It’s a brave new digital world, as consumers seem to have an unstoppable appetite for over-the-top (OTT) video content and next-gen social, news and gaming apps. Overall, mobile services have become more immersive with integrated video and, increasingly, virtual reality. This is an obvious network problem for mobile operators—and content delivery networks (CDNs) have emerged as the great new hope for keeping consumers happy and data-satiated.
OTT and the Fourth Wave: Offering Critical Revenue Streams
The advent of next-gen LTE standards as well as 5G are expected to create broad new traffic avenues that will give rise to fresh business models and innovative services built on the foundation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtually unlimited bandwidth. But realistically, commercial deployments won’t be seen until 2020 and beyond. In the meantime, operators are looking to new ideas for doing more with their existing LTE infrastructure—expensive footprints that they’re still paying off, it should be noted.
Against this backdrop, digital services offer the important prospect of important new revenue streams for carriers. So-called “fourth wave,” next-gen IP-based functions offer a path for carriers to deliver value-added services for new revenue streams beyond the traditional comms landscape— mostly mobile offerings that consist of mash-ups between traditional, native network services like voice and texting, and cool and useful app functionality. At the same time, mobile video services are in-demand and growing exponentially.
The opportunity is undoubtedly real: “The trifecta of fast broadband networks, well-designed mobile computing devices and the insatiable supply of content, applications and services has unleashed consumer demand for more like never before,” a Chetan Sharma Consulting report notes.
But, there’s an elephant in the room: maintaining Quality of Experience (QoE) for video and other apps. This is a critical piece of the mobile business model going forward, considering that QoE is table stakes for convincing a subscriber to pay for new apps and services. Further, mobile users are a demanding lot, who expect mobile videos to start instantly, play without buffering, and provide a highly satisfying, quality viewing experience regardless of device or location. In addition, subscribers expect content to be available even when not connected to any network.
The centralized cellular network architecture in use today across the globe was designed to handle millions of smartphones, all using data—but not the unprecedented levels of streaming video and rich media we’re starting to see, and not with the quality expectations that are in play.
“Sustaining a good user experience is extremely costly for operators and, despite their efforts to increase network capacity, video quality degrades as content gets more and more popular,” said Expway visit co-founder and CMO Claude Seyrat. “15 percent of videos never successfully start, and 25 percent of users give up when facing buffering. The mobile video market is at a crossroads: video traffic is accelerating and mobile operators have outmost difficulty to tame it.”
So, to protect QoE and by extension those potential new revenue sources, mobile content delivery networks (CDNs) offer an edge-based path to maintaining consumers’ QoE, aimed at optimizing mobile content delivery on that last-mile link from cell to device. It’s likely going forward that mobile CDN will be a key complement to initiatives like network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN), at the forefront of a network architecture redesign.
A Cornucopia of Mobile CDNs
At Mobile World Congress this year, a host of providers showcased their particular mobile CDN offerings, indicating that this is an idea whose time has without a doubt arrived.
Expway for instance launched a CDN approach dubbed FastLane, which uses LTE Broadcast, Multicast Dynamic Switching and pre-emptive caching.
LTE Broadcast, a 3GPP feature available in any recent LTE network, is a one-to many approach that allows operators to deliver the content once, to a thousand users or more. This, says Expway, leads to ‘enormous’ bandwidth savings for the delivery of popular content. The company added that with FastLane, mobile network operators can enhance their own CDNs or offer additional services with a guaranteed quality of service.
Not to be outdone, the leading wired CDN services firm, Akamai Technologies, announced the commercial availability of its predictive content delivery solutions, intended to help solve mobile video quality challenges.
Akamai’s predictive content delivery (PCD) solutions were designed specifically to address the requirements of content providers, video platform providers and mobile network operators, and are available in two configurations: an SDK that can be integrated into existing or new media apps, or the turnkey, white-labelled Akamai WatchNow application. They both allow for pre-positioning or caching of new videos on the end-user device based on user preferences and viewing behavior. This is said to make searching for content easier and allows for offline viewing.
They also both support scheduling delivery based on parameters such as on Wi-Fi networks only or during pre-defined non-peak hours alleviates the need for network infrastructure upgrades to cellular network.
“Mobile has become a critical screen for creating customer loyalty and satisfaction for online video, and Akamai’s Predictive Content Delivery solutions are designed to give our customers a powerful set of tools to help them make the most of this growing phenomenon,” said Lior Netzer, vice president and general manager of Akamai’s emerging mobile business unit. “Sustained user adoption is predicated on delivering an exemplary viewer experience, independent of network conditions, device type or content. That’s exactly what the Predictive Content Delivery SDK and Akamai WatchNow Application are all about.”
Global online video platform provider Saffron Digital has already fully integrated the PCD SDK into it overall platform solution. This is designed to allow clients to deliver richer content recommendations in HD, across EST, TVOD and SVOD services, independent of different network conditions.
Not to be outdone, traditional telecom infrastructure giant Ericsson is uniting with service providers to establish a global content delivery ecosystem.
The Unified Delivery Network is essentially a peering arrangement that includes Hutchison, Vodafone, Telstra and AIS, aggregating their network capabilities into the public domain. The idea is to allow services to be optimized while scaling the delivery of video content, including Ultra HD, gaming and virtual reality. It has been supported initially by content providers such as Brightcove, DailyMotion, EchoStar, Deluxe, LeTV and QuickPlay.
It will also be able to offer insights into drivers of revenue such as campaign performance and user engagement from operators. This could extend to being able to generate hyper-targeted content offerings and advertising, leading to personalized viewing experiences and so greater business opportunities.
"The launch of UDN delivers a disruptive new business model that offers a win-win situation for all players involved with traffic delivery,” said Per Borgklint, senior vice president and head of business unit support solutions at Ericsson. “Service providers are given revenue-generating possibilities as they invest in building out their networks, and content providers can take advantage of a much more transparent delivery environment. This transparency delivers data driven insights back to content originators meaning consumer experiences can be enhanced and personalized at a much deeper level.”
CDN technologies provider Broadpeak meanwhile has reconfigured its origin server, video cache server and analytics tools for integration with the NexStreaming NexPlayer SDK.
The two companies believe that by combining their technologies they will be able to improve OTT multiscreen delivery, elevating the video experience on devices using the NexPlayer SDK video player for both HLS and MPEG-DASH formats.
Broadpeak's video server and analytics solutions are designed to form a complete video delivery chain for pay-TV operators, simplifying their OTT multiscreen operations. Carriers can integrate the solution into Android applications and provide secure HDTV video quality on all Android phones, tablets, set-top-boxes and TV sets.
"Today's pay-TV operators must have access to detailed analytics in order to understand the end-user experience," commented Broadpeak CEO Jacques Le Mancq. "By integrating NexStreaming player with our analytics solution, we enable operators to extract crucial analytics about the QoE. By allowing operators to dive deeper into the end-user experience, we enable them to deliver a better QoS and QoE, giving them a competitive edge in the marketplace."
And finally, at MWC Quickplay launched its own mobile CDN, aimed at supporting innovative services in LTE-Broadcast, including push video-on-demand (VOD), live televised events and the delivery of broadcast media streams.
The embedded middleware platform is engineered to integrate with existing CDNs and uses Quickplay’s software-defined head-end to ingest, package and publish content, making it possible for on demand content to be distributed over any LTE network through the caching of pre-positioned content on LTE-enabled devices.
“We believe that we are on the cusp of an explosion in the growth of applications and services related to premium mobile video and connected devices,” said Quickplay CEO Wayne Purboo. “Momentum in the LTE-B space has been building over the past year with trials proving-out technology, an expanding array of consumer and IoT devices, interoperability and business models. We are very bullish on the future of LTE-B and are poised to help providers around the world monetize mobile video and large-file distribution.”