video is streamed appropriately for subscribers who have opted for ‘Binge On’.

In a recent publication Wireless Networks and Platforms (WNP) looked at 'Monitoring Performance for End-to-End (E2E) Quality of Experience (QoE) as Access Goes Dark. Survey of Current & Future Solutions'.

T-Mobile notes that access networks are ‘going dark’ with the "use of technology protocols which makes detection of video streams difficult such as HTTPS (and) will require additional T‐Mobile assessment of the technical feasibility to qualify for inclusion in the offering.”

HTTPS and SSL represent a Challenge for MNOs

HTTPS and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) create a 'tunnel' at layer 2 between the originating device/application/client origination point and the terminating portal server. MNOs cannot open that tunnel without security access from the content originator hence the 'access network is going dark'.

The tunnel therefore prevents operators from using Layer 2 Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to read packet headers to characterize video apps. quickly. Although the tunnel does protect 'user privacy', it also has the effect of making sure that all the device traffic in the tunnel goes first to the portal vendor - Google, YouTube, facebook etc. - who terminate the tunnel and redirect that user session wherever it goes on the ‘Net. Google/YouTube and facebook do this routinely which may be one of several reasons why their mobile device advertising revenue has jumped in the last two years.

So the MNO is excluded from the delivery value chain unless the tunnel is terminated and restarted which likely requires some business arrangement with the content originator e.g. to co-locate in the MNOs Telco Cloud or possibly to agree to allow the MNO to intercept the tunnel.

That does not however mean that HTTPS and SSL traffic cannot be optimized based on other information and WNP has published a presentation surveying ways to enhance ‘dark traffic’ performance last month. See 'Monitoring Performance for End-to-End (E2E) Quality of Experience (QoE) as Access Goes Dark. Survey of Current & Future Solutions'

UDP Peer to Peer Video traffic is a Problem too.

In addition T-Mobile states that “Use of technology protocols that are demonstrated to prevent video stream detection such as User Datagram Protocol “UDP”, on any platform will exclude video streams from that content provider. So UDP Video is excluded.

Does this remind anyone of FCC ruling on Comcast BitTorrent case? -See WC Docket No. 07-52 RE: ‘Formal Complaint of Free Press and Public Knowledge Against Comcast Corporation for Secretly Degrading Peer-to-Peer Applications’?

All MNOs could offer Data Plans that give Subscriber Discounts for DVD Quality Video

But what if all MNOs could redirect any video stream to mobile subscribers who sign up to limit their download quality in exchange for a price break?

Several new mechanisms are available to handle tunnels or encrypted Video.

One in particular from Openwave Mobility(OWM) offers a Secure Traffic Manager (STM) that leverages OWM’s multi-service Integra platform to inspect encrypted traffic flows (TCP, TLS, HTTP(S)) by using very clever TCP and TLS packet and flow inspection to spot encrypted traffic and apply extended trust models to mediate content for a smooth and improved quality of experience.

At the same time OWM’s DynaMO can also be hosted in the MNO Cloud to intelligently optimize bandwidth-hungry Adaptive Streaming - ABR/HTTP-AS etc.-from any source.

This combination could allow any MNO to reduce the bandwidth needed to deliver OTT video content over the mobile data access network by up to 70% while preserving the target video quality and performance for the subscriber. This is comparable to the 3X (66%) capacity increase that T-Mo is claiming. And it does not require partnerships or special agreements with content originators.

Broader adoption of Non-Discriminatory Video Deliver Optimization (VDO) could reduce needed Video capacity significantly

In a March 2015 WNP report ‘Video is the 'Elephant in the Room' - Video Delivery Optimization Market Opportunity: Forecasts by Region and Device’ we estimated that:

  • Video Delivery Optimization by service providers etc. was applied to only about 10 percent of traffic in 2014 and could expand to apply to apply to over 26% of total video traffic by 2019
  • At that level of penetration Video Delivery Optimization (VDO) could potentially reduce traffic at peak by almost 13% or 4.8 Exabytes of Global Traffic in 2019.

All MNOs could significantly reduce their video burden and still make subscribers happy with increased use of highly intelligent optimization. A 13 percent increase in available capacity could justify the business case for expanded adoption of VDO in the Telco Cloud.

For questions on this Blog or the Reports mentioned please contact Sue Rudd (srudd@strategyanalytics.com)

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