The content delivery network sector remains highly competitive as the use of OTT services continues to grow worldwide.
Whilst its importance has never been in any doubt, the role that a robust content delivery network (CDN) plays in the evolving media landscape has come into ever-sharper focus over the last few years.
With both an increase in the overall volumes of content and the rise of higher-resolution video to contend with, the ability of CDNs to reduce hosting bandwidth by utilising caching – and thereby reduce the risk of service interruptions or diminished quality – is now essential to many broadcasters as they seek to satisfy the phenomenal appetite for new and different content.
Given that the global OTT market is continuing to grow at a rapid rate, it’s no surprise to discover that CDN forecasts are similarly robust. In a recent report, MarketsandMarkets indicated that the CDN market would grow from $12.4bn in 2019 to $22.1bn by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 12.3% . Along with the expectation of enhanced Quality of Experience (QoE) and Quality of Service (QoS) for video services, the report also pinpoints the rising demand for “latency-free online gaming experiences”.
While some organisations are opting to go down the private CDN route – sometimes with a commercial CDN as a back-up – the public CDN market is both buoyant and highly competitive, with more and more organisations making use of multi-CDN set-ups. Although achieving minimal latency and maximum quality will always be critical priorities, it could be that security soon constitutes one of the most important differentiators. As with so many other things, the issue of piracy has been highlighted by the pandemic, with Muso recently reporting a near-60% increase in UK traffic to piracy sites in the early weeks of the first lockdown.
For all of the reasons stated above, there tends to be a dual-emphasis on capacity and integrity of content during conversations with CDN providers. For Edgeware, a current focus is on its elastic cloud-based CDN offering that allows streaming, caching and routing functionality to be virtualised. Johan Bolin, Edgeware’s chief product and technology officer, pinpoints the rise of 5G as an important factor here.
“Considering the growing use of 5G for video streaming, our elastic cloud-based CDN ideally fits the architecture of a 5G network,” he says.
“An elastic TV CDN that’s optimised for 5G needs to capture the growth of video and make sure the rollout of 5G delivers on its promise. Functions and applications in 5G are deployed as virtual instances in virtualised data centres or in the cloud, either private or public. Therefore, a CDN that’s been designed with virtualisation in mind – and, in particular, a software that’s easy to scale and deploy in any cloud environment – is well-suited for the architecture a 5G network is built upon.”
More generally, Bolin highlights the demands that 4K, HDR and “escalating content from OTT” services are placing on CDNs as they “require more capacity and reach into new regions. [Hence] advanced management and control functionality have become increasingly important to enable traffic routing to PoPs where available capacity exists and to allow TV providers to foresee – and avoid – potential congestion. Also, it’s crucial to be able to analyse and get insights from traffic patterns in order to monetise these in the best possible way.”
As live sports slowly return after lockdown-related interruptions, live streaming is increasing once more – an application where “glitch-free, low delay capabilities” remain imperative. There is also no doubt that sports is one of the main targets for illegal activity, hence the escalating demand for watermarking and anti-piracy technology across the board.
Video delivery technology company Broadpeak has also established a strong range of CDN offers, including CDN selection technology umbrellaCDN – which ensures that the best server is used at all times to deliver video content – and operatorCDN, which enables the direct sale of bandwidth to content providers. But with latest solution launch S4Streaming – which was unveiled in February – the focus is on giving video service providers more control over streaming quality and bandwidth usage.
Xavier Leclercq, VP of business development at Broadpeak, explains that S4Streaming gives service providers “greater control of ABR [adaptive bitrate] video delivery, enabling multi-bitrate live low latency and dynamic bandwidth management in the network. So with S4Streaming operators can take control of the session, for example by giving the customer [and account owner] priority for premium content such as sports over the streams being watched by their children. The ability to control the experience as an operator means you can determine who will be impacted first by congestion and introduce policies geared towards giving the best possible experience.”
Fully compatible with the existing ABR streaming ecosystem and suitable for both unicast and multicast environments, S4Streaming assesses and selects the appropriate quality for video streaming in each case. Using a combination of server-side technologies, the solution ultimately reduces “the latency of live streams, enabling higher bit-rates for on-demand content delivery and decreasing video quality changes when network conditions vary,” says Leclercq.
“It’s crucial to be able to analyse and get insights from traffic patterns in order to monetise these in the best possible way,” Johan Bolin, Edgeware
The ability to focus activities “closer to the broadband aggregation point” and therefore nearer to the actual servers subscribers is among the benefits of a private CDN cited by Nick Fielibert, who is CTO Video Network at Synamedia. The video infrastructure technology provider continues to evolve a range of CDN-related offers, which include Media Streamer – described as a “cost-effective private CDN platform with the flexibility to start small yet scale massively” – and OMD Director, a cloud-based CDN management system providing integrated provisioning, monitoring, analytics, alerting and role-based management.
Outlining the benefits of the Synamedia private CDN, Fielibert highlights the inclusion of a “very good caching mechanism – both for live and VOD – and a focus on video content [that means] we don’t locally cache websites, only video.” The resulting “high efficiency” of the CDN, he notes, has made it attractive to broadcasters including Israeli pay TV company Yes, which recently claimed it would be the first operator in the world to achieve broadcast-equivalent latency for its cloud-based, internet-only TV services.
With more content being produced in higher-resolution formats and the expectation that 5G will become an important content delivery mechanism, it’s to be expected that – above all – Fielibert says that “continuing to increase capacity and efficiency” will remain the chief priority for the CDN sector. Hence in the future there will be an even greater onus on “intelligence in the edge cache and processing” with a view to customers achieving “the highest throughput for the dollar based on the traffic they see happening in their network”.
Along with the kind of stream prioritisation being highlighted by Broadpeak, it is likely to be these requirements that determine the next few years of CDN development. With competition in the OTT market set to remain intense, it will be those suppliers who can enable the most efficient, robust and flexible distribution of content who will make the greatest headway.