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Ensure that ‘broadband-first’ is ready for ‘prime time’

Tony Costa, CTO, OpenVault
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[This article, and therefore all its statistics, slightly precede the impact of coronavirus lockdowns].

Traditional television viewing is giving way to streaming, but “Prime Time” is still prime time.

For cable operators contemplating shifts to “Broadband First” strategies that emphasise video streaming over traditional Pay TV packages, that’s a reality that can’t be ignored.  Even though streaming unlocks the ability to view content when and where users want, the simple truth is that life – work, school, personal commitments – means that most viewing takes place within narrowly defined windows of time.  In fact, OpenVault data shows that prime time data consumption is growing at a rate that is 5% faster than data consumption during non-prime time hours.

In a Broadband First environment, the engineering challenge for operators is to make sure that their networks are capable of satisfactorily handling the traffic increases that occur when “cord cutting” subscribers shift from traditional Pay TV packages to streamed video.  The greater challenge for operators is to ensure that subscriber experiences are satisfactory during peak viewing periods when the demand for network resources is greatest.

The facts don’t lie. Average broadband usage grew 27% while median usage was up 32% between the end of 2018 and the end of 2019. The distinction is important: Faster median growth means that more subscribers are consuming more data, compounding the impact on operators’ infrastructures.

Many of these cord-cutters are shedding the Pay TV set-top box but not their TV viewing habits. OpenVault research has shown that in peak hours bandwidth needs can significantly exceed the norm – by as much as 80% on average. Networks must be engineered and policies designed to ensure that traffic demand can be accommodated, including bandwidth to handle prime time and future growth that is certain to follow:

  • Table stakes for Broadband First is ensuring that the network infrastructure can support the increased data load, now and in the future.  While early cord cutters recognised that they might sacrifice some video quality and reliability, ensuing generations will have higher expectations as operators themselves promote the concept of high definition streaming.
  • In Broadband First environments, visibility into network performance is more critical than ever. Real-time network health and accurate forecasts of network growth are essential to optimising customer experiences and reducing operational costs of customer care calls and truck rolls.
  • With power user data consumption – defined as those subscribers consuming more than 1 TB of data per month – up 81% year-over-year, operators should surgically implement solutions and policies that ensure that all customers’ service quality levels align with their broadband packages. This includes alerting subscribers to excessive use in real time, enabling them to enact real-time changes to service level agreements to accommodate increased speed and consumption, and triggering solutions when service level abuse continues.

Although it’s not an engineering technique, another reliable method of managing subscriber experiences is Usage Based Billing (UBB).  UBB subscribers consume data at a rate that is more than 5% lower than that of subscribers on Flat Rate Billing (FRB) plans. UBB subscribers also are 12% less likely than FRB customers to exceed the 1 TB threshold and 38% less likely than FRB subscribers to be “super users” consuming more than 2 TB of data. An additional benefit: A recent case study has shown that an operator who shifted to UBB from FRB realised a near-term ARPU increase of nearly 14%.

In the coming year, OpenVault anticipates that “Broadband First” approaches will continue to gain traction across the industry. As operators weigh the shift, it is essential that they make sure that their networks and policies are – literally and figuratively – “ready for Prime Time.”


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