By 2017, mobile devices are expected to take over from fixed computers as the main way people will access the internet. Most of this traffic will involve video – crystal clear, reliable, seamless and interactive video, ideally, but there’s still a long way to go. At the moment, it isn’t headline news if video streamed to a handheld device stutters or cuts out.
Users expect better quality, which would also enable content providers to develop more services, but providing it is a complex challenge. Some of the bottlenecks arise from the fact that the internet and mobile networks weren’t actually designed for the task. With more and more people streaming video, the congestion is expected to get worse.
Enter Medieval, an EU-funded research team with its eyes firmly fixed on the future. Experts from the telecommunications industry and academia, led by France’s Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, focused on enabling telco operators to handle much larger streams of video traffic smoothly and efficiently.
The partners’ pioneering work focused on internet protocol architecture, which is currently based on a layered structure. They reasoned that the new architecture would have to have a cross-layer design, leveraging the interaction between layers as a means of raising performance to previously unattainable levels while reducing exploitation costs.
By the time the project ended in August 2013, the team had designed a system architecture that addresses the requirements of mobile video at all levels. This structure is shaped by a number of innovative features, such as distributed mobility management (DMM) and traffic engineering.
DMM supports a seamless handover between the technologies available in a telecoms network – such as 3G, 4G and WiFi. On a DMM-enabled network, switching from one to another will no longer disrupt your viewing.
Traffic engineering is a technique by which bit-rate allocation varies depending on the characteristics of the video. It capitalises on the fact that some videos require more capacity than others, for example because they involve more motion. Balancing the allocation between a user watching a football match and a user following a talk show helps to ensure optimal conditions for both and reduces congestion on the operator’s network.
The proposed structure paves the way for next-generation mobile networks involving high levels of video traffic, including internet TV, interactive video, personal broadcasting and video-on-demand. It offers enhanced wireless access, for example by taking account of connectivity conditions, offers greater support for mobility, and pre-empts delivery bottlenecks to ensure optimal user experience.
To facilitate a smooth integration with operators’ existing networks, the modules underpinning these innovative functionalities can be implemented separately. The partners have filed six patents, and some of the solutions are already being used commercially.
The partners are continuing to share their insights with key organisations and communities involved in shaping the future of the internet. Medieval has also contributed to the development of standards for handover and interoperability between different types of networks.