Matt Stagg is a busy man. He's responsible for content technology in the mobile arena for EE, which is now owned by BT. He looks at new and emerging technologies such as LTE Broadcast and edge computing in the mobile network, but also user behavior and barriers to adoption of new mobile content and services. And his role includes communications, marketing and legal issues.
This means he is frequently presenting at events, and is also the chair of the Mobile Video Alliance, a community of operators, broadcasters and other content owners, CDNs etc. -- basically everyone that is involved with mobile video in the UK.
EE has also formed a global alliance to help move LTE Broadcast capabilities into all handsets, along with KT Corp. , Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) (The LTE Broadcast Alliance). LTE Broadcast is a major area of focus for the operator.
Stagg's team members are also mentors at the 5G Innovation Center, and are involved with a new program to drive broadcast over 5G.
"We are exploring the future of broadcast and TV in 5G and what that means for 5G. We're looking at where the video should sit on the network -- the edge or core,” he says. "We are trying to understand what the requirements will be beyond 2020. We see edge computing as a technology in the 5G environment, but there may be some use cases in 4G as well.
"We are not just looking at the next four to five years, but we are actively planning 15 to 20 years ahead."
And of course, most importantly, he is a valued member of our Video Transformation Advisory Board, providing insights and direction as we track the big video explosion.
Mind the big gap
"There is a big gap that we (operators) need to address," he says. "Eighty percent of all data traffic will be video. We see that and over time our perspective has also changed. We are now looking at data, then messaging and then voice, as our business. It's a big change in our perspective."
Stagg believes that video traffic is going to be predominantly on-demand, but live and linear are growing.
"Dealing with on-demand is part of our normal network planning and we have built forecasts and analysis to manage that growth," he says.
"But we are seeing more millennials, in particular, taking up live and linear video on mobile networks. The reason we are focused on this is because we can't support this kind of traffic -- not at optimal commercial viability.
"And that's true of all operators, not just us," he adds. "EE has the best network in the UK, we know this from Ofcom findings and from our own surveys. We actually have more capacity, and we have plenty at the moment, but as it grows, we can't just keep expanding."
Confronting capacity limits
For an operator, network capacity is a tricky business. On the one hand, you must ensure that there is sufficient capacity on the network to handle traffic spikes. But on the other hand, you don't want to invest heavily in unused capacity, thereby delivering a zero return on investment. The trick is finding the right balance so that your capacity is being used -- and therefore monetized -- but you also have some headroom for sudden spikes.
But certain events can wreak havoc with an operator's math.
"The challenge is that we need capacity for busy hours, peak capacity times when the spikes we see are very high," agrees Stagg. "For example, recently we saw spikes at 50% above typical busy hour traffic when England played Wales. And that was partly because it was at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, when most people were at work and WiFi offloads aren't as common."
For now, that is not a problem for EE, says Stagg.
"At this time, the capacity is there but in future these spikes will be higher, and at some point, eventually, the network will collapse. We can't just keep adding capacity, that just isn't economical."
That's one of the reasons EE is so focused on LTE Broadcast, as a solution for live streaming during major events. It's the main driver for the formation of the LTE Broadcast Alliance and the work EE is doing with 5G broadcast.
Stay tuned for Part II of this interview, where Stagg talks about the kind of solutions he is looking for as well as the value EE's own research into user behavior can offer the broader video ecosystem.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation