‘Experience, not network speed the key determinant’

As millions of people were cooped up at home for nearly six months, digital telecom networks helped them work, make essential purchases, and entertain themselves. While getting connected was a given, what really mattered was the experience people had. Mozark, a network digital, network connected experience platform did a study on State of Network Experience in India for mobile operators. Since video accounts for 70% of mobile traffic today, Mozark conducted tests across six major applications—Hotstar, SonyLiv, YouTube, Netflix, Voot and Zee5 –to understand how things are changing and help prepare operators for a 5G word. We spoke with Mohit Lohani, Country Head, India, Mozark and Dion Asencio, CEO and President, Mozark Philippines to understand the findings. Edited excerpts:

What were the major insights from the study?

Lohani: There are two major insights. First, downlink and uplink speeds that are measured to understand speed of a network are passe. The quality of experience has to be measured at the user device itself. We discovered that at speeds below 5 mbps, the time it takes to load a video – the play start time (PST) – is extremely high. Once it hits 5 mbps, there is an L shaped curve and the gradient tapers as speed increases. After 14 mbps there is no major improvement in the PST. So, download speeds do not indicate how good a network is. Operators now need to look into different apps to arrive at the minimum operating threshold to focus on. The focus has to be on the minimum operating threshold and not a speed game. That’s a big difference in the way one starts to look at networks.

Second, apps have their own interplay even within the same network. There is a huge difference between apps in the same category. YouTube and Hotstar performed extremely well even when speeds were below 5 mbps. For Netflix, the PST deteriorates under poor network conditions. But as speeds hit 10 mbps, it dramatically improved in performance to match Hotstar. So even within the same category, you can have very different performance of apps.

Asencio: These findings change the whole environment on how operators will look at the behaviour of every application. Every application may change the way operators would define and design their networks. Every application right now has a different behaviour depending on the environment including geo-location.

There are several interesting things because many operators are very traditional in the way they build their network. It is not all driven by applications like you said. The video streaming and video conferencing, the behaviour is totally different.

Are you saying that speed is not the clear determinant anymore?

Lohani: Operators are meeting just 20-25 per cent of the minimum threshold limit. If you look at data usage before and during the lockdown, as people are working from home, the traffic pattern has changed. Operators do not need to push their networks. They need to look at it from a different perspective, in terms of engaging with the CDN players, the middle mile players that house the content, the application players on where and how their networks are placed. Similarly, the app and content network companies need to come to the operators and say we need not look at just speed, but how to deliver the best quality of experience to the customer. That’s the sum of all of our learnings.

Asencio: The one takeaway that I can see is understanding MOT, a media language that operators have today ….how they built their networks and how they prepared for this onslaught of data requirement and 5G is just round the corner. The insights change the whole game. It’s not about upload, download and latency anymore. It is about the behaviour of the app that helps us manage the network and time provide the quality of the experience.

Why do we see this?

Lohani: Each OTT app has its first mile, middle mile, and last mile. While the last mile may remain the same, there is a huge difference in the content delivery has been set up in each app. How much of this content is stored within India, outside India? Is the pairing between all of them in sync?  Is there enough latency between the gateway and the mobile operator?

How have things changed in the way you measure efficiency in the network?

Lohani: Traditionally operators have been measuring the radio network, the voice and data services purely and predominantly in the last mile. We have turned this around on its head. We believe if you want to understand what is happening in an experience level at a customer’s device, you will need to look above and beyond the traditional methods. For the longest of times, people have been looking at all of this as individual silo, be it tests on the CBN, the backend gateway and trying to correlate them.  What we are saying is that we are providing a full-stack with Layer 1/Layer 2 messages up to the application level where we are capturing the DNS, TLS and each and every data experience that the device is going through. It completely changes the way results come out, how the device is interplaying with the network.

Asencio: The applications today are exciting and puts Mozark up on its feet and provide impactful solutions. It may provide a different adaptation for regulators and operators. They will now have to understand data at a more granular level. Why?  E-commerce is now driving most of business. These applications are driving the economy in pandemic times. Video and gaming is driving high speed traffic. The quality of experience becomes all the more important. ….will totally change the whole paradigm. It will not be about uploading, downloading. It’s all about the experience. That’s the new language and conversation that listeners in this webinar should try to embrace.

To check out the full interview, click here