I was recently asked to write an article on quality of experience in video streaming. Obviously the first thing I did was ask Saint Google to find me recent research on the subject.
It pulled up an absolute gem, a report published by Ofcom, the UK government's communications supremos. It was written by an outfit called Actual Experience, which does not sound very convincing, but is the commercialisation of 10 years of academic research by Professor Jonathan Pitts of Queen Mary University of London.
He and his team developed not just mathematical modelling but embedded tools to measure the real performance of broadband to the home, and to small businesses. You can read the whole report by scanning this QR code. It's a good, largely accessible read.
Now I am quite interested in broadband performance to the home, as and I am sure I have told you this before I am one of the many, many victims of BT and their relentless over-marketing and under-delivering. Despite continually promoting its Infinity fibre service and speeds of up to 76Mb/s, it is actually pretty hard to get.
I live in a reasonably large and very affluent town in the south-east of England, in a large housing development that is less than 10 years old. The best that BT will offer me is a promise of 5Mb/s and a guarantee of 1.5Mb/s, which I think we would all agree is shocking. In fact my actual line speed quite often creeps up around 8Mb/s, so I suppose I should stop complaining.
Anyway, back to Professor Pitts. His work involves tracking the performance of what he calls digital users (DU), which are little software packages running on hosts around the country. I've downloaded it, and it is running as I type.
This continually calculates internet performance, and reports back to his analytical engines, to improve the national map of quality of experience. The benefit to the individual hosting the DU is that you get a neat dashboard which shows you how well your connection is performing, and what you might do to improve it.
The research identifies four steps in the digital supply chain, the path from the host of the information you are seeking to your screen. Working backwards, these are the home (your own network, wired or wireless), access (the last mile connection), your ISP, and upstream the rest of the internet. To call content from, say, Netflix or iPlayer, your requirements go up through these four layers to the service provider, and the content comes back down through them.
Impairments to the service can come from any of those layers. What the report does not say, but which seems to me to be obvious, is that if they are all working in perfect harmony and the content is still unwatchable then it is the service provider which is at fault.