One of the most controversial practices that mobile operators can be accused of is prioritizing certain types of network traffic over others, or limiting the quality of video which consumers can stream. Operators in the U.S. are often criticized for being heavy-handed in such network management practices compared with other countries, and these attacks often paint the operators as backward compared with the best mobile networks in other parts of the world such as Europe and Asia.
However, it can be argued that there is a much stronger TV and video industry in the U.S. than in other countries. This results in unusually high video use, which in turn places a unique demand on mobile networks. U.S. mobile operators have been forced to become innovators in the technologies and solutions needed to best cope with that demand, such as network prioritization.
But what's the best approach for operators dealing with the demands of video data? OpenSignal's VP Analysis Ian Fogg recently commented in RCR Wireless News on the topic:
"As mobile video traffic continues to grow, other operators around the world will need to decide how best to manage traffic to deliver both a great video experience for their users as well as fast overall download speeds. Some already do. The thinking behind network prioritization and traffic management techniques is that it’s better to provide a good experience to many people by managing or limiting usage — for example by capping the video resolution allowed — than it is to allow everyone unlimited usage which results in poor user experiences at busy times.
High adoption of TV-style video services across multiple devices places increased load on U.S. mobile operators as consumers transfer viewing from traditional home devices onto smartphones or skip other devices and go directly to smartphones as a media consumption device… The effect of high U.S video consumption together with U.S. operators’ network management practices is to deliver a lower overall consumer video experience than is possible given the download speed performance of U.S. mobile networks."
Ian added that the latest smartphone technology is undoubtedly contributing to increased mobile video consumption:
"According to research, 52% of U.S. adults streamed traditional TV shows on their smartphone weekly in 2017, indicating the extent of the ongoing transition to mobile video viewing in the U.S. The rise of the modern smartphone further helps to drive higher mobile video consumption. For example, the size of the iPhone display has increased markedly over the years. The original iPhone had a screen which was just a 3.5” in diagonal size; by contrast today’s most popular iPhone, the iPhone X, offers a 5.8” display alongside a wide 18:9 aspect ratio and high dynamic range (HDR) color. Similarly, the first Samsung Galaxy Note offered a mere 5.3” display while the Note 9 now offers an 6.4” display."
Ian says he believes that the U.S. can set an example to the rest of the world in their response to unprecedented demands from video consumption, and the operator response to this:
"U.S. consumers have a long history of loving to watch TV and video. This has now transferred onto mobile devices and U.S. operators have had to act to ensure mobile video viewing does not damage the overall experience for U.S. mobile users. Plus, because the U.S. is such a leader in TV and video adoption, it means the approaches U.S. operators are now taking to manage mobile video traffic are relevant case studies for mobile operators across the world."
You can read the full interview on RCR Wireless News here. What's your experience of watching video on mobile in the U.S., or elsewhere in the world? Let us know in the comments below. And for more on measuring real-world video experience, check out our exciting new video experience analysis.
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