Sprint's Optimized Mobile Video Strategy
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) knows its unlimited data plans are its biggest differentiator and the company is investing in mobile video optimization tools as a way to keep those plans alive as data usage increases across its networks. (See Sprint: Still Unlimited on 4G LTE Smartphones.)
Spint President of Network Operations Steve Elfman told reporters this month that the company is working closely with apps developers to optimize the content that hits its network. While Sprint doesn’t do specific analysis on what's driving data traffic volume, Elfman said video is a big part of it, so Sprint is changing how it handles video on the network. (See Photos: Inside Sprint's Network Vision , Photos: A Sprint Network Vision Cell Site and What I Learned at Sprint….)
Specifically, Sprint's investing in video optimization gateways ahead of its Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployment. The problem isn't the amount of video hitting the network, SVP of Networks Bob Azzi said. The problem is the radio network capacity is strained by the number and frequency of connections (signaling traffic) customers make to retrieve video. By using video optimization and Wi-Fi offload, Sprint can reduce that strain.
"When we deliver video, we we're wasting bandwidth," he said. Now, the core is aware of the type of device and the content the user is demanding and only sends the bandwidth necessary for both, reducing what's required at the RF layer.
Sprint wouldn't provide details on what vendors help it do this, but VP of Development and Engineering Iyad Tarazi said it has a "basket of tools" to match what the network and device are capable of doing versus what the application is sending.
"We used to see in the past, four to five years ago, one supplier doing caching, one doing encoding and decoding, others looking at pinching and throttling," Tarazi said. "We're now seeing consolidation and optimization tools that are customer-friendly."
The tools still have to do all the things he mentioned -- caching, encoding, decoding, etc. -- but now the tools focus on managing the network, rather than looking at the quality of the video that the content supplier is capable of delivering. That doesn't mean throttling, Tarazi said. But it could mean sending video to a consumer that is optimized for the network speed in a specific area, instead of sending the consumer the best possible version of that video available from the content provider.
"It's the intelligence of linking all the way to [where] the apps are originating to the device to the screen processor, etc. ... using network aware techniques to match the app with the network, eliminating waste," he said. This approach is especially important to Sprint as it's operating three different networks of varying speeds -- its 3G CMDA, WiMax and soon-to-be LTE networks. And, since LTE isn't live yet, the handsets designed for that network will fall back to CDMA for some time. (See Sprint LTE Devices Arrive Before Network and Sprint's LTE Evo Has HD Talk, No WiMax.)
Even with its focus on optimizing the data-intensive video, however, Sprint won't be encouraging customers to have a free-for-all. Sprint Chief Sales Officer Paget Alves admitted the carrier is walking a fine line between promoting its unlimited message and encouraging too much usage. So, while it'll promote mobile video on its network, it won't allow other actions, like video-based home systems.
"If you manage carefully the outliers who are abusing it and setting up video-based home systems or something like that, you can manage [data usage]," Alves said.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile