Vodafone and Meta Boost UK Mobile Network Efficiency for Videos UPDATE

Mobile operator Vodafone has announced that they’ve worked with Meta (Facebook etc.) to trial and deploy a new mobile broadband (4G, 5G) “network optimisation” for “short-form videos” across the UK and 10 other countries, which is said to “free up network capacity” for customers and allows them to “view more high-quality short videos“.

The description “short-form videos” typically tends to reflect the kind of short videos you’d find on services like TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and so forth. But Vodafone is saying that, since the start of June 2024, customers in Albania, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and the UK should now be finding that these consume less network traffic than before.

The change follows an initial three-week test conducted in the UK during April 2024, where the companies recorded a “meaningful reduction in network traffic for Meta applications across Vodafone’s mobile network“. As a result, Vodafone say they freed up additional network resources on some of their most popular 4G / 5G sites so that all mobile customers at these busy locations, such as shopping centres and transport hubs, benefitted.

At present this appears to be focused primarily on platforms owned by Meta (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp), but both Vodafone and Meta said they are “open to working with all players in the ecosystem to continuously improve the efficient use of network resources.”

Alberto Ripepi, Vodafone’s Chief Network Officer, said:

“Meta’s willingness to optimise the delivery of video for its applications leads the way for a more efficient use of existing network resources. Vodafone and Meta have implemented these optimisations across Vodafone’s European markets and intend to continue collaborating to foster additional efficiencies.”

The level of reduction in network traffic is said to vary based on several factors, including network load and end user devices, which is very much stating the obvious and doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the change itself. In fact, the announcement doesn’t provide much of any useful technical information to help us understand precisely what sort of change has actually been made here.

Typically speaking, optimisations like this usually stem from changes in either the video codecs (i.e. better compression of the stream), network protocols or how a Content Delivery Network (CDN) may manage the caching of related content within a network. The fact that Meta is directly involved suggests there’s likely to be a CDN element at play, but we’ve asked Vodafone to provide more details and will report back later.

UPDATE 9:07am

We’ve been informed that the change involves optimising the “average bitrate of high-quality videos without noticeably compromising experience“, which could still be interpreted in different ways but does point a little bit more toward enhancements on the video codec / compression side. A low double-digit reduction (i.e. % of overall Meta-related data traffic) was observed by Vodafone during the brief UK trial, which is still significant when you consider how big Meta is.

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