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February 26, 2014
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Broadpeak takes the CDN further into the home

Making more linear/live content available to multiscreen devices