The Big Four US wireless carriers are reportedly throttling mobile video content regardless of whether their networks are being overloaded, according to a study conducted by researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Throttling is when telecoms lower video quality and speeds for mobile subscribers to stem bandwidth demands placed on their networks. The study, which collected data from 650,000 tests in the US between January 2018 and January 2019, observed throttling rates around the clock and not just during peak times of use.
US carriers were also found to throttle certain video streaming apps more often than others: AT&T for instance, throttled YouTube 74% of the time and Netflix 70% of the time, but wasn’t found to slow down speeds for Amazon Prime Video.
The practice of throttling has become more prevalent and necessary for carriers since the revival of unlimited plans in the past few years. These plans eliminated the overage fees that subscribers were once charged for exceeding their data limits, meaning US consumers have less reason to curb their mobile video consumption habits.
Throttling has likely also become more prevalent following the repealof net neutrality rules, since carriers are allowed to block, throttle, and prioritize content, as long as they publicly state they’re going to do so. But as US carriers are reportedly throttling during periods even when they claim they aren’t, the trend could provide further evidence for net neutrality advocates that the absence of such rules is resulting in unfair business practices.
Here’s why this matters: US consumers’ mobile video experiences are likely suffering because of wireless carriers’ throttling practices.
US consumers are faced with poor mobile video experiences when compared with dozens of other international countries. A study from OpenSignal provided video experience scores for 69 countries and scored the US with a 47, ranking it as "Fair" (40-55) — which places it in the 59th spot. The subpar showing is likely due to the rise of throttling, which results in delayed load times, buffering, and degrading quality when streaming video content.
What’s next: 5G mobile networking technology could minimize the deployment of throttling in the near future.
5G networks will reduce the need for mobile operators to throttle the speed of a data connection since the standard offers more capacity than 4G. The ability of 5G networks to provide higher data bandwidth will empower telecoms to handle larger amounts of data consumption without needing to free up network congestion by slowing down consumers’ connection speeds.
This will enable carriers to better maintain network quality while meeting the growing demands of their unlimited-data subscribers, while also benefiting consumers by improving US mobile video experiences. US consumers could start seeing the effects of 5G soon, as carriers’ mobile 5G networks expand to more US cities. So far, AT&T has launched 5G in parts of 21 cities, Verizon in nine, T-Mobile in parts of six, and Sprint in five.
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