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YouTube dominates mobile video as operators aim to tame with policy


The mobile Internet has an 800 pound gorilla, and it’s not Facebook, Twitter or Google (at least not Google proper). It’s YouTube. According to new data from packet sniffer Allot Communications, YouTube accounts for 22% of all mobile data traffic globally, more than doubling its share of overall mobile data tonnage consumed in just 18 months (CP: Three ways Google can work with mobile operators)

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What’s most spectacular about YouTube’s growth on the mobile Internet is that overall mobile data traffic is growing exponentially as well. According to Allot’s new Mobile Trends report for the first half of 2011, global mobile data traffic volumes jumped 77% from January to the end of June. That’s the equivalent of a compounded annual growth rate of 213%. Video was by far the biggest driver with streaming traffic increasing 93% in six months. Video is now 39% of all mobile data traffic, and YouTube accounts for more than half of those volumes.

Not that Facebook and Twitter should be discounted. They saw 166% and 297% increase in their respective mobile bandwidth volumes also, but the text-and-photo driven apps’ impact on traffic volumes in minor compared to what streamed video can do.

Allot marketing director Jonathan Gordon said that smartphone usage patterns are starting to emerge from the semi-yearly reports. When the first report was released in 2009, file sharing dominated mobile traffic, raising huge concerns among operators that peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent and large file downloads would swamp their networks. But their fears were relieved in the first quarter of 2010 when video streaming surpassed file sharing in a meteoric rise to the top led by YouTube. File sharing traffic has continued to grow, but at nowhere near the pace of video or VoIP and IM. Even Web browsing’s share of the global traffic load is minor compared to video.

One explanation is the greater number of volume users on the mobile network, Gordon said. Though Allot’s report can’t break out individual device or customer usage, it’s fair to say that in the early days the mobile Internet was dominated by a small percentage of sophisticated users who tried to milk as much out of their unlimited data plans as possible. They’d hook their modem dongles to their laptops and leave them on to download gigabytes of video and music files, Gordon said.

But as operators have instituted tiered data plans and smartphone adoption has skyrocketed, mass market consumers have become the volume users. They’d rather stream a video than download it for later consumption, Gordon said. “It’s actually a much more pressing problem,” Gordon said. If only 5% of your customers are consuming all of your bandwidth, you can implement policies that reign in their usages (i.e. usage-based pricing), Gordon said. “But when 80% to 90% of your subscribers are consuming data in volumes, there isn’t much you can do.”

That may be why Allot is seeing some surprising numbers in a new metric it is tracking: the use of application-aware charging models. By virtue of using Allot’s deep packet inspection (DPI) platform, all of Allot’s customers are application aware, but Allot went outside of its own circle to examine a large pool of other operators’ charging models. It found that 32% of mobile operators globally are using some sort of policy management solution to charge different rates for different applications or different use cases. The most common model Allot found was zero-rating for certain classes of applications like social networking or IM, Gordon said—for a flat fee some operators are allowing unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter or other social networking tools. Other operators are signing content-specific deals with over-the-top service providers, allowing unlimited access to their services in exchange for some kind of revenue share, Gordon said.


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