The work inside CableLabs on multicast ABR (including its presentation of an ‘M-ABR Reference Architecture’ and its ‘IP Multicast Controller-Client Interface Specification’) to encourage vendor interoperability in this environment amounts to an industry stamp of approval for the concept, which provides a way to deliver streaming video, including live channels, without the bandwidth burden of unicasting. One of the main beneficiaries is the French company that pioneered the technology, Broadpeak.
The Rennes headquartered vendor grew 54% last year, partly thanks to rapidly growing interest in cloud PVR (a solution it was promoting at ANGA COM this week) and partly because there is what President and CEO Jacques Le Mancq calls “a rising tide” for multicast ABR.
Síminn, the Icelandic IPTV provider, the Mauritius-based telco and mobile operator Emtel, and Tricolor TV, the Russian satellite Pay TV provider, are among eight companies already using Broadpeak’s nanoCDN multicast ABR solution commercially. Le Mancq says nanoCDN is being lab tested at a further 30+ media companies.
Tricolor TV is pursuing a satellite B2B market opportunity, with the company providing a multiscreen entertainment offer to venues. Anyone can walk into a restaurant, for example, and download the Tricolor TV app (which is advertised in the venues) and then start streaming one of 50 live channels over the localised Wi-Fi hotspot. The hotspot is connected to what is effectively a satellite CDN, using nanoCDN. The content is delivered as IP over satellite, using adaptive bit rate (ABR) streaming.
Síminn is using the m-ABR technology to deliver live television to homes with its new 4K set-top boxes. Emtel is delivering multiscreen TV into customer homes, including from Canal+ (which is made available via local broadcaster MC VISION). Coping with the live peaks expected on the Canal+ service, and delivering good Quality of Experience (QoE), were two of the motivations for introducing nanoCDN at Emtel.
nanoCDN allows a service provider to pre-determine that a streaming channel should be unicast or multicast, or the management system can automatically switch viewers from a unicast to multicast session as the popularity of a channel or programme builds. Multicasting serves one stream to multiple customers, whereas unicasting requires that every user is given their own dedicated stream. Bandwidth savings are the obvious benefit, and these translate into cost savings but also the ability to scale services while maintaining viewing quality and reliability.
nanoCDN uses client software that is downloaded to a customer premise device that is controlled by the service provider – like a broadband gateway or set-top box. In the case of Emtel, its Technicolor cable modems host the software. In effect, these devices become the termination point for the Broadpeak operator CDN – an example of how the content delivery network moves into the home.
The nanoCDN client software handles stream requests from display devices (like PCs or tablets) in the home. It talks to the network management system to find out if a multicast session is available. If it is, it turns the unicast session request from the multiscreen device into a request to join the multicast. It then converts the multicast stream (that is sent via the operator controlled CDN) to unicast so that the TV channel is sent across the home network (most likely Wi-Fi) to the multiscreen device as a unicast session. This ensures that no software changes are necessary on the final display device.
Broadpeak is working with 15 set-top box/gateway vendors on pre-integration of its nanoCDN client software, covering 50+ devices in total. The ability to write software that has a small processing footprint for customer premise equipment is a competitive differentiator, Le Mancq believes, acknowledging the fact that more vendors are moving into the multicast ABR solutions market. “You also need very good CDN technology, and we have that,” he adds.
He also believes Broadpeak can differentiate with the QoE it delivers on the streaming channels. The company has been reducing the latency that is traditionally associated with live streaming (the display delay compared to true live and the ‘live’ you see on broadcast networks like DTT or satellite). Among other things, video chunk lengths can be shortened and client players can start displaying video without filling their buffer (in the knowledge that the managed network can ensure the video chunks arrive fast enough to maintain QoE without buffering).
Another battle front, as competition in m-ABR heats up, is scalability. “We have an [unnamed] operator that is using multicast ABR to deliver 1,000 channels including the national and regional variants,” Le Mancq reveals. Service providers (and content owners) use their existing OTT workflows, so there is no need for new headends or new content security solutions, he adds.
Le Mancq believes m-ABR could encourage a proliferation of mid-range set-top boxes that sit somewhere between the hero gateway and the basic zapper and which serve both the main screen and multiscreen devices in the home. This would contain the CDN edge client software (like nanoCDN) to support streaming video.
Broadpeak has been surprised by how quickly interest in m-ABR is growing in the satellite market, where the technology can help wholesale or retail providers to deliver multiscreen services for their customers without the need for terrestrial broadband links. QoE assurances may be possible where previously they were not, like in rural communities or countries with weak terrestrial infrastructure. To some extent, this also future-proofs the satellite market if more video is streamed rather than broadcast. The satellite IP connectivity becomes the CDN for streaming video.