Internet-Draft NOISV July 2024
Deen & Mishra Expires 9 January 2025 [Page]
Media OPerationS
Intended Status:
G. Deen
S. Mishra

Network Overlay Impacts to Streaming Video


This document examines the operational impacts to streaming video applications caused by changes to network policies by network overlays. The network policy changes include IP address assignment, transport protocols, routing, DNS resolver which in turn affect a variety of important content delivery aspects such as latency, CDN cache selection, delivery path choices, traffic classification and content access controls.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The past decade of Internet evolution has included two significant trends, the global growth of video streaming and active passionate work within the IETF and places on enhancing Internet user privacy.

The work on these initiatives has largely been done independently of one another, though there are a few individuals and companies that are involved with both efforts. However, the arrival of the newly developed privacy enhancements in consumer products and their subsequent use by streaming video viewers has brought the work of the two efforts in contact and highlighted a number of friction points which are having impacts to users and support engineers of video streaming platforms.

To be clear, this document is not proposing or advocating rolling back the any of the privacy enhancements for users. Instead the authors hope to help educate the IETF and others on the practical operational impacts of these enhancements and to eventually develop approaches that can help mitigate such impacts.

The authors also readily acknowledge the many challenges and difficulties in improving Internet privacy into something as complex as the Internet while maintaining compatibiltiy with the wildly varied applications and uses the Internet's users rely upon daily in their lives. This is hard stuff and it's very natural for their to be operational considerations that must be understood and folded back into architectural designs and consumer products.

The hope in developing this document is to provide meaningful and helpful feedback from the streaming application and streaming platform operational perspective to help the enhanced privacy architecture work being done at the IETF.

1.1. Streaming Video Architects and Privacy Enhancement Designers Working Together

This document is not intended to challenge the need for privacy enhancements for the Internet, instead the hope is to illustrate impacts of such changes to the billions of users of Streaming Video delivered over the Internet so that the designers of privacy enhancements and the designers of services built on them can better understand the impacts of different design choices and perhaps find ways to mitigate such impacts through altered design choices.

Given the popularity of streaming video with the Internet's users and it's importancne to network operators, streaming platform operators and many others it only makes sense that as the IETF and it's participants work on improving privacy for those same users that the two efforts work together for everyone's benefit.

1.2. Possible Outcomes

One possible outcome might be a best design and implementation guide developed together and published by the IETF Media Operations Group.

Another possible outcome might be an IAB led study on the operational impacts of Network Overlays to help the IETF and Internet communities better understand the operational impacts of various architectural decisions along with mitigate approaches.

2. Internet Privacy Enhancements

Enhancing Internet Privacy is a challenging task to do for something as complex as the running Internet and it is easy for great proposals that fix one issue to cause new issues to arise in other places. That's not a reason to stop trying, but it is important to understand the consequences of changes and to find ways to manage or mitigate such impacts, ideally without weaking or rolling back the enhancements.

A popular design choice in privacy enhancements at the IETF has been the encapsulation of data inside encrypted connections. {!RFC9000} is an excellent example of this design and introduces a protocol that is always encrypted.

2.1. Network Overlays

Along with the use of encrypted connections another popular approach is to additionally create alterative routings and tunnels for connections which bypass the routing and other policy decisions of the ISP access network and of the public open Internet. These alternative network policy choices have the effect of creating a Network Overlay that operates on top of and over the device's Access Network and the Open Internet, but follows an independent set of policies chosen by the Network Overlay.

  R = router   <--- non-overlay traffic path ---> device ------ R -------- R ------------------------------ R ---------------- R ---- R ---- dest-node    \ /    \ /    \ /    R ----- R ----- ingest-node ----- egrees-node ----- R --+    <--- overlay traffic path --->   </br>  Figure 1: Network Overlay routing select traffic via an alternate path

2.1.1. Partitioning

Network Overlay policy changes will include an alternate routing policy since a fundamental aspect of this design is the tunneling of connections through alternate paths to enhance privacy. The reasons for this approach are discussed in the IAB document Partitioning as an Architecture for Privacy.

