Industry Blog

Impact of Encrypted Content on Mobile Operator Networks; How to Avoid Becoming a “Dark”Pipe Provider

A Q&A with Fergus Wills and Santiago Bouzas

There’s been a shift in the mobile ecosystem towards network traffic encryption, driven primarily by OTT players. This has a significant impact on the operation of mobile data networks and their profitability. Unless content provider relationships are in place – rather than being able to observe, optimise, and actively manage traffic between subscribers and remote services on the internet – all operators can do with encrypted traffic is meter and rate-control. Openwave Mobility’s Fergus Wills and Santiago Bouzas, shed some light on how mobile operators can re-assert their value and role in the data path in order to avoid becoming “dark” pipe providers.

Q:  How does encryption of mobile video affect mobile networks?

A: The mobile data business has developed techniques for differentiating service flows, caching traffic, and adding value. The effectiveness of these techniques relies heavily on visibility of the traffic flowing over their networks. More and more network data, a majority of which is video content, is being encrypted and it’s becoming a serious business impediment for mobile operators. If left unaddressed, encrypted content will transform network infrastructures into “dark bit pipes” which will have a direct impact on the mobile data users’ quality of service and experience, not to mention the operators’ revenue streams.

Q: How does it affect a mobile operators’ business?

A: Video traffic over SSL is a hot topic for mobile data operators as video itself has a high impact on the quantity of data consumed by users and their perception of service. Virtually all operators have made significant investments to facilitate the delivery of media rich content from the basics of investing in higher speed network and caching, to transport optimization, and content and delivery optimization techniques.

For example, some operators are offering differential limits on video versus non-video consumption for data plans. If the environment goes “dark”, operators lose the ability to meter what is happening, hindering them from offering such services and optimizing their networks. Service providers will have a difficult time managing their businesses in terms of reduced service offerings and increased volume-based charges; reduced capability to lower infrastructure costs; and reduced capability to enforce spectrum and license conditions stipulated by regulators.

Q: How can mobile operators ensure security while still having a transparent and holistic view of their network traffic flow so that they can continue to provide optimal quality of service and experience?

A:  In the short-term, they can invest in transport optimization – TCP optimization techniques for mobile networks. In the medium-term, they can look to establishing relationships with both the content provider and the end user for encrypted access – from the perspective of a good user experience – as this is a win-win-win scenario. It’s a win for the user as they see the content they want, quickly; a win for the content provider as they can be ensured that their brand is not affected by mobile delivery; and a win for the operator because they can manage the content for changing radio conditions. There’s a perception that this is a possible invasion of privacy and that the content providers don’t need to care, but this is not the case.
Q:  What has been the response from content providers and content consumers?

A:  Most users trust their operator and may agree to SSL interception if their data service is efficient eg no buffering icons. Basically, users should be offered a choice. As the world goes mobile, if the content providers want their content to have the attention of users outside of WiFi hotspots, they have to care about how their content is encoded and transported. Some content providers and content delivery networks can have a more closely coupled relationship with the operator to match these two – which can allow for optimization over SSL. The use of encryption is being applied to imply privacy when it’s really only as secure as the end point you are talking to. For the most part, most users trust their operator and operators trust their users.

Q:  How can Openwave Mobility assist operators in their approach this problem of optimization and security?

A:  Optimization can be applied in an SSL environment as long as the trust relationship, privacy policy, and benefit are made clear. Again, as long as users can opt-in or opt-out, the concern about privacy invasion shouldn’t be a big deal. Openwave Mobility’s Integra platform includes a TLS mediation function that brings seamless, secure, certificate management and selective secure traffic mediation into the mobile arena. Integra has options to engage the end user and extend the trust model to include the service provider.  In transparent and explicit (also called “opaque”) proxy modes the solution selectively presents options on dynamic/ real time certificate management in the mobile device trust store for  multiple device types. The solution can intermediate the encryption connectivity dialogue on session establishment ensuring that the operator is still empowered to apply optimization to mobile data traffic.

To learn more about how service providers can maintain visibility within their networks while managing and optimizing encrypted data, visit here to download our whitepaper, “Dark Bit Pipe: Encrypted Content Intermediation”.