How many times did you curse your wireless carrier for your slow Netflix streams on mobile? As revealed on Thursday, it’s the service’s fault for your low video speeds.
The streaming service disclosed it has been capping video speeds on mobile networks for the last five years. Usually, Netflix recommends that you use a connection “at least six times as fast as the 500 Kbps needed to play a movie or TV show” on the service.
But the company revealed that when a user streams through a mobile network, the default speed is 600 Kbps. Apparently, this practice is supposed to “protect” customers from consuming too much data and having to pay overage fees.
This limit only applies to movies you watch through mobile data plans, so if you’ve accessed the service through a Wi-Fi connection, you should experience normal speeds.
In reality, Netflix is just protecting itself. You burn through a lot of data when you stream videos, and if you have connectivity or data issues, industry experts say you’re most likely to blame the company you’re paying the most.
In our case, Verizon, AT&T, and other wireless providers would take the blame first if Netflix doesn’t stream properly. But little can be done to fix it, other than switching providers or paying more to boost one’s data allowance.
However, users who want to get their data consumption under control will set their sights on Netflix. Realizing the shtick, they will start limiting their mobile streaming – and this is exactly what the company wants to avoid.
But this move is not at all surprising, as Netflix has been experimenting with ways to keep viewers from surpassing the data caps for some time. For example, most streaming services will save bandwidth by using “adaptive bitrate streaming,” a standard practice in the video world.
Sometimes when you watch a video on YouTube, you notice the frame blurs or even freezes as you walk outside or go to another room. This is YouTube’s way of automatically adjusting the quality of the video to your new connection.
With Netflix, speed and quality are adjusted based on content, which means that Game of Thrones will have a higher quality when streamed on mobile than My Little Pony, for example. Speed caps aren’t such a huge leap from bitrate streaming, right?
After revealing the true nature of the situation, the streaming service promised to give users more control over their data usage with a new “data saver” feature coming in May.
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