At Least They Didn't Blame the Wi-Fi

Prime Video's stream of the 49ers-Cardinals NFL game received plenty of bad reviews on social media. While most of the negativity focused on stream quality, Wi-Fi largely escaped blame.

There is one application type that confounds networks above all others, and it is live video. Pick your poison: voice, location tracking, on-demand video, cloud-hosted apps... None of them cause problems as consistently or predictably as the livestream.

The issue is a simple one: broadcast vs. two-way. Packetized data networks are a two-way communication medium. Receiver must acknowledge sender. Live video has, since its inception decades ago, been a broadcast technology. Your television doesn't send anything to the local broadcast tower. Same with cable boxes. Same with satellite dishes.

Pushing against this immutable scientific fact is commerce. Sports leagues see the billions of dollars being spent by streaming services, and they want some. Streaming services see the millions of eyeballs tuned into major sporting events, and they want those. The physical limitations of the universe are simply and obstacle to overcome.

The streaming quality issues for Amazon's Twitch & Prime Video broadcast of Saturday's San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals football game were not novel. For years, Major League Baseball's streaming service, MLB.tv, suffered from middling video quality every Opening Day. WWE Network and Disney+ both had signup issues on their respective launch days. 

"You don't build your church for Easter Sunday," is an old Southern proverb. The economics of creating a system designed to handle capacity during extreme outlier events simply don't work. It applies to houses of worship. It applies to networks of data.

For Wi-Fi folks, the good news about Prime Video's problems is that it was a black eye for internet communications, not Wi-Fi. Football fans blamed Amazon. Amazon blamed local internet providers. Nobody -- except the odd Twitter replier -- blamed Wi-Fi.

The bad news for Wi-Fi folks is that our technology faces similar demands as Prime Video's football stream. The economics of most Wi-Fi networks dictate a design for everyday use, but outlier events must be supported.

Your friendly blogger has no silver bullet on bridging the gap between everydays and outliers. Just the advice to keep it in mind. "People will forget what you said and did; they'll remember how you made them feel," is an old Northern proverb. It is also a fine reminder that user anger can have consequences, and few things make Wi-Fi users angrier than an outage at an important time.

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Ben Miller works as a consultant. You can contact Ben via email or follow him on Twitter, using the contact information below. 

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Thank you. 

Twitter: @benmiller 

ben at sniffwifi dot com

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