By Cam Cullen, VP Global Marketing at Procera Networks

A great deal of attention has been given over the past week to the Olympics, and some interesting trends are beginning to emerge that should both encourage and alarm broadband operators throughout the world.

The London Olympics is the first worldwide event to be readily available for streaming around the world, and the uptake by users was boosted by very good tablet and smartphone applications, plus great quality from the Content Delivery Networks that were used to distribute the streams.

Lesson one: live events have a definite impact on network traffic and user Quality of Experience.

Although that may sound like an obvious statement, the proliferation of live streaming has fundamentally changed the bandwidth equation for operators striving to deliver a high QoE to their subscribers.

Fixed operators in the US saw Olympics streaming peak at 34 percent of total bandwidth usage on Sunday, and BBC iPlayer peaked at 16 percent of total bandwidth on a UK-based mobile operator on Wednesday.

Cell sites for that mobile operator were congested because of the number of simultaneous users streaming video, not because of file-sharing – the most commonly blamed culprit.

Mobile broadband-enabled tablets were especially heavy users of streaming video, and even though they were not as numerous as smartphones, represented a higher average data usage than smartphones.

Lesson two: social networks have become indispensable communication tools and are becoming the preferred news outlets for high-tech consumers.

The decision to delay the TV broadcast of key events in the US until primetime, which happens in every country when the Olympics are far away, created demand for results on Twitter and Facebook by many consumers.  

With other people refusing to look online as they were afraid they would see spoilers, these traffic spikes could have been even higher. 

Instagram and Tumblr traffic grew daily in the UK on mobile networks as people shared their Olympic experiences.

Facebook traffic increased around the world, not from new users or even more users than normal, but from the same users sharing more information and pictures.

Lesson three: file sharing decreases when content owners make content readily available.

The amount of file sharing related to the Olympics was much lower than expected, and overall file-sharing bandwidth usage remained steady.

The most commonly shared event was the Opening Ceremony, which was time delayed in many countries, and worthy of re-watching and archiving.

While not as prevalent, other events that can be easily found include volleyball, gymnastics, and some of the more high profile swimming events.

Operators are struggling with how to enable high quality services for their subscribers while maintaining solid financial results.

The technical challenge of delivering high QoE during events like the Olympics is extremely high.

This is especially true if the event is located in your country, as “throwing bandwidth at the problem” is not an acceptable solution either technically or financially.

The financial challenge is to grow revenue, minimize CAPEX, differentiate your services from the competition, and offer service plans that meet the needs and expectations of your subscribers.

Meeting the technical challenge while maintaining profitability is even harder, and operators that do not have the visibility into what is happening on their network will struggle to deliver high QoE, create compelling service plans and ultimately monetize events like the Olympics.

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