Industry Blog

Managing the growth of audio streaming services in mobile data networks

Did video kill the radio star? Not quite. The late ‘70s song by The Buggles describes a singer whose career is cut short because of television. It is a soundtrack that has come to epitomize how new technology has replaced old technology. Yet in today’s always-connected multi-screen world – video has not killed the radio star. Radio has evolved to meet the needs of a new digital generation. However some mobile operators are struggling to keep-up with the exponential demand for digitized audio streaming.

According to recent research, in the United States over 148 million people used online audio streaming services. That’s nearly half the country’s population. And the number of American audio streamers is set to increase to around 190 million in the next five years. This trend for digitized music has been replicated across the world. However, with the exponential growth in smartphones and mobile devices, the digital music experience has moved from the fixed-location PC to anytime-anywhere music consumption.

Industry research from Strategy Analytics, conducted in a number of markets including the US, China, the UK and France, found that over 70 percent of wireless users actively listened to music on their phones at least once a week. Across the world, millions of music lovers have embraced services like Spotify, Deezer, Pandora and last.fm. Consumers are putting less and less value on owning extensive music libraries and are now favoring convenient streaming services.

For a small monthly fee subscribers can access millions of songs and have now come to expect seamless playback – whenever, where ever they are via their mobile device. This has become a major challenge for network operators as they grapple with the task of managing their subscribers’ data usage and delivering a great user experience.

Intelligent media optimization

With an ever-growing array of features on mobile devices, carriers are feeling the pressure and the financial squeeze to provide a reliable and fast mobile Internet –synonymous to the operator’s network quality, in subscribers’ minds.
QoE-oriented techniques for contextually-selective media optimization are the key assets in addressing the massive content delivery challenge: there is a critical balancing act between creating network relief and preserving the quality of the content. The rules and conditions to trigger optimization functions therefore need to be based on the outcome from real-time network, user and content conditions.

Today there are just a handful of data optimization solutions that are capable of effectively handling different network and device factors, with the capability to intelligently optimize data traffic only when-and-where it is needed. The degree of accuracy and granularity for detecting anomalous conditions – such as, but not restricted to, congestion – when an individual subscriber cannot cope with a certain transfer rate are key to the successful implementation of a selective optimization solution.

The explosion of mobile video data has, quite rightly, been a major focus and concern for operators. However, with the exponential growth in audio streaming, operators do need a solution that can handle multimedia traffic holistically. The solution also needs to be future-proof.

Future-proofing mobile networks

The ability to apply optimization in an agile manner becomes even more relevant when looking both at the next generation networks, such as LTE, and at the mobile media future where more efficient – and computationally complex – codecs will lead the new coming era.

As operators begin to explore network virtualization and firm-down their cloud strategies, it is clear that it is no longer a case of “if” but “when” Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) becomes a reality. NFV is the key to unlocking a multitude of monetization opportunities and will be the driving-force behind Software as a Service (SaaS). It is vital that mobile operators make intelligent decisions when addressing the surge in mobile data usage, selecting solutions that are NFV-ready and compatible across multiple Operator Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

While it might be easy for operators to focus purely on the rise in mobile video traffic, it is important not to overlook the audio streaming tide that’s rising fast. They need to take the necessary steps to address both forms of traffic now, learn from any mistakes made with video data and implement a coherent strategy to deliver a seamless subscribers experience. The radio star is very much alive and kicking!