MWC 2011: Router Vendors Tackle Video Congestion

Vendors selling IP gear are focusing on policy and traffic optimization at this week's Mobile World Congress, claiming they've got ways to handle the expected onslaught of video traffic on smartphones.

Naturally, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) have answers that involve routers. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s announcement is from a different angle, stretching the capabilities of the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) it's already selling.

It's not a bad time to be releasing these products, because operators still aren't certain how they want to handle factors such as video transcoding. "Cisco recognizes this with their MOVE architecture -- that the operator doesn't want to pay to transcode every bit of content that goes through its network," says Gabriel Brown, an analyst with Heavy Reading.

Here's a rundown of the products:

AlcaLu calls its offering, which takes a user's location into account when responding to network congestion, Intelligent Traffic Management (ITM). If one user is hogging bandwidth while on the move, ITM can track him from one cell site to the next.

"The primary issue is the way 3G has been designed. The network isn't providing that [information] to the policy engine on a standards level," says Andrew McDonald, vice president of AlcaLu's Network and Service Management Product Unit.

ITM combines AlcaLu's 9900 Wireless Network Guardian (WNG) and the company's PCRF, the 5780 Dynamic Services Controller (DSC). The products aren't new, but the two-fisted combo is.

The WNG is a probe, and its job in ITM is to tell the policy engine about radio conditions and network load. The DSC would then throttle the data rates going to voracious users, but do so for just minutes at a time, only as needed.

ITM is in trials with one European carrier and is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2011.

Cisco's MOVE, referenced by Brown above, stands for Monetization, Optimization, Videoscape Experience.

It includes a capability called Adaptive Intelligent Routing (AIR), which is first being announced on the ASR 5000 -- the former Starent Networks box. The idea is to offload 3G and 4G traffic onto Wi-Fi networks more efficiently. By distributing AIR around the network, Cisco can make that decision at a point closer to the user. Earlier offload means less traffic for the core network to shuttle.

Cisco also wants to spread the capability to the ASR 1000 and ASR 9000, but that work is still in progress, says Simon Aspinall, Cisco's director of service provider marketing for data center and mobility products.

Cisco has also created a mobile video gateway that sits on the ASR 5000 and taps policy servers to find out what device is requesting a video. The ASR 5000 could then transcode the video and select the appropriate streaming rate. New software for Cisco's Universal Computing System could even do this work speculatively, based on the video requests being received. Juniper
Juniper introduced a video optimization package called the Service Delivery Gateway, which runs on the MX 3D Universal Edge Router alongside the company's Media Flow Controller. If the gateway sees a particular video going viral, it can tell Media Flow to cache it.

If the network's too busy, the service delivery gateway can trigger software written by Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV) that can change the download rate of a session. The Openwave software can also pick the appropriate codec for a download.

The Openwave piece is an example of the open network that Juniper has been preaching -- a network where software vendors can write applications that run on the Junos operating system.

None of the above
Lots of vendors want to have a role in transcoding video. But what if there's a better way?

Brown says some operators are asking why a service like YouTube can't do this transcoding for them. For example, YouTube Inc. could recognize that a mobile handset is requesting a file and then not send a full HD stream at that user. "Longer term, it's going to have to be something like that," Brown says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:12:38 PM
re: MWC 2011: Router Vendors Tackle Video Congestion

There's an interesting subtext here -- who should take responsibility for transcoding/trans-rating a video?

Equipment vendors seem happy to have the operators do it -- probably because the operators are the most likely party to step up. They're the ones feeling the pain if mobile video doesn't work properly.

I like the YouTube'ish case that Gabe cited, though. I do think it'd be in the best interest of Google and others to know what device is receiving a video and tailor the stream accordingly. (And I shouldn't have called that case "None of the above," since YouTube could very well use software from any of these vendors to intelligently decide when/how to transcode.)

(Side note: I can live with "transcoding" but I hate the so-called word "trans-rating."  Won't be using it in stories. I'm open to suggestions for substitues.)

miar70 12/5/2012 | 5:12:29 PM
re: MWC 2011: Router Vendors Tackle Video Congestion

It is a little unfair to suggest that YouTube does no transcoding. They already do support multiple resolutions (240p, 360p, 480p, 720p, 1080p) and a completely standalone mobile site at m.youtube.com using mp4 over RTSP/RTP.

I stopped by Android/YouTube at MWC and saw a YouTube tablet app that was running on a Droid device on Verizon. The app itself will default to lowest resolution of 240p when detecting that it is connected to cellular network. The user can select a higher resolution if they want or override the setting, but by default the setup is that they serve up the most appropriate size of video for the known conditions. This is only possible because the app is custom made for the tablet and it has hooks to detect connectivity from the platform. It gets much more tricky when the user connects with a laptop and is using a 3G stick to connect. Any application is usually unaware of the underlying connectivity.

Google could almost certainly profile mobile service providers by IP address range alone to determine if the user is connected over a cellular network. Microsoft/Apple could extend standard APIs to allow applications to query for underlying connectivity information. So who will step up first?

In the meantime the only group who stand to gain by transcoding video is the service providers, as they can reduce the load on their network. They will continue to do this until one of the big three (Google, Apple or Microsoft) step up and deliver solutions that work for the consumer...

One other issue to understand is that pushing the task to the end points is a common suggestion, but it does have processing and hence power considerations on the handset side. You ideally need a delivery mechanism that uses very low power on the handset which usually requires dedicated hardware processing rather than software decoding, which means you need to have a standard way of doing this to build a big enough base of users to make a hardware solution cost efficient.

Clearly Google has made some moves in acquiring On2 and Widevine and Apple has it's HTTP Live Streaming draft RFC, but it all comes down to who can build the largest supported ecosystem to cut costs to the point where it is viable to include an open protocol stack, delivery method and hardware ecosystem to support mobile devices...

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