Indranil Chatterjee, Sr.Vice President of Products, Sales & Marketing, Enea Openwave

It is estimated that by 2022 smartphone users in India will exceed 800 million. Traffic volumes with high resolution videos are growing exponentially, as mobile internet gains traction. Approximately 70 per cent of data consumption is in the form of streaming video traffic, amounting to more than 1.65 billion hours per month.

India today has the world’s highest data usage per smartphone, averaging 9.8 GB per month. This is expected to double by 2024 as high definition (HD) mobile video consumption continues to grow. Telcos are experiencing surge in demand for mobile data, and once 5G is widely deployed, video will become central to most new applications.

Mobile video streaming skyrocketing in India

An unprecedented surge in traffic has been generated by myriad streaming services like Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, Hotstar and TikTok, and nearly half of all video streaming content is HD. Netflix is growing rapidly in India, and the OTT player has announced a pioneering mobile-only subscription plan to capitalise on the demand for video streaming on mobile devices.

Fueled by large-scale deployment of 4G networks and low-cost unlimited data plans, there has been a 56-fold increase in overall mobile data consumption in India in past four years. Since the introduction of 4G in 2016, the average cost of wireless data per subscriber has reduced by 95 per cent in India. Mobile data plans have allowed Indian users to skip wired internet altogether and make mobile broadband the backbone of Digital India. This has put India, which until recently had comparatively low internet penetration, on a more level playing field with the rest of the world.

According to HubSpot, consumers are more receptive to video content from businesses and brands they like; in some cases, they actively seek it out over reading long-form content or navigating to websites. Around 81 per cent of global businesses now position video as a core part of the marketing strategy, with roughly a quarter of them publishing new videos at least weekly. Downloading and streaming on demand are the new norm and are shaping how the internet is used globally.

This is having a knock-on effect in regions like India, where mobile markets are maturing at a rapid pace. Likewise, it is straining networks to the breaking point. For HD mobile video, telcos need to allocate up to four times more bandwidth than needed for standard video. As a result, networks may be stretched. Further, telcos may face subscriber churn if they do not maintain mobile QoE and take control of their networks and subscribers. We believe artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies could gain maturity in helping mobile operators plan and manage some of these challenges.

Increased encryption & congestion

Another key challenge for telcos in India is rising levels of encryption. Currently on 4G networks, between 60 and 80 per cent of traffic is encrypted. Data originating from OTTs such as YouTube are layered with encryption protocols like QUIC. As such, when mobile users want to stream video on demand or browse the internet, encryption darkens the network for telcos, and they cannot see the types of data moving over the network and are incapable of managing subscriber QoE.

As OTT players continue to deploy advanced levels of authentication, more stress is placed on operator networks to transfer data quickly. Unless operators have the ability to manage encrypted traffic, subscriber QoE will be unmanageable. Also, it is important for telcos to enhance the quality of their 4G networks and employ efficient and cost-effective solutions to tackle radio access network (RAN) congestion and its potential impact on QoE.

On the solutions front, operators in India can achieve immediate return on investment (ROI) by deploying traffic management tools that ensure the ultra-efficient use of radio resources and maximise network capacity. This can be achieved without sacrificing the end-user experience. A good example is QoE-aware optimisation of video streaming traffic that delivers a buffer-free experience for subscribers, while also reducing network stress.

New opportunities with 5G

As 5G networks support the promise of faster mobile networks with higher capacity and lower latency, spending on entertainment and media across the world will grow at a faster rate than ever before, particularly in India. 5G will stimulate completely new user experiences, including augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications.

For Indian telcos, 5G presents a great opportunity to re-architect the mobile core network and benefit from lower total cost of ownership. Mobile operators in India – and worldwide – can commoditize all 5G network functions. The key is a 5G common data layer that is open, cloud native, simplified and allows operators to solve the problems of vendor lock-in by liberating state from vendor applications.

To ensure QoE on 5G mobile networks and effective handling of video traffic, mobile operators have to ensure that networks are designed with the flexibility and speed required to deliver compelling consumer experiences.