Industry Blog

Replaying Old Songs – Rethinking Traffic Management – & Rebooting DPI

If pop legend Prince was still alive today and reading Cisco’s recent Visual Networking Index, (yeah OK that’s unlikely but bear with me!) maybe the phrase “why do we scream at each other” would come to mind. According to the networking technology provider, more than half a billion (563 million) mobile devices and connections were added in 2015. Globally, there are now 7.9 billion devices, and 4G data traffic overall exceeds 3G. Mobile video accounts for well over half of all mobile data traffic. Youtube, social networks, messaging - it sure feels like there’s a lot of screaming going on.

Maybe we’re just TOO demanding

According to the Virtual Networking Index global mobile data traffic reached 3.7 Exabytes per month at the end of 2015. That’s up from 2.1 Exabytes in 2014. This exponential increase in traffic reflects our insatiable appetite to consume content on the go. It is also a sign of how mobile internet usage has evolved.  A few years ago, mobile data traffic mainly consisted of emails and simple webpages with little rich content. Those days are now a distant memory to mobile operators.  Traffic on wireless networks is more diverse than ever.

Importantly the demand is coming from mobile. over 50% of YouTube and 23% of Netflix access is on mobile. In music streaming, most of Spotify’s millions of subscribers listen to their tracks on the go. Mobile VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and messaging services have soared in popularity. WhatsApp has 1 billion users. Skype’s mobile app has been downloaded over 750 million times. A growing number of consumers use cloud-based storage. The European Union estimates that 1 in 5 of its citizens use a platform such as Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive to access files on mobile devices. Mobile services are fuelling the demand on carriers.

This is what it looks like when carriers cry

This mix of network traffic has created a dangerous data cocktail. And there’s an added ingredient “with a kick” from the OTT (Over The Top) providers. Data from the likes of Google, Facebook and Netflix is tightly wrapped in encryption protocols. Mobile operators are struggling to manage these with traditional optimization tools. Mobile networks are “going dark” as carriers are simply unable to see what’s travelling on their networks and powerless to deliver a consistent Quality of Experience (QoE) to their subscribers. Based on our projections, over 80% of mobile data traffic on the network could be encrypted within 1-2 years. Just as data on the network has evolved, the mobile industry needs to innovate and evolve to ensure its survival. We believe it’s time for a re-think.

The key to rethinking this lies with “packet inspection” and being able to do this with high efficiency, high accuracy and low cost. Of course Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is used by all service providers to identify traffic, route traffic and block traffic such as nefarious content, or viruses. However, carriers are struggling with the core task of identifying and managing packets using "traditional DPI" due to data diversity, data intensity and of course, data encryption. If only packets and traffic could be clearly identified at the earliest possible stage, and then tracked, it can also be properly managed.

Not alone in a world that’s so cold

Current generation DPI solutions only inspect the first few bytes of a traffic flow – which may lead to inaccurate diagnosis, and the equipment required tends to be specialist hardware which is expensive to deploy.  At the heart of the problem of managing data on 21st Century networks, rethinking DPI provides a key.  DPI needs a reboot.

Rather than a limited number of bytes, carriers need an SDN/NFV-based approach that can inspect the flow of data on a continuous basis using standard, low-cost Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) equipment. The solution must be device, protocol and app-aware. So, when a subscriber switches between different services and apps, the network has the capability to detect any change in protocols and be able to apply the necessary Quality of Service (QOS) policies in real time – to deliver consistent QoE.

There are now solutions arriving in the market that can provide this DPI reboot and enable operators to re-insert themselves back into the path of all and any IP traffic flows and add unique value which can be directly monetized. Introducing this new generation of DPI also enables new use cases such as ad-blocking, parental controls, real time QoE monitoring, and fair usage management, since ultimately all such services depend on efficient and accurate packet identification. Take a look at ABIs recent report New Approaches to Mobile Traffic Management. Their report summarises the situation and concludes as we do that technologies such as DPI need a good old fashioned reboot. Carriers that can do so will find they dont have to be alone in a world that's so cold.