Mobile Video Growth Creates a Rethink of Network Measurements Featured

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The mobile video revolution has already happened. The ubiquity of high-resolution smartphones coupled with the growth of affordable 4G data connectivity means that operators are now seeing mobile video as the key driver of data traffic. Cisco says mobile video is growing faster than traditional TV viewing across all platforms, while over half of YouTube content consumption is now on mobile devices. And it's not just in developed markets either. Google recently revealed that India is now consuming more data than China and the U.S. combined, as time spent on video versus social had shifted hugely in favour of video.

So how do we measure the experience of video on our mobile devices? The entire industry has traditionally been obsessed with network speed and reach - but these have always been fairly abstract concepts that have little to do with the actual end-user mobile experience. At OpenSignal we've tried to bridge this divide with metrics such as overall speed, which factors in the combined average speeds of operators' 3G and 4G networks and the level of access to each technology to give a truer picture of the mobile user experience. But even advanced speed metrics have limited relevance when it comes to video streaming, which depends on much more than raw network power.

When analysing user video experience, there are a number of key areas of performance to consider. The most obvious is playback. The experience is hugely impacted if the video begins to stall or 'block' (pixelate) during viewing. This is often more an issue of network consistency as opposed to top speed. A network delivering a steady average of 20 Mbps will offer a better video experience than one that jumps from 50 Mbps to 3 Mbps and back every couple of seconds. But playback is only part of the story. Load time (the time it takes the content platform to respond and load the video to begin playing) is also vital, particularly in the case of short, high-consumption videos like music on YouTube. If the video takes too long to load, users will get bored and simply give up. Response time is more closely related to network latency than speed, but data capacity still has a part to play. Video resolution is also highly important, as higher resolution content naturally places higher demand on mobile networks. Video experience can also be heavily impacted by operator policy, as many mobile operators use video optimization technologies to restrict the level of bandwidth available for the video streams their customers can view.

Our recently-launched video experience analysis takes a fresh look at measuring operator network performance. Instead of quantifying the underlying characteristics of the network such as speed and latency, we're analyzing how those dimensions impact the services and applications people use on an everyday basis. Built on an International Telecommunication Union (ITU)-based approach for measuring video quality, our video experience analysis is based on real-world measurements of video streams from the world’s largest video content providers. Taking into account video load times, stalling in video playback and the level of picture resolution, we recently scored 69 countries on a scale of 0-100, then grouped these scores into categories: 75-100 is Excellent, 65-75 is Very Good, 55-65 is Good, 40-55 is Fair and 0-40 is Poor. This new level of analysis seeks to answer a simple yet hugely important question for both mobile consumers and operators alike: How good or bad does video render over my mobile connection?

So what were the findings of the analysis of video experience vs. speed? Well, simply put, faster networks don't always mean better when it comes to mobile video. We saw limited correlation between overall download speeds and video experience scores, particularly among the higher-scoring countries in both categories. Some of the markets with the best LTE speeds in the world didn't even make our top ten for video experience, Meanwhile the video experience leaders had faster speeds than the global average but were by no means the global leaders in our overall download speed metric. And in advanced markets with strong overall network speeds, an additional boost in speed didn't necessarily correlate to any improvement in video experience.

We saw a greater correlation between speed and video experience in markets with less advanced mobile networks and slower mobile download connections. But as mobile broadband speeds improved among the countries, the relationship between speed and video experience became far less clear. For instance, South Korea had by far the fastest overall speeds of any country in our analysis with an average connection of 45.6 Mbps. Yet, South Korea didn't even rank among the list of 11 elite countries which we awarded a video rating of Very Good. In fact, South Korea's video experience score was nearly level with that of Kuwait, a country where average overall download speeds were a mere 14.7 Mbps. In our regional analysis, we found Europe did very well in our rankings with eight EU countries included in the top 10, countries in the Americas tended to fall to the lower end of our rankings, while Asian countries were both among the highest and the lowest in our scores.

We also noted the impact of individual operator policies on our video experience scores. This was most glaring in the U.S., where the recent rise of unlimited data plans has been marked by a number of operator-imposed restrictions on video resolution. These restrictions had a definite impact on the U.S. video experience score, which was lower than other countries with similar average network download speeds. But ironically, the removal of these restrictions could potentially place unbearable pressure on network capacities, leading to congestion, slower speeds, and ultimately a poorer video experience.

It's time the whole industry changes its focus when it comes to network measuring the mobile experience. Instead of looking merely at speed, we need to measure the network experience holistically to see how it impacts the applications we use every day. As user habits change, we need to adjust that analysis accordingly. And moving forward, more accurate measurements of video experience will help improve the overall customer mobile experience.

Peter Boyland is an Analyst for OpenSignal, a mobile analytics company that independently measures real-world mobile experience worldwide. Peter has 10 years’ experience as a telecoms analyst and journalist, working for companies including IHS Markit, STL Partners and Global Insight. Peter holds a BA (Hons) and a PgDip in Journalism. 


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