Encrypted Traffic – A Challenge for Operators

By: Indranil Chatterjee, Chief Customer Officer, ENEA

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Indranil Chatterjee
Indranil Chatterjee, Chief Customer Officer, ENEA

Currently over 85% of traffic on mobile networks is encrypted and operators have relied on traditional optimization technology to manage this so far. Data originating from OTTs are layered with encryption protocols like QUIC. As such, when mobile users want to stream video on demand or browse the internet, encryption darkens the network for telecom operators, which means, they cannot see the types of data moving over the network and are incapable of managing subscriber QoE.

Encryption protocols from Google, Facebook and others continue to darken mobile networks for mobile operators. Yet, at any given point, operators need to ascertain quickly if the content on their networks is from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube or any other source to manage QoE. Operators need to know: the definition of the video. Is it a live stream or download? What codec is being used to deliver the video and to what device? Operators can’t manage what they can’t see. They need much more than conventional traffic management technology to gather data and make informed decisions.

Blinding encryption

Operators could be blinded by new OTT encryption protocols being introduced – even before standards are agreed. This will change dramatically during 2021. Now, a new depth of encryption is emerging. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) will introduce new protocols in the shape of DoH (DNS over HTTPS), DoT (DNS over TLS) and eSNI (encrypted Server Name Indication). Some countries such as China and Russia have banned these protocols, yet DoH could go mainstream around the middle of 2021 as OTTs increasingly look to centralize and control the internet via encryption.

Since the content and destination of data packets become inaccessible to mobile operators, a few key players are determining what can be seen, who can see it, what value added services can be provided and who can deliver them. It seems evident that hyperscalers are able to dictate the entire content delivery process. New encryption in 2021 restricts the operator’s ability to filter content by removing their access to domain names. In most countries the enforcement of laws to protect children from inappropriate content or for crime prevention and detection increasingly depends on identifying domain names. Without access to the destination of data packets, mobile operators cannot in turn perform essential value-added services such as enforcing parental controls. Operators are being blinded.

Managing encrypted traffic

Some countries such as China and Russia have banned these protocols, yet DoH could go mainstream around the middle of 2021 as OTTs increasingly look to centralize and control the internet via encryption. Operators need to prepare for a new phase when data traffic once again becomes dark, potentially rendering services useless including current traffic filtering, parental control, and video acceleration. Conventional traffic management services will not work as new encryption techniques are deployed. As OTT players continue to deploy advanced levels of authentication, more stress is placed on operator networks to transfer data quickly. Unless operators have the ability to manage encrypted traffic, subscriber QoE will be unmanageable. It is now critical for operators to consider the coming changes and the impact it could have on their networks, as they will find it increasingly challenging to deliver the QoE expected.

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