Can mobile networks cope with the data demand from ultra HD video?

As mobile networks get faster and faster, consumer habits are changing, with users adopting more and more data-hungry activities like streaming video and music, and live gaming. But just as mobile networks develop and improve, so does video quality, with new formats like 4k and 8k appearing on our device screens.

Will mobile networks be swamped by the increasing data demand from ultra HD video, or will 5G step in to save the day? These are the questions OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill answers in a guest column published in VanillaPlus:

"Thanks to the popularity of over-the-top (OTT) services and apps such as Netflix and YouTube, demand for video content is rising exponentially. Increased demand is just one aspect though. Ultra-high definition video formats such as 4k and 8k may soon become more common for videos viewed on connected devices. As video quality rises, so does the need for faster connections to enjoy seamless streaming."

If the hype is to be believed, 5G is poised to swoop across our airwaves and save the day, offering lightning fast connections that will revolutionise mobile usage. But Brendan argues that users don’t need 100 Mbps speeds to enjoy superior video experience:

"To be able to seamlessly stream an HD video requires download speeds less than 5 Mbps while an ultra-HD 4k video needs around 15 Mbps. Both figures are comfortably below the global average 4G speed of 16.9 Mbps OpenSignal recorded in our latest report analysing the state of LTE worldwide. In fact, only 20 of the 88 countries we examined were not able to provide a speed of at least 15 Mbps.
But fast speeds are of no use if they aren’t accessible. While we’ve seen significant improvements made in LTE reach on a global scale, ubiquitous 4G coverage is still far away. Even developed nations, such as the United Kingdom, are struggling to provide access to an LTE connection at least 80% of the time. What happens in the remaining 20%?
When users lose their connection to a 4G network, their smartphone will usually connect to a lower-grade (usually) 3G network. And attempting to stream a high definition video on a 3G connection (which can be up to 5 times slower than 4G) is typically a more frustrating experience."

Clearly, a good video experience needs to be central to the mobile networks of the future. But Brendan believes that we can't afford to wait for 5G, as users need reliable video connections today:

"While 5G may come to the rescue when an even greater demand surfaces, it will be built on the existing 4G infrastructure we use today. If poor 4G availability is left unaddressed it will mean that the emerging 5G services will start with equally poor accessibility. That’s definitely not a win for the industry."

Be sure to read the full column on VanillaPlus