Study: Surging video demand will bulge networks' edge

Increasing consumption of video content on BYOD devices over the next decade will push wired broadband networks to their limits, finds a new study by Bell Labs.

According to a report at Cablinginstall.com's sister site, Lightwave, a new study carried out by Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), suggests that, with the seaonal holidays expected to create another surge in ownership of tablets, smartphones, and other BYOD fodder, so too will increasing consumption of video content on such devices over the next decade push wired broadband networks to their limits.

Bell Labs' projections suggest that, by 2020, consumers in the United States alone will access 7 hours of video each day – as opposed to 4.8 hours today – and will consume an increasing portion of this additional video on tablets, both at home and on the go. The research also points to a dramatic shift in viewing habits, as consumers switch from broadcast content to video-on-demand services, which will grow to 77% of daily consumption compared with 33% today.

The projections also suggest a 12x increase in Internet video content from 90 exabytes in 2012 to 1.1 zettabyes in 2020. The growth will come as cloud services, news sites, and social networking applications become more video-based and continuously accessible on tablets. The study also highlights how these trends will stretch the capabilities the residential broadband networks many service providers use today.

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The study posits that, as the delivery of video content rapidly moves from traditional broadcast TV to the “unicast” delivery of personalized content to individuals, disproportionate pressure will be placed on the ‘‘IP edge” of these networks – the part of the network where most of the intelligence required to deliver sophisticated video and high-speed Internet services resides. Broadcast is a much more efficient way of delivering video services, so the move to unicast creates enormous bandwidth demands on networks.

Marcus Weldon, chief technology officer at Alcatel-Lucent, comments, “Delivery of video from the cloud and from content delivery networks to tablets, TVs, and smartphones – with guaranteed quality – presents an exciting new revenue opportunity for communications service providers, but only if they are prepared to take advantage of it."

However, Weldon warns, "Left unmanaged, the rapid growth in video traffic can turn into a deluge and spell disaster. It is important to look at where service providers’ investments can have the most impact, and this research makes clear that the IP edge of both wireline and wireless networks – which are increasingly becoming one and the same – offers the greatest opportunity to improve network performance. At the same time, it also presents the greatest source of risk if not managed appropriately.”

The study predicts that on-demand video services, such as high-definition premium movie services as well as video sharing sites, will become even more popular over the next five years. As a result, on-demand video will command an increased share of viewing hours, causing peak-hour traffic at the edge of new IP-based networks to grow 2.5x faster than the amount of traffic on the broadband access network connections reaching households.

This challenge will need to be addressed, comprehensively, if communications service providers are to maintain their ability to deliver high-quality residential multimedia services to consumers, cautions Bell Labs.

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