Ahead of the CDN World Summit 2013 in London, Paul Larbey, President of Alcatel-Lucent’s Video Business Unit Core Networks Division, assesses the content delivery network market and the technical changes ahead
How have your customers’ priorities for the CDN space changed over the past 12 months?
“Operators are recognising that a CDN is a core infrastructure component for their next-generation TV services. Deployments usually start with a single use case that, more often than not, is the extension of pay-TV linear and VoD services to second screen devices. Quickly we then see operators looking to start to consolidate services onto this infrastructure. For example, a number of MSO customers have begun to consolidate “classic” VoD storage onto the CDN to optimise the delivery of services to legacy STBs. In the IPTV market, all of our Mediaroom customers are looking at CDNs to support their multiscreen services, either integrated within Mediaroom or as an overlay.
“There are also multi-tenant opportunities that allow the CDN investment to open new business models for video distribution. Another example is extending the CDN with integrating transparent caching for OTT service improvement, not just cost savings.
“Discussions always include longer term planning on how ultimately the CDN becomes the dominant, unifying distribution technology, delivering all TV services, both traditional and advanced, to all screens including the main screen.”
Do you think the biggest changes for the CDN industry are now behind us?
“Not at all! We are entering a new and exciting stage in the industry’s development as operators look towards CDN as THE core infrastructure component to support next-generation television services. We’ve just begun to realise the potential of OTT technologies deployed inside a service provider’s core video network – the CDN being one of them. Service providers are now looking at the intelligence within their core network and asking us to more tightly integrate the CDN with these network elements and intelligence to deliver new levels of service.
“When a CDN is deployed inside an operator’s core video network it opens up massive opportunities for network based traffic optimisation that deliver “leap ahead” service personalisation and cost efficiencies. The role of session management and deep content and manifest manipulation will give service providers a competitive advantage by enabling advanced IP video services that are created, adapted and scaled for every individual on a per-user, per-session and per-device basis.
“So no, the biggest changes are not behind us!”
What are the technical innovations coming in the horizon in the CDN space?
“I mentioned session management earlier. That’s probably the single biggest innovation I see coming to CDNs. Session management implements the concept of a session to adaptive streaming, giving service providers real awareness of individual user content requests. This gives operators a true, holistic view of video activity in their network, allowing decisions to be taken in real-time based on network conditions and streaming behavior. For example, if three users in the same household are streaming content over their broadband pipe, and if there’s bandwidth contention, session management allows operators to change the CDN behaviour to ensure live sports on the big screen gets high priority over say cartoons playing on an iPad. It’s a great example of how a CDN deployed in controlled environments can be used to optimise video delivery and the user experience at the same time.
“Another aspect of session management is personalisation. With awareness of individual sessions, service providers have the tools to manipulate and personalise the flow and content of each video stream generated in the CDN while accounting for multiple inputs, such as current network conditions, the subscriber’s profile, the type of content being viewed and the device being used for viewing. This means the CDN can now create individual streams to perform traditional and advanced content modification such as blackouts, emergency alerts and targeted ad insertion.
Do you agree that all TV services will eventually migrate to OTT?
“If by ‘migrate to OTT’ you mean ‘be delivered over-the-top’ my answer is no. If by ‘migrate to OTT’ you mean ‘use over-the-top technologies’ my answer is yes.
“People are often confusing the two. We should be precise about what we are talking about. Watching prime time TV delivered over the best effort -internet will always have performance issues. To guaranty the quality that consumers are expecting you need to be able to control the end-to-end delivery chain. This means you need to deliver TV services in a managed environment, not blindly ‘over-the-top‘.
“The industry recognises that the OTT world has brought some great technologies though, and CDN is one of them. Other examples include HTTP adaptive bitrate streaming protocols and cloud-based video platforms. These technologies were developed for web services. They are now being reused by pay-TV operators for cost efficiency and agility, but they have to be adapted to managed environments. That’s exactly what we are doing.
“Take HTTP adaptive bitrate streaming. It uses stateless delivery, which lets the client decide by himself what’s best for him, without any consideration of other users. By adding session management to the CDN we give back the control to the service provider who can now decide to give priority for quality to the big screen or to the premium subscriber. It’s about making the best use of OTT technologies in controlled environments in order to optimise the video delivery and the user experience at the same time.”
Paul speaks at the CDN World Summit event in London on 1-3 October. For more information and to register, please visit cdnworldsummit.com.