Two-thirds of all internet traffic is video, and the number of smart, mobile devices in the world will double to two billion by 2017. Since IP networks are already creaking under the pressure, something's got to give.
"Video content creation has gone ballistic," says Priya Shah, CMO of Antix. "Social networks are putting more and more emphasis on video, and our dependence on our mobile phones means we can capture a video at any moment."
According to GoPro, in the first quarter of 2014, an average of 6,000 daily YouTube uploads and more than one billion views represented more than 50 million watched hours of videos with 'GoPro' in the title, file name, tags or description.
"Everyone has the opportunity to be a video producer now, and it's become a key form of communication for everyone from sports stars to major brands," says Shah. Trouble is, most of it's a complete waste of space – from skiers using a GoPro to film every dreary descent to the hordes who watch live gigs from behind their smartphone, the web is full of poor quality video.
What pressures does video put on networks?
The sheer volume causes a bottleneck. "The explosion in the variety and volume of apps we use consumes a lot of bandwidth – video apps such as Skype messaging, YouTube and Netflix are major culprits," says Brent Lees, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Riverbed Technology. Social media broadcasting apps like Periscope can't be helping.
Because they need greater bandwidth, such 'heavy' apps get priority, which can cause delays on other less 'time sensitive' applications.
"Networks are more critical to the user experience than ever before," says Mervyn Kelly, Marketing Director EMEA, Ciena. "With the consumer shift from viewing TV over multichannel subscription video services to watching internet video via a broadband or Wi-Fi connection, we are seeing today's households' bandwidth requirements skyrocketing."
A Ciena-sponsored study conducted by ACG Research found that average household bandwidth requirements are poised to increase by 31% annually over the next five years, from a peak hour average usage per household of 2.9Mbps in 2014 to 7.3Mbps in 2018. It gets worse. "Mobile bandwidth consumption is expected to increase fivefold per user over the next three years – and this is all driven by video," says Kelly.
What parts of the network are most affected?
The volume of video touches all parts of the IT infrastructure and the network. "The wide area network will experience the greater challenges due to cost and bandwidth constraints," says Lees, who thinks that techniques like bandwidth optimisation, Quality of Service (QoS), and path selection allow some respite for the 'under pressure' network manager.
How can networks cope?
The answer to video overload is simple; reduce the traffic or add more bandwidth. Both are unlikely, which brings two more options. "Providing an element of control-path selection can prioritise differing traffic types depending on importance," says Lees, who also suggests using WAN optimisation tools that can work into the cloud and application layer. "This is likely to provide the more cost effective and longer-term solution," he says.
"By improving network agility and removing technology hurdles imposed by legacy network architectures, operators will have a solution which provides tremendous flexibility to efficiently support the evolving demands of users," says Kelly. "Advances in software, enabled by network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN), will play an important role to automatically reallocate resources."
Why are such advanced network architectures needed? Because, far from hitting a ceiling, video consumption figures are predicted to massively increase.