Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Prefetching to Overcome the Netflix Effect

Australians could soon prefetch data to smooth out internet speed humps caused by internet television services such as Netflix.

“The arrival of Netflix has had a disruptive effect,” said Dr Lawrence Ong of The University of Newcastle. “More than one million users are now subscribed to the service, and some Australian providers have reported up to a 60% increase in data consumption since Netflix was launched. In certain areas the network is really struggling to keep pace with demand.”

Prefetch technology predicts future usage by analysing a user’s recent history. Using this intelligence, it automatically downloads the required content during off-peak hours.

“Just as roads become congested and slow during peak hour travel periods, the internet becomes congested and slow during peak evening usage periods, impacting everyone’s experience,” Ong said. “If we can redirect some of that traffic to off-peak periods we can dramatically reduce usage spikes, improving user experience across the internet broadly.”

As the internet is increasingly required to power more things, the technology could help to address performance issues in the short-term. “Everything from our fridges to light bulbs and personal fitness devices now transmit data over the internet as part of an interconnected Internet of Things,” Ong said. “While these devices place a comparatively smaller demand on the infrastructure, it signals a growing demand.”

Using information theory and graph theory, Ong is studying the fundamental limits of different prefetching technologies and the benefits they bring to wireless and wired communication systems.