In late 2009 – fully two years after the introduction of the extraordinary Apple iPhone – mobile was barely discernible on any measurement of total Internet traffic. By late 2016, it finally exceeded desktop traffic volume. In a terrifyingly short period of time, mobile Internet consumption moved from an also-ran to a behemoth, leaving behind the husks of marketing recommendations to “move to Web 2.0” and to “design for Mobile First”. And along the way, Apple encouraged us to buy into the concept that the future (of TV at least) is apps.
Unsurprisingly, the key driver of all this traffic is – as it always is – video. One in every three mobile device owners watches videos of at least 5 minutes’ duration, which is generally considered the point at which the user has moved from short-form, likely user-generated, content, to premium video (think: TV shows and movies). And once viewers pass the 5minute mark, it’s a tiny step to full-length, studio-developed content, which is a crazy bandwidth hog. Consider that video is expected to represent fully 75% of all mobile traffic by 2020 – when it was just 55% in 2015.
As consumers get more interested in video, producers aren’t slowing down. By 2020, it is estimated that it would take an individual fully 5 million years to watch the video being published and made available in just a month. And while consumer demand varies around the world – 72% of Thailand’s mobile traffic is video, for instance, versus just 41% in the United States – the reality is that, without some help, the mobile Web is going to be straining under the weight of near-unlimited video consumption.
What we know is that, hungry as they are for content, streaming video consumers are fickle and impatient. Akamai demonstrated years ago the 2-second rule: if a requested piece of content isn’t available in under 2 seconds, Internet users simply move on to the next thing. And numerous studies have shown definitively that when re-buffering (the dreaded pause in playback while the viewing device downloads the next section of the video) exceeds just 1% of viewing time, audience engagement collapses, resulting in dwindling opportunities to monetize content that was expensive to acquire, and can be equally costly to deliver.
How big of a problem is network congestion? It’s true that big, public, embarrassing outages across CDNs or ISPs are now quite rare. However, when we studied the network patterns of one of our customers, we found that what we call micro-outages (outages lasting 5 minutes or less) happen literally hundreds to thousands of times a day. That single customer was looking at some 600,000 minutes of direct lost viewing time per month – and when you consider how long each customer might have stayed, and their decreased inclination to return in the future, that number likely translates to several million minutes of indirectly lost minutes.
While mobile viewers are more likely to watch their content through an app (48% of all mobile Internet users) than a browser (18%), they still receive the content through the chaotic maelstrom of a network that is the Internet. As such, providers have to work out the best pathways to use to get the content there, and to ensure that the stream will have consistency over time so that it doesn’t fall prey to the buffering bug.
Most providers use stats and analysis to work out the right pathways – so they can look at how various CDN/ISP combos are working, and pick the one that is delivering the best experience. Strikingly, though, they often have to make routing decisions for audience members who are in geographical locations that aren’t currently in play, which means choosing a pathway without any recent input on which is going to be the best pathway – this is literally gambling with the experience of each viewer. What is needed is something predictive: something that will help the provider to know the right pathway the first time they have to choose.
This is where the Radar Community comes in: by monitoring, tracking, and analyzing the activity of billions of Internet interactions every day, the community knows which pathways are at peak health, and which need a bit of a breather before getting back to full speed. So, when using Openmix to intelligently route traffic, the Radar community data provides the confidence that every decision is based on real-time, real-user data – even when, for a given provider, they are delivering to a location that has been sitting dormant.
Mobile video is devouring the Web, and will continue to do so, as consumers prefer their content to move, dance, and sing. Predictively re-routing traffic in real-time so that it circumvents the thousands of micro-outages that plague the Internet every day means never gambling with the experience of users, staying ahead of the challenges that congestion can bring, and building the sustainable businesses that will dominate the new world of streaming video.