Open Caching in Action: Diffusing the spikes of streaming - Panelists speaking
Jonathan Candee

Jonathan Candee on

Open Caching in Action: Diffusing the Spikes of Streaming

During the recent NAB Show in Las Vegas, I was invited to join a fascinating panel discussion alongside Sanjay Mishra, Associate Fellow at Verizon, and Michael Fay, former SVP of Media Distribution and Infrastructure at Disney Streaming. Together, we delved into the content distribution value chain and, importantly, the growing role of Open Caching within it. We also explored several real-world Open Caching use cases, along with results that show the impact it’s having in improving the quality of experience for viewers.

To set the stage, Qwilt, Disney, and Verizon are all members of the Streaming Video Technology Alliance (SVTA), which created the Open Caching 1.0 specification. Sanjay is also an SVTA Technical Fellow and an active participant in the SVTA Open Caching Working Group alongside my colleague, Yoav Gressel, VP of R&D at Qwilt. Furthermore, Sanjay is very active within the CDNi Working Group at the IETF, where he is guiding Open Caching toward recognition as an IETF industry standard.

Michael spent 15 years working for Akamai, developing a deep understanding of the CDN landscape. He then spent four years at Disney Streaming, where he played a pivotal role in the launch of Disney+.  During that time, he led Disney’s work with Verizon and Qwilt in 2020 and was an early champion of Open Caching, even before the Open Cache 1.0 standard was ratified.

ISPs need smarter networks for streaming

Jumping back to the NAB session, our discussion focused on some of the results of the earliest carrier and content provider adaptors of Open Caching and its remarkable potential as a technology. It was interesting to me that for several audience members, it’s still necessary to qualify the difference between a traditional centralized CDN and an Open Caching-based alternative, where nodes typically live within the operator’s access network. This shows that while we’ve come a very long way with the technology and deployments, we still need to continue educating the industry on the benefits and massive potential of Open Caching and its basics.

We then tackled questions that had been submitted before the panel discussion, starting with: “What inspired Verizon to build Open Caching into its network architecture?”

“[There are] essentially two things,” explained Sanjay, “One is network efficiency, and the second thing is trying to manage our resources better.” Sanjay highlighted that today, around 70% of internet traffic is video, “…and ISPs have to adjust,” he said “Either they can keep throwing money at continuing to build [out] the network or try to figure out how smartly they can configure the network to efficiently accommodate that growing percentage.” Sanjay also shared some data highlighting that Verizon had seen a 129% increase in total mobile network traffic over the last five years and 47% of consumer mobile traffic was video for the second half of 2023.

Open Edge networks help the underserved 

However, it is not just large national networks like Verizon that use Open Caching to help deliver more network efficiency and improve the streaming experience. One of the largest Qwilt Open Caching deployments in the US is with the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC), a cooperative of 700+ members that are mostly smaller ISPs that, taken together, serve 30+ million US households, which, for comparison, is almost as big as Comcast.

Before deploying Qwilt’s Open Caching, NCTC members had looked for ways to improve streaming quality and content delivery capacity in their networks, as many NCTC operators are in smaller and often rural locations with limited Internet backbone connectivity. The switch to an Open Caching solution that places nodes much closer to the subscribers’ last mile has delivered significant benefits in overall QoE. Backhaul utilization has fallen as more content is offloaded to caches inside the NCTC member network.

With this upgrade, major sporting brands now want to use these servers deep in those networks. Imagine somebody in a small rural town in Nebraska. Before Open Caching, their streams used to be backhauled all the way from Denver, Colorado, over 500 miles away from their home. Now, with an Open Cache inside their local ISP network, the live stream comes directly from that cache. The ability to handle large spikes from large spikes from major events presents a huge opportunity to improve and enhance sports content delivery.

Combining network performance and Open Caching standards to reduce complexity 

However, as Michael pointed out, another strength of Open Caching is reducing the complexity that otherwise increases in a multi-CDN world. In his view, a major challenge involved dealing with multiple technical configurations, limited internal staffing resources, and issues that arise with moving content between CDNs.

During the session, he said: “…[Instead], the standardization that’s enabled through Open Caching creates an environment where the content operator, instead of having to hire more and more and more people to handle all of these multi-CDN configs, can instead achieve scale efficiently and cost-effectively.

Elaborating further on Open Caching and the use of standards, Michael added: “The answer is simply that it’s plug-and-play for your system. There’s nothing more you need to do, but the benefits go on and on. The second part is in reaching your subscribers and seeing the [lower] latency and seeing the higher bit rate. That’s tremendous and it brings value back to you to keep your subscribers paying [for your services].”

Open Caching adoption continues to grow

The final question of the session turned to how the industry is witnessing rapid and ever-growing demand for Open Caching services. Michael said: “There has always been a lot of interest from the service providers… but historically, [there has been rather] anemic investment from the content operators into Open Caching … I’m starting to see that change in the last six months, and I really do think it’s due to the popularity of live sports content.”

Michael also spoke from the perspective of a publisher that needs to distribute content in a country with a dominant national telco that has a highly proprietary, internally created CDN platform. “The last thing I would want to hear from an operator is, ‘have you looked at our CDN?’ [I’ll tell them] ‘no, we don’t have people for that.’ [Instead, I would say], ‘have you looked at Open Caching?’ And they usually go away and say, ‘yeah, we’re going to go away and look at it.’

The popularity has increased in the last six months. So, I’m willing to bet we’re going to see a lot more adoption.”

Throughout this session, we really drilled down on the elements of the content distribution value chain and offered insights into the challenges and opportunities at play. From my perspective, this candid discussion is another validation of Qwilt’s 14-year journey to build out the world’s largest ‘open-standards’ based edge cloud and CDN. As we head towards our 2 billion subscribers served milestone, this will translate into a future that sees an end to the spikes in streaming and better digital experiences for all.

Watch the panel

Open Caching in Action

Watch the full panel with Jonathan Candee, CCO at Qwilt, Sanjay Mishra, Associate Fellow at Verizon, and Michael Fay, consultant.

Watch the panel