Mobile HD video and encryption are surging – not a good combo

OTT video
Image credit: Alex Ruhl /

A new report from Openwave Mobility has found that HD video is proliferating on mobile networks faster than initial projections, thanks to the rise of OTT video services. Meanwhile, the growing use of encryption is making it harder for cellcos to manage that traffic.

The Mobile Video Index – based on analysis of data aggregated from more than 30 cellcos using Openwave’s mobile data management software – found that HD video has grown from just 5.7% of global mobile video traffic four years ago to 38% now, and will pass the 50% mark by the end of next year.

HD video growth
Mobile video traffic by resolution (volume, %). Source: Openwave Mobility

Openwave says that’s a reflection of the popularity of OTT streaming video services such as YouTube and Netflix on mobile. Today over 820 million people across the world watch YouTube and Netflix on mobile devices.

“OTTs have launched a land grab. In three years, OTTs wiped out voice revenues. In 2.5 years they wiped out messaging revenues. Is mobile data next? You bet,” said Openwave Mobility CEO John Giere. “Operators have to grapple with the unstoppable appetite for HD video content from OTT players.”

The report also found that 75% of all mobile traffic is now encrypted. That might be great for privacy but it’s bad for cellcos because it this inhibits their ability to maintain subscriber quality of experience (QoE) because encryption protocols prevent operators from being able to profile or optimize data using conventional traffic management tools.

The research revealed that UDP-based encryption has also grown faster than predicted. In particular, the onslaught of Google’s QUIC protocol threatens to outpace anything the industry has seen so far. QUIC has grown at an astonishing CAGR of 284% in just two years since its debut. Based on observations, Openwave predicts that by November 2018, approximately 90% of all mobile internet traffic will be encrypted.

That matters, says Giere, because as users get accustomed to HD quality at home, they expect the same QoE on mobile. “Subscribers find mobile video more important than voice calls. That’s why QoE is a deal-breaker. For example, research shows that people only tolerate 6 seconds of video buffering before switching off in frustration. Facing an onslaught from OTT encrypted traffic, the challenge for operators is: how can you manage what you can’t see?”

Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at ABI Research (which also contributed to the index), noted that the report’s projections for HD video usage might well be conservative if new innovative technologies gain traction in the near future.

“If AR/VR, 360⁰ video, tactile internet applications and new use cases achieve commercial success and come to the mass market in the next few years, all estimates will yet again be blown out of the water,” he said.

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