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Cloud & Edge

Until 5G can save us, companies must alleviate network challenges

by Blogs & Opinions
Article Image You're working from home, trying to take an important video call with a customer. At the same time, your kids are in the next room, streaming videos and surfing the web. Suddenly, your audio becomes choppy and video starts to cut out, and you completely lose track of the conversation. This is the reality for many of us stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis. We are all in the same boat. It can be challenging enough as it is trying to get work done from home, with kids and pets making noise in the background and so many other distractions getting in the way. But now, traffic is also surging, with Verizon reporting a 33% increase in video and a 24% increase in web traffic, straining networks and leading to slowdowns across the globe. It can be endlessly frustrating.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the kind of improved performance 5G could have provided. 5G can eliminate many of the remote work challenges we're experiencing during this time as it has the ability to deliver content at faster speeds and boost network capacity in order to reduce network congestion and provide better, more consistent performance. With high-bandwidth and low-latency, applications from the office can download at much faster rates at home, significantly increasing productivity for remote workers. What's more, for those that miss the office chatter (or who need to give their kids something to do while they try to get work done), they can stream content seamlessly.

While this ultra-fast and ultra-low latency future would be ideal right now, unfortunately, the race to 5G is a long but steady journey. There are, however, a variety of solutions that video conferencing and streaming companies can consider now until the adoption of 5G is more widespread.

Look to a targeted solution
To prepare for traffic surges as we have experienced during COVID-19, streaming and video conferencing providers must adopt a solution that can target localized surges in various geographical locations. Caching technology has the power to do this in an extremely flexible way to ensure sudden, localized surges don't result in latency or outages. Caching technology helps to reduce bottlenecks on servers, ensuring end-users see minimal content lags, faster download speeds, and improved experiences. It can scale to accommodate unlimited users, even in the event of an unexpected surge.

By placing caching nodes in select regions to serve content closer to users, streaming providers can even further reduce latency and improve performance. Additionally, caching enables the storage of large content libraries so that providers can deliver reliability even in the event of a surge. It's an extremely flexible and scalable solution to ensure optimized performance during unprecedented events or everyday traffic.

Choose your CDN wisely
A content delivery network (CDN) can help improve performance for any website. CDNs ensure content is delivered fast, even during high-demand periods like COVID-19. But with so many options on the market, it is important to ensure you choose a CDN with the right capabilities for your needs. There are many packaged solutions on the market, such as Amazon's CloudFront or Microsoft's Azure CDN. These solutions can be implemented quickly, but do not offer much flexibility and can be quite costly.

Alternatively, streaming providers now have the capability to build their own custom CDN. This will result in a higher upfront investment for providers but will offer more control over content, flexibility and enhanced performance. In fact, this initial investment will pay dividends shortly after. Custom CDNs allow companies to mitigate any localized network surges like those we're seeing during the pandemic and can help to eliminate any slowdowns or outages.

Switching to standard definition
Reducing video quality – regardless of how minor – may not seem like the most ideal solution, but as a last resort, this is something providers will have to consider to reduce the risk of slowdowns and outages. A return to standard definition is still better than a slowdown or total outage since research shows that 75% of users will not return to streaming services that have faced multiple performance issues.

With standard definition, there is less traffic going across networks so each streaming server has less data to handle and can serve even more users at once without performance issues. Many popular streaming services have already adopted this option – Netflix recently announced it will reduce streaming quality in Europe for part of March and April, in order to scale down data consumption by 25%.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented and unpredictable global event. However, there are options providers have at their fingertips today that can allow them to deliver optimum performance and a seamless user experience as we wait for widespread 5G adoption. Turning to caching, content delivery networks and standard definition can mitigate performance issues to provide seamless experiences. Whatever caching solution you choose must be easy to deploy and maintain – this is not the moment to add complexity.

Until 5G can deliver on its promises, taking these steps to optimize network performance now will ensure companies can continue operating with minimal to no issues, and provide a bit of much-needed relief during this time as we stay connected and stream content virtually. This crisis has been a reality check on why we need the 5G revolution now. As such, in the future, network providers will need to work to accelerate 5G adoption.

— James Whyte, General Manager, Varnish Software

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

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