Streaming, Non-PC Devices Among Key Internet Changes

Carl Weinschenk

Carl Weinschenk spoke with Dave Caputo, the co-founder, president and CEO of Sandvine. The company released 10th Global Internet Phenomena Report: Fall 2011 late last month.


The Internet is becoming real-time and dominated by devices other than PCs. Those two findings of Sandvine's latest Internet Phenomenon Report are both significant, said Sandvine Co-founder, President and CEO Dave Caputo. He told IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that the streaming of content is heaviest, at least in the U.S., between 8:45 and 10:45 p.m. Carriers and service providers must realize, he said, that subscribers will judge the quality of their networks by how they handle demanding real-time content during this period.


"Unless people are investing in congestion management techniques, they shouldn't be surprised that subscribers aren't having the best experience."

Dave Caputo
Co-founder, President and CEO

Weinschenk: Describe the research Sandvine has done.
Caputo: This is the tenth Global Internet Phenomenon report that Sandvine has published since 2002. What we did is look across our 250 service provider customers in over 80 countries and measure traffic for the month of September and pull what we think are the biggest phenomena we see across this large user base.


Sandvine makes policy traffic switches that are installed in customers' networks. They exclusively deliver the consumer Internet. Our policy traffic manager looks at every single packet that traverses those networks and classifies what applications the subscriber is using.


Weinschenk: Before addressing the latest edition of the report, describe the continuum over the years.
Caputo: The Internet seems to be around for a long time, but it still is dynamic. When we published the report in 2002 we said 50 to 60 percent of traffic was peer-to-peer file sharing. We were called heretics at that time. The common wisdom was that the traffic was email and surfing. So you get a different answer than the surveys when you actually look at the packets.


We've seen the Internet really transform over the past eight years from download and enjoy later to entertain me right now. Real-time entertainment is now 60 percent of peak downstream usage, which is up from 50 percent last year. It is streaming video, online video games and the like.


Weinschenk: What has happened to the composition of end-user devices now?
Caputo: Steve Jobs was correct when he said we are entering the post-PC era. A majority -- 55 percent by volume -- of data is destined to be used on something that is not a PC. It could be a gaming console, a smart TV or a mobile device and so on. So 55 percent goes to a non PC and 45 to laptops desktops and notebooks and that type of device.


Weinschenk: What about patterns in what people are using?
Caputo: We are moving from text messaging to messaging apps. In Asia-Pacific [for instance] there is an application called WhatsApp Messenger that we see across 6 to 8 percent of subscribers [in the region]. Another example: Dutch carrier KPN said that they missed their financial results because people are moving from text messaging to messaging apps.


Weinschenk: What do you make of the problems Netflix is having -- and do you think the people leaving it are abandoning streaming, or just going elsewhere?
Caputo: Netflix stiil is a massively popular service [but] it certainly is a fickle marketplace. There are more substitutes available for streaming videos. It shows you how quickly things change.


Weinschenk: What does the popularity of Netflix mean in the big picture?
Captuo: The study shows that, on average, a Netflix user watches for 42 minutes -- basically an hour-long show without commercials -- at a time. A YouTube users averages 3 minutes. Twenty percent of subscribers in North America use Netflix and 83 percent of Internet users use YouTube.


Weinschenk: That certainly suggests that streaming usage may increase, as folks transition to longer-form programming. What else is changing?
Caputo: There is a difference between collecting and watching later and streaming. In America, prime time for entertainment by streaming on the Internet is between 8:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. So the amount of bandwidth you consume then versus what you consume during the rest of the day is getting higher. The quality of the network will be measured by most people during those two hours.


Weinschenk: So carriers may have to pour more money into their networks as these trends continue.
Caputo: Anything -- a nuclear power plant or telephone network or even a subway system -- has to be built for peak usage. That isn't the case for when transferring files [on a telecom network]. It is the case for communications -- us talking or watching video. The extreme of this is streaming. That is where the network is tested to the limits.


Weinschenk: Do you see steps that can be taken without huge capital investments?
Caputo: I do. That's Sandvine's business -- the preservation of a good experience during peak times. Unless people are investing in congestion management techniques, they shouldn't be surprised that subscribers aren't having the best experience.


The prime-time ratio has shrunk from when it was first measured from 2.5 to 2 hours -- but the amount of content has increased. There is no question that that will test the limits of networks. It is the time when the network has the most users doing the most things.That will push service providers to come up with service tiers and offerings that incent people to use the network off peak. [There also are common sense steps such as doing] backup during off peak. You don't want to do it from 8:45 to 10:45. You want to do it during the wee hours.


Weinschenk: Are networks struggling now?
Captuo: I would say there is no question some -- indeed, many -- networks around the world have difficulty keeping up with the quality their users demand at peak times. Sandvine has a suite that would reduce the amount of capacity required to do things, such as prioritizing real time over other types of traffic. There is no difference to me if an email makes it 2 minutes late. But that matters in real time transitions. Those are the type of control we and other vendors can put in the network.


Weinschenk: I would imagine that such techniques also provide some important information.
Caputo: Just having this level of business intelligence is important to understanding things beyond the bytes. It can tell operators what applications people are using and what quality they are receiving using those applications.


Weinschenk: So, in conclusion, what is the most surprising thing about this version of the report?
Caputo: I think the thing that most shook me was the idea of most of the traffic on the Internet not headed to the PC but instead headed to something other than the PC. I think what it means is that, with the emergence of IPv6, we are really headed to billions and billions of devices on the network. At the same time, there is only one Internet and it better be able to handle all the new devices.

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