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Live streaming 101: Prepare to stream live at scale with open caching

Many service providers are optimising their networks by moving towards open caching, a technology that more efficiently meets peak demands for live events. Gautier Demond, VP of sales, content publishers at streaming tech specialist Qwilt, outlines the key benefits for sport.

29 November 2022 Gautier Demond

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We all know that live sports represent the pinnacle of a broadcaster’s channel line-up and can cause significant internet traffic spikes when they air.

The unpredictability and tension make live sports programming an exciting and captivating experience. Yet this unpredictability can also cause concerns for service providers, who must predict live event demand on their networks and build out the necessary capacity to guarantee a seamless streaming experience.

This dynamic will undoubtedly play out during the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, which Fifa predicts will be viewed by five billion fans – the most-watched in the tournament’s history. Record-breaking audiences mean service providers worldwide need to optimise their networks to ensure the uncompromised quality of experience today’s fans expect.

Overcoming peaks in network traffic

Networks can, to some extent, prepare for predictable spikes in network traffic. But at other times, many millions of users may unexpectedly tune into the same unicast stream at once, and the subsequent traffic peaks can be formidable.

Building a network that faultlessly delivers live content is no small endeavor for service providers, particularly as they simultaneously move their own managed content services to an all-IP architecture. They must grapple with managing live and on-demand over-the-top (OTT) traffic while also dealing with the surge of traffic coming from their own streaming services.

Many service providers are optimising their networks by moving towards open caching, a technology that more efficiently meets peak demands for live events than traditional commercial content delivery networks (CDNs) without sacrificing quality of experience (QoE). Aside from this short-term benefit, open caching also provides the building blocks for longer-term goals for service providers. It serves as the platform for future edge computing use cases that will inevitably come to service provider networks and their edge cloud offerings.

In simple terms, open caching moves content efficiently across the service provider’s network so it can be served from a point closer to the viewer. This closer edge location means a lower latency, higher throughput, and a reduced time to first frame. The result is a lower rebuffering rate, and a higher average resolution.

Unlike traditional commercial CDN nodes that are centrally located in the mid-mile, open caching nodes are deployed at the closest possible locations to the users, often tens of miles to even a few blocks away. This proximity allows applications and content to bypass peering points, traditionally the biggest roadblock to QoE.

Open caching for content publishers

Content publishers also face the threat of over-capacity video delivery networks during live events. In a recent survey conducted by Qwilt, whereby 300 content publishers responded with their requirements for streaming large-scale live events, CDN capacity and performance ranked among the greatest concerns for success, particularly around peak viewing times. 53 per cent of content publisher respondents were concerned about their commercial CDNs in terms of capacity and overall performance.

The survey also found that massive live-streamed events almost always require multiple commercial CDNs for scale and geographic reach. Respondents agreed that for a successful live streamed event reaching a streaming-only audience of ten million, four or more commercial CDNs would be required to deliver peak capacity at high quality.

As sports fans increasingly shift to online experiences to enjoy their favourite content – including new applications such as virtual reality and cloud gaming – how content publishers decide to deliver their content is a critical factor. The solution to providing a top-quality viewing experience is getting as close to viewers as possible by directly tapping into service provider networks.

Employing a multi-CDN approach utilising open caching delivers superior quality and offsets traditional CDN load balancing, resulting in a pristine experience every time.

The roadmap to live streaming at scale

Streaming services already have a vested interest in getting close to the service provider edge to better serve consumers. Yet, logistically, having multiple proprietary caches inside the network can shift from a benefit to a burden as the numbers grow.

These ‘black box’ caches from third-party content providers offer no visibility to the service provider and create more fragmentation of function in the network. This is where open caching steps up to the challenge, giving service providers visibility via rich analytics and control through open APIs in a unified platform that tackles the scale issue in live streaming.

As streaming quickly becomes the de-facto medium to watch live sports, consumer viewing expectations have risen to traditional broadcast expectations. Ensuring a flawless quality stream lies increasingly in the hands of service providers, and open caching offers a better architecture and model to meet viewer expectations while building a roadmap for future innovation.

It truly is the gateway to delivering scalable live streaming.

This feature forms part of SportsPro’s Broadcast Week, a week of coverage assessing the state of play in sports broadcasting and streaming. Click here to access more exclusive content and sign up to the SportsPro Daily newsletter here to receive daily insights direct to your inbox.

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