2.1.2. Policy Changes

Beyond alternate routing policies, network overlays often also make changes to the Source IP Address Assignment, the DNS Resolver Selection, can include protocol conversions/translations such as HTTP2->HTTP3 and HTTP2->HTTPS2+TLS, and can include IP layer changes such as IPv4->IPv6 or IPv6->IPv6 conversions.

2.1.3. MASQUE

Protocols such as MASQUE [RFC9494] and services built on it such as Apple's iCloud Private Relay are examples of Privacy Enhancing Network Overlays that involve making a number of network policy changes from the open Internet for the connections passed through them.

The IETF has discussed this situation in the past, more than 20 years ago in 2002 Middleboxes: Taxonomy and Issues [RFC3234] was published capturing the issues with Middleboxes in the network and the affects of hidden changes occuring on the network between the sender and receiver.

2.2. Making It Easy (for Users) by Working Under the Covers

Privacy has historically been a complicated feature to add into products targeted to end users. There are many reasons for this such as trying to meet every possible scenario and use-case and trying to provide easy user access to advanced privacy frameworks and taxonomies. Many attempts have been made, very very few have succeeed in finding success with end users.

Perhaps learning from the lesson of offering too many options the recent trend in privacy enhancements has steered torward either a very simple "Privacy On or Off" switch or in other cases automatically enabling or "upgrading" to enhance privacy. Apple's iCloud Private Relay can be easily turned on with a single settings switch, while privacy features like Encrypted DNS over HTTP and upgrade from HTTP to HTTPS connections have had a number of deployments automatically enable them for users when possible.

Keeping with the Keep It Simple approach, users are generally not provided with granular Network Overlay controls permitting the user to select what applications, or what network connections the Network Overlay's policies apply to.

Also, keeping with the Keep It Simple approach the application itself has very little connection to privacy enhancing Network Overlays. Applications generally do not have a means to detect when networking policy changes are active. Applications generally do not have a means to access policy change settings or to interact with changing them.

3. Streaming Video

Streaming Video, while just one of the many different Internet applications does standout from other uses in a number of significant that perhaps merit some amount of special consideration in understanding and addressing the impacts caused by particular privacy enhancing design and service offering choices.

Firstly, Streaming Video operates at a hard to imagine scale - streaming video globally to be more than 2 billion user daily currently and continuing to grow in leaps and bounds.

Secondly, the content types delivered through streaming has evolved from the pre-recorded low-resolution, low-bit rate, latency tolerant Video On Demand movies, TV shows, and user generated videos delivered by pioneer streaming platforms to now include low-latency 4K and 8K live sports events, while also evolving the pre-recorded content to become very resolution and high high-bit rate 4K and 8K cinema quality and High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting.

Finally, the expectations of streaming video viewers have significantly evolved from the days of settling for being able to watch a movie in a PC browser. Viewers expect to watch on any device type the want from low-end-streaming sticks that plug into USB ports, to 4K and HDR capable laptops, 4K and 8K HDR TV screens, gaming consoles, phones and many more choices. Viewers also expect to have the same great viewing experience while at home connected via high-speed wired Internet, high-speed WiFi, or mobile cellular 5G and even satellite Internet connections.

To meet the growth to billions of users, the growth in content type, quality and speed expectations, and the on-any-device anywhere that I am over any-network-connection expectations of users the Streaming Video technology infrastructure has had to itself evolve significantly. This is video streaming evolution work that done in the IETF, in the Streaming Video Technology Alliance (SVTA), and in a number of other technical and industry groups.

It's hard to overstate just how much the growth of Streaming Video has contributed to the growth of the Internet. Internet connections of hundred megabit and gigabit speeds are because of the needs of video streaming, the ongoing work on low-latency networking and ultra-low-latency video delivery are both driven by streaming video.

3.1. Advances in Streaming Video Architecture

Internet streaming has greatly matured and diversified from its early days of viewers watching pre-recorded 320x240, 640x480 standard definiton 480p movies to wired PCs connected to the Internet via high-latency, low-bandwidth DSL as early DOCSIS modems.

Streaming has grown be a daily go-to video source world wide for billions of viewers and has expanded from pre-recorded movies to encompass every type of video content imaginable. This growth to billions of viewers and the addition of low latency sensistive content and new connectivity options like WiFi, Cellular and Satellite in addition to high-speed DOCSIS and fibre is the world streaming platforms now provide service in.

Streaming platform have now have significant technical challenges to meet viewer expectations:

  • (1) Delivery scales that commonly range from hundreds of thousands to many millions of viewers simultaneously, with billions of views globally daily;

  • (2) Low latency demands from live sports, live events and live streamed content;

  • (3) content resolutions and corresponding formats which have jumped from the days of SD-480p to 4K (3840x2160) and 8K (7680x4320) along with bit rates which can had data needs of 10-24+ Mbps for 4K with 8K demanding 40 Mbps under extreme compression and 150-300 Mbps for high quality such as cinema;

  • (4) devices with very diverse capabilities low-cost streaming sticks, to Smart TVs, tablets, phones, and game consoles

  • (5) broad range of connectivity choices including WiFi, gig speed-low latency DOCSIS, satellite, and 5G cellular networks;

  • (6) application transport protocols including DASH, HLS, http2/tcp, http3/QUIC, WebRTC, Media over QUIC (MoQ) and specialty application transports such as SRT, HESP etc.

To meet these challenges streaming platforms have significantly invested in developing delivery architectures that are built with detailed understandings of each element in the content delivery pathway from the content capture all the way through to the screen of the viewer.

Streaming applications are part of an end to end architecture that is optimized around achieving the best experience including low latency video delivery to viewing devices. Obviously the open Internet can be unpredictable with momentary issues such as packet loss, congestion and other conditions but streaming architecture is desiged to do its best when such momentary problems arise.

4. Emerging Operational Issues with Network Overlay Policy Changes

Streaming video applications and the streaming platforms delivery content to them are beginning to encounter a variety operational problem related to the Network Overlays as users and customers of both bring them together.

The various impacts are list later in this document but there are a few classes of issues that have been observed:

4.1. Impact of Changing Network Routing and other Policies

The problem for streaming applications occurs when the underlying network properties and policies change from what is expected by the streaming application. In particular when such changes are not hidden or not visible to the streaming application.

While the open Internet is a dynamic environment, changing of basic network behavior and policies, from what is expected as seen from the streaming application, deviate unexpectedly from what the streaming application expects disrupts the optimized streaming delivery architecture the device. Changes to Network Policies such the routing, source IP address assigned to the streaming application traffic, DNS resolver choice etc.

Having an understanding and a reliable understanding of the delivery path is essential for streaming operators and the introduction of network overlays based on technologies such as MASQUE especially when they are designed to not be easily detected, even by applications using them has created a new set of technical problems for streaming operators and network operators and for the viewers that subscribe to them.

The core problem occurs when changes to network policies are made, often without notification or visibilty to applications and without clear methods of probing to determine and test changed behaviors that affect the streaming application's content delivery path resulting in increased latency, changes of IP address for the application as seen by either the application or the streaming service connection, changes to DNS resolvers being queried and the results returned by DNS, and changes to application transports such as adding or removing outer layer encryption are all problems that have been observed in production streaming platforms.

5. Approaches to Mitigate or Minimize Impacts

There are a number of ways Network Overlays can work with Streaming Applications to mitigate or at best minimize their impacts.

5.1. Transparent Policy Settings

A common theme in many of the mitigation proposal is making the Network Overlay changes and behavior transparent to the Streaming Application. This approach should not affect privacy enhancements of the Network Overlay as it doesn't alter the Network Overlay. Enabling the Streaming Application to better understand the network environment it is operating, allows the application to adapt the changes and work within them.

5.2. Policy Change Notification

Related to better transparency of policy settings is enabling notification to applications of changes to network policies. This would enable the streaming application to take into account the changes when they occur - for example a Network Overlay turning on or off.

5.3. Exclusion from Policy Changes

The other approach is enabling applications to be excluded from network overlays. This could be be done through a variety of approaches such as providing users an option on their device to exclude either by specific applications, by specific end point destinations identified by DNS name or IP address, or by some other characteristic.

5.4. Support Tools

One of the issues streaming platforms have run into, especially when working on connection and performance issues is that Network Overlays that only affect very specific application protocols, for example HTTP2/tcp and HTTP3/QUIC+UDP connections, is that other Internet protocols like ICMP which are fundamental in the toolkits of support desks do not traverse the Network Overlay tunnel. Since neither HTTP2 or HTTP3 provide protocol native ways of finding "the bad hop" or measuring bandwidth or latency along their path, helpdesks and engineers often find they lack the necessary support tools to help customers in determining streaming problems.

6. Appendix A: Network Overlays are different than VPNs

While conceptually similar in many ways to VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology, the various network overlay technologies currently being deployed as well as new ones currently being designed by the IETF differ quite siginificanlty from the older VPN approach they are replacing in a number of ways.

It is also worth noting that one reason why the issues discussed in this document have not been concerns with regard to VPNs is that largely VPNs have not been a pervasive way to stream video. First, many VPNs have not had very good or consistent throughput compared to the direct open Internet and so provide a poor viewing experience. Second, many video platforms block or deny service to VPN connections due to the very common use of VPNs to bypass geofiltering restrictions.

Whatever the reason, it's work looking at how VPNs differ from the Network Overlays being discussed herein.

6.1. VPNs typically:

  • (1) VPNs typically are detectable by both the video application and often by the streaming platform.

  • (2) VPNs typically work at the network layer of a device, resulting in a wide-range (if not all) transports

  • and protocols from the device flowing through the VPN

  • (3) VPNs typically provide exception options allowing for exclusion from traversing via the VPN based on

  • various criteria such as application, destination IP address, application protocol etc.

6.1.1. Network Overlays typically:

  • (1) Network Overlays are often undetectable by video applications or by the streaming platform, when in use

  • (2) Network Overlays often only apply to specific application transports such as HTTP2/TCP or HTTP3/QUIC while not applying to HTTP2/TCP+TLS on the same device.

  • (3) Network Overlays often only apply to HTTP connections and do not support ICMP, non-http versions of DNS, NTP etc, and various tools used for network measurement, problem determination, and network management that are not http based.

  • (4) Network Overlays do not expose to applications any means for the application to discover the policy changes the overlay will apply to the applications network connections.

  • (5) Network Overlays do not expose mechanisms or APIs for applications to interact with them such as getting or setting options.

7. Conventions and Definitions

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

8. Security Considerations

TODO Security

9. IANA Considerations

This document has no IANA actions.

10. Normative References

Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Carpenter, B. and S. Brim, "Middleboxes: Taxonomy and Issues", RFC 3234, DOI 10.17487/RFC3234, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.
Uttaro, J., Chen, E., Decraene, B., and J. Scudder, "Long-Lived Graceful Restart for BGP", RFC 9494, DOI 10.17487/RFC9494, , <>.


The authors would like to acknowledge to the contributions from the Streaming Video Technology Alliance (SVTA) based on their work studing the impacts of network overlays on the streaming platforms participating in the SVTS. In particular the contributions of Brian Paxton have been very helpful.

Authors' Addresses

Glenn Deen
Sanjay Mishra