Over-The-Top streaming of video content has got more mature and robust as the media industry continues to evolve rapidly due to the growing number of delivery channels and consumption devices. Today, viewers consume content anytime, anywhere. Operators are shifting focus to experience-led, data-driven, digital platform-based solutions to transform next-generation video services and provide immersive customer experiences..
Naturally, finding a customer’s location becomes imperative for service providers as this information helps to customize and enhance user experience, such as suggesting local channels for streaming, local sports highlights to watch, or local news stories to read. Here comes the need for IP Geolocation of devices that makes it possible to obtain information in real time and locate users with pinpoint accuracy. Geolocation is a technology that uses data acquired from user devices to identify or describe the user’s actual physical location. IP addresses have no association with a physical location, and the resources that they are associated with can change over time. An IP address can move between different physical or virtual devices and geographies.
IP Geolocation typically is a means of associating IP addresses with physical locations like continent, country, state/province, city, as well as extended information like postal code, area code etc. This is done either by leveraging third-party vendor solutions that provide this database or by proprietary solutions developed for own use. However, accuracy of IP geolocation data varies widely, and inaccurate data can cause several problems.
So why is this important to OTT Service Providers?
IP geolocation helps OTT service providers know where subscribers are located. This helps them deliver services with greater QoS and enables compliance to any geographic restrictions that may have been imposed by content producers or regulators. Some advantages include:
- Provides correct local listings when the subscriber moves across regions of service. Offers locally relevant content and showing locally relevant advertisements.
- Helps restrict concurrency for commercial subscriptions but provides more flexibility to residential users.
- Provides different concurrent streaming options to subscribers within a home network or when outside the home.
- Disallows users who are physically outside a country to watch content that may be restricted to a specific country or region, thereby complying with geographic restrictions and blackout conditions imposed by content producers or regulators.
- Restricts users using VPN or proxy services to hide their real address when logging into the OTT service for streaming content.
- Allows providers to leverage direction DNS service that connects a device to the closest DNS server and provides better user experience.
Impact of inaccurate data:
Inaccurate IP geolocation data can create issues for customer-facing use-cases and impact service delivery related scenarios. If the customer does not get the services they have paid for, customer service teams may have an uphill task to address unhappy customers thus running up operational costs.
- Incorrect identification of location can deny a subscriber access to geofenced content, like a movie that may otherwise be available to viewers in their actual location.
- Incorrect assumptions could lead to poor user experience like inaccurate customization of service provider offerings, incorrect default currency or language choices for the user.
- If the locally relevant advertisements or offers are customized for the wrong location by the service provider, the spend on these marketing efforts is wasted and the opportunity for conversion is lost.
- Data may help OTT service providers take decisions about infrastructure like CDN, cloud hosting, DNS, etc. for content delivery. Incorrect information can lead to sub-optimal decisions and impact customer QoS.
There is no ground truth for IP-based geolocation services that tie IP addresses to a physical location. Therefore, the approach to address this problem must be multifold. IP-based geolocation may not be delivering the most accurate data every single time but it can still provide some accuracy up to a certain extent. Let’s look at a few options that can be used to provide a holistic solution to the problem:
- IP-based Geolocation services provide IP address lookup from a Geo Location database. There are many commercial and freely available IP geolocation database providers. The common mechanism to identify an IP address of a device is by using “whois” protocol implementation and searching “whois” records from DNS servers. IP geolocation service uses this by accessing multiple databases having “whois” records to locate a user online through their IP address. While each database provider gets the IP address information from ARIN (or a different registry for the region), the assignment regularly changes. Geolocation service providers look up the IP address and provide information like Country, Region (city), Latitude/Longitude, Zip code, ISP, domain name etc. Some commonly used IP geolocation solutions providers include Neustar, MaxMind, IP2Location, Ipligence, IPFingerprints, EurekAPI, IPdata.co etc. These providers offer options of IP geolocation database download or API-based lookup etc. When leveraging an IP geolocation database, the important factor is the frequency at which this database gets refreshed.
- Wi-Fi Access Point based positioning services provide Wi-Fi Access Point BSSID lookup, which returns Lat-Long details that can be translated to physical addresses using any Geocoding services. In order to use the Wi-Fi Access Point approach, we first need to get the Access Point BSSID from the device itself. Most of the devices based on Android, iOS, Fire TV, Roku, Tizen, WebOS etc. provide standard APIs to get detailed Wi-Fi connection information that contains BSSID and SSID details. Using this Wi-Fi information, we can leverage third-party services like those from Combain, Navizon, Google, Location.io etc. to look up the desired location information with a fair bit of accuracy up to 10 meters.
- Geocoding services: Another approach is to use Reverse geocoding and Forward geocoding to gain more accuracy on the user’s location data. Geocoding is the process of converting physical addresses into geographic coordinates (like latitude & longitude) & vice versa. Geocoding Forward Search converts physical user addresses into geographic coordinates (lat, long) while Geocoding Reverse Search converts geographic coordinates (lat, long) into a human-readable address. Some solutions in this space include those from Google, HereGeo, Neutrino, Nominatim, Navmart etc
IP geolocation is nothing but a guessing game. It may never get perfect. However, we need ways to keep closing in on the accuracy of the solution. Industry leaders like Netflix address the problem by using smart algorithms to distinguish between IPs belonging to ISPs and VPS providers along with GeoIP databases that get continuously upgraded based on business rules to handle proxies, VPNs, blacklisted IPs, network routes etc. Telcos and OTT video service providers need to work together to help solve geolocation problems. There isn’t one size that will fit all, but by collaborating and bringing in a multifold approach, we can solve the problem, thus delivering a highly customized and enhanced user experience.