As a follow-up to my blog on streaming video, I have been doing a lot of work with customers to understand the new world that network providers operate in. Both mobile and fixed networks are seeing a tremendous change in traffic patterns that reflect the new “normal” in how consumers utilize broadband connectivity. I have looked extensively at the reports generated by our customers on their network traffic (spanning Cable, DSL, FTTx, Mobile, and Higher Education networks), and have come to the conclusion that the new normal is dramatically different than the old normal.
The New Normal:
- Consumers have multiple active devices on their broadband connection.
- Home networks are multi-tasking, even if individual devices are not always multi-tasking.
- More consumers are dependent on information and activities occurring “in the cloud”
- Some applications are more important than others, even to consumers
A real-world example of a hyper-connected household that that reflects the trends seen that make up the new normal (although I make no claims to normalcy myself) is a look at the connectivity of my household. I am fortunate enough to have a FTTX connection capable of 20Mbps (and yes, it really can burst up to that bandwidth). I recognize that not everyone is as well equipped as I am, but with service providers looking to understand the usage patterns of power users, I am a good example of that group.
The slide below shows the devices that I have connected to the Internet at home as well as the applications that are commonly active and running on my home network:
I have two children (one that is a teenager) and a teacher (my wife) in addition to myself in my home, and the new normal for education is that the children can do homework online, check their grades, and use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint for projects. It is not uncommon for four PCs/Laptops to be active, or a PC and a few gaming consoles active simultaneously (in fact it is more uncommon for only a single device to be active). We are heavy users of video streaming, with a few occasions that I can recall with all three consoles streaming video simultaneously, and I am a fan of soccer (football to the rest of the world), and often stream games using Internet services since they are not available in the US. Both of my children have Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices that they frequently watch YouTube or play games on as well. I utilize the T-Mobile UMA Voice over Wi-Fi for all of my mobile calls at home, as well as a VOIP VPN for business calls and multiple chat applications for communicating with business colleagues and family members. And let us not forget email, normal web browsing, Twitter, and Facebook usage.
As you can see, my home network has progressed to usage well beyond simple email and web browsing behavior. I can imagine that I contribute considerably to network congestion at peak load from my home network, and would be willing to pay for certain applications to be prioritized during times of congestion (even if I cause it myself). My VOIP calls, for example, are very important to me and the cost of that prioritization could even be viewed as a business expense since I sometimes work from home. There have been quite a few occasions where my Netflix streaming has been choppy and poor, and I have had to stop using the service and wait until another time – and I would have gladly entertained the option of a “Turbo” button that made sure video streaming was prioritized for the next two hours. Even my mobile device (an Android-powered Smartphone) can act as a portable hotspot, which I use frequently while traveling to check email and run applications on my PC through the Wi-Fi sharing – a practice that will become more and more pervasive as smartphones proliferate and tethering plans become more common.
What impact will hyper-connectivity have on providers? The new normal will translate into some distinct challenges for them. They will need:
- More intelligence on the applications that are pervasive on their network
- To deliver a high Quality of Experience to those applications
- Mass Customization and Personalization for subscriber service plans
- An infrastructure that supports policy management and intelligent policy enforcement
Service Providers that lack the business intelligence to adapt to the “New Normal” will find themselves resorting to competing on pricing or by copying other providers. Networks that posses the intelligence to react to changes in bandwidth consumption and application behavior will lead the way forward in creating profitable business models that enable them to maintain investment in their broadband access infrastructure.
Today’s consumers are in motion – ensure that your network is evolving to meet their needs.