Santiago Bouzas, Director, Product Management, ENEA

Santiago Bouzas, Director, Product Management, ENEA

QUIC has grown at an alarming rate and continues to disquiet telecom operators. It now affects almost every facet of life, especially mobile communications. Google introduced QUIC, an en­cryption-based protocol, to reduce tra­ns­mission control protocol (TCP) connection and transport latencies. Today, ar­ound 75 per cent of the traffic is encrypted in mobile data networks. TCP, in combination with transport layer security (TLS), requires three round trips before the actual data can be sent. QUIC, on the other hand, minimises the number of set-up ro­und trips by combining user datagram protocol (UDP) transport and its own cry­ptographic handshake. For connections to the same origin server, QUIC facilitates a zero round trip time.

By the end of 2021, more than 75 per cent of Meta’s (Facebook) internet traffic used mvfst. mvfst has shown significant improvements in several metrics. As per Meta, users experienced a 6 per cent redu­c­tion in request errors, 20 per cent tail latency reduction, and 5 per cent reduction in response header size relative to HTTP/2. This also had a cascading effect on other metrics, indicating that people’s experiences were greatly enhanced. The overall error count on video requests was reduced by 8 per cent. The rate of video stalls was reduced by 20 per cent. mvfst im­proved the video viewing experience, with an outsized impact on networks with relatively poorer conditions, especially those in emerging markets. Meta deployed mvfst on Instagram for iOS and Android. Apple has also embraced the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) QUIC.

Microsoft developed its own version and called it MsQUIC. Microsoft has been using MsQUIC to carry its server message block (SMB) traffic. It argued that SMB over QUIC is the future of distributed systems as it enables use cases in edge compu­ting and mobile devices that are not possible to achieve over TCP. Another example of QUIC going mainstream is its use as a 5G signalling protocol (3GPP 29.893). 5G ser­vice architectures are examining and id­entifying gaps and improvements.

What mobile operators can do

QUIC is an enigma for mobile operators, from the perspective of both data monetisation and subscriber quality of experience (QoE). As an encryption-based protocol, traffic is not visible at all to mobile operators and they cannot use traditional traffic management tools to control the cost to deliver content, manage subscriber QoE and ultimately monetise data. This is particularly alarming when it comes to video content. According to MVI data, video accounts for approximately 70 per cent of the total mobile internet traffic. Video represents 75 per cent of the total QUIC traffic.

To manage incursions on their networks, mobile operators can review their mobile data management strategy to identify and differentiate current and future traffic streams such as QUIC, mvfst and MsQUIC.

Mobile operators can combine transport layer optimisation, encrypted traffic classification techniques and real-time RAN utilisation. This provides a range of selective traffic management options for QUIC. These include content and user ac­­­tivity differentiation to create hand-cr­afted mobile data plans as well as QoE ma­nagement that helps reduce congestion and the burden on RAN.

QUIC and subscriber QoE

QUIC promises to decrease the wait time for web search results by 8 per cent on personal computers (PCs) and by 4 per cent on phones. It also appears to reduce the bu­ffering time for YouTube by 18 per cent on PCs and 15 per cent on mobile devices.

QUIC is here to stay; however, a few mobile operators still do not permit QUIC to be used and would actively block it as it would bypass other internal solutions for traffic capacity monitoring and management. Moreover, mobile subscribers do not have information about QUIC or any other protocols. They just assume that this speed means their mobile operator has a faster network, making them less likely to churn. Further on standardisation, QUIC has been approved by the IETF to a certified standard – RFC 9000.

The way forward

We have witnessed how these solutions are used to deliver the same amount of QUIC video with 20 per cent less data. As a re­sult, mobile operators can achieve reductions in the number of congested cells by 15 per cent, facilitating fairness in the dis­tri­bution of video bi trates (and therefore video quality) across subscribers sharing physical network resources.

Content providers will continue to innovate proprietary protocols driven by video and will use their commercial might to get these adopted and then seek app­rovals from standards bodies. In order to maintain traffic visibility and relevance of user experience, operators must have solutions for managing and optimising UDP/QUIC.

By the end of 2022, 95 per cent of internet traffic could be encrypted and QUIC will account for almost 47 per cent of glo­bal internet traffic. It is important to see how mobile operators take control of their net­work and their subscribers’ QoE.