Announcing the Mobile Data Plan API

More than half of YouTube watch time happens on mobile devices, with a large and rapidly increasing fraction of this time spent on cellular networks. At the same time, it is common for users to have mobile data plans with usage limits. Users who exhaust their quota can incur overage charges, have their data connections turned off and speeds reduced. When this happens, application performance suffers and user satisfaction decreases.

At the root of this problem lies the fact that users do not have an easy manner to share data plan information with an application, and, in turn, applications cannot optimize the user’s experience. In an effort to address this limitation we have worked with a few partners in the mobile ecosystem to specify an API that improves data transparency.

At a high level, the API comprises two parts. First, a mechanism for applications to establish an anonymous identifier of the user’s data plan. This new, Carrier Plan Identifier (CPID), protects the user’s identity and privacy. Second, a mechanism that allows applications, after establishing a CPID, to request information about the user’s data plan from the mobile network operator (MNO). Applications communicate with MNOs using HTTPS and the API encodes data plan information in an extensible JSON-based format.

We believe the API will improve transparency and Quality of Experience (QoE) for mobile applications such as YouTube. For example, the cost of data can depend on the time of day, where users get discounts for using the network during off-peak hours. For another example consider that while users with unlimited data plans may prefer high resolution videos, users who are about to exceed their data caps or are in a busy network may be better served by reduced data rate streams that extend the life of the data plan while still providing good quality.

Cellular network constraints are even more acute in countries where the cost of data is high, users have small data budgets, and networks are overutilized. With more than 80% of views from outside the United States, YouTube is the first Google application conducting field trials of the Mobile Data Plan API in countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Guatemala, where these characteristics are more prominent. These trials aim to bring data plan information as an additional real-time input to YouTube’s decision engine tuned to improve QoE.

We believe the same data plan information will lay the foundation for other applications and mobile operators to innovate together. This collaboration can make data usage more transparent to users, incentivize efficient use of mobile networks, and optimize user experience.

We designed the API in cooperation with a number of key partners in the mobile ecosystem, including Telenor Group, Globe Telecom and Tigo, all of which have already adopted and implemented this API. Google also worked with Ericsson to support the Mobile Data Plan API in their OTT Cloud Connect platform. We invite other operators and equipment vendors to implement this solution and offer applicable products and services to their customers.

The Mobile Data Plan API specification is available from this link. We are looking forward to your comments and we are available at: [[email protected]].

Posted by Andreas Terzis, technical lead at Google Access, & Jessica Xu, product manager at YouTube.