The streaming market needs an overhaul. With content consumption increasing at an astonishing rate, it’s clear that the traditional CDN model is no longer sustainable to solve the many challenges that ISP networks will face over the next few years.
The growth of extended reality technologies, personal streaming of UHD video, new media platforms, and the emergence of the metaverse are changing consumer behaviors. Consequently, the delivery mechanisms that enable these interactive and highly immersive experiences must change. It’s therefore imperative that all service providers pursue the technologies that can get them to the edge quickly with minimal friction.
We believe that our Open Edge Cloud solution offers a way forward that enables service and content providers to collaborate, efficiently use local ISP network capacity, and mutually benefit from improvements in delivery quality. In this blog, I will explore these themes and outline how we are helping service providers and content providers work together to deliver connected experiences to viewers with greater efficiency and in the quality intended.
Tomorrow’s streaming market requires a new architecture and business model
Today’s service provider networks sometimes struggle to deliver the sheer volume of content that users are consuming. Even as most boost capacity and move to fiber to drive up broadband speeds – sometimes to gigabit per second rates – consumption is also surging. According to data from Cisco, by 2023, global fixed broadband speeds will reach 110.4 Mbps, up from 45.9 Mbps in 2018. But this alone is not enough.
Service provider networks are not built with the assumption that every customer will be utilizing all available bandwidth all the time. And as such, theoretical speeds can be subject to network congestion and are not necessarily what a consumer will experience when it matters most during a live event. In addition, the historical consumption model has been based on peaks and troughs with an assumption that growth is relatively even. However, these assumptions can no longer be trusted.
Historically, service providers are often wrongly accused when viewers are unhappy with their streaming experience. When the “internet is slow,” the blame tends to be leveled at the door of the ISP. Although the actual cause might be further up the delivery chain, the messenger, unfortunately, gets the blame. As viewers have become savvier and more demanding, content providers have started to take on more responsibility for quality, enlisting the help of CDNs that act as an intermediary for improving content delivery.
The traditional CDN approach most often serves publishers’ content to the peering points of ISPs. From there it’s up to the ISP to deliver the content across their network to the end user, taking on responsibility for the final user experience. This “passing of the buck” is not a criticism of legacy CDNs – but rather a recognition that when they emerged in the late 1990s, the world was a very different place in terms of internet content consumption. Although many modern CDNs are big, they have not progressed the operating model in a way that optimizes delivery end to end. Bigger does not mean better in this case. The CDN model needs to adapt to the here and now.
Delivering connected experiences at the intended quality and efficiency
We know that content consumption is growing. We see the personal streaming of UHD video on the rise. XR and the metaverse are ramping up. For ISPs, simply putting more capacity into the ground or air is not enough. Similarly, the traditional CDN model that focuses on peering points does not solve the inherent challenges faced by the ISP’s local network.
So, what is the answer? There are two key things to think about, namely quality and efficiency. To give an imperfect analogy, imagine a busy city with traffic jams. Now you could make every street wider to grow capacity, but this is impractical. Instead, you can use smart traffic lights that better manage the flow, changing the way roads interconnect to accommodate the journey patterns better. In essence, this is what next-gen content delivery is all about; finding ways to make the journey better and more reliable.
An additional thing to consider is co-operation. The current CDN model is broken. CDNs act as intermediaries that move content slightly closer from source to destination, but do not address each ISP’s localized delivery challenges and opportunities. This is where Qwilt’s Open Edge Cloud changes the game. In simple terms, it uses caches deployed on commodity server hardware deeply embedded at the ISP’s network edge. The ISPs use those caches to deliver popular content much more efficiently than a legacy CDN.
Third parties like publishers can also access the Open Edge Cloud for content delivery and reporting. In essence, an ISP becomes a CDN, and subsequently, Qwilt’s growing ecosystem of ISP partners form a global, federated platform that better serves consumers, publishers, and ISPs.
Service and content providers mutually benefit from increased capacity
From a practical perspective, we implement the Open Edge Cloud in partnership with the ISP. Our operation teams work in unison to manage the edge cloud to operate efficiently and deliver better quality of service. And uniquely, we unlock a new business model, where ISPs share the revenue. The built-in access to the network means they can get much closer to the consumer and deliver a better experience.
From an operational perspective, this means that teams from Qwilt work with the different departments of the ISP to meet their technical and business objectives. From a technical perspective, efforts are centered around integration and operations. Further, we act as a mediation layer between the ISP and content publishers, handling control plane functions. The key point is a focus on delivering Quality-as-a-Service that reflects the unique needs and abilities of the ISP. This partnership approach is fast becoming the new standard of content delivery quality from the service provider edge.
Qwilt’s Open Edge Cloud enables ISPs to establish a massively distributed layer of content caching resources that will deliver media and applications from the closest possible location to subscribers. Each edge server is low cost and can be utilized by other virtual network function (VNF)-based services, making it cost-effective enough for the ISP to distribute throughout its access network.
I’m proud of our team and the deep partnerships we’ve built with service providers around the globe. You know your work is making a difference when your customer gives you a shout out from the BT Tower!
Today we will be delivering the gift of entertainment with our amazing friends @disneyplus and @qwilt on BT Network cloud – and I’ve got a good feeling about this! @bttowerlondon light up the sky! https://t.co/rv7YGraWro
— Neil J. McRae (@neilmcrae) May 27, 2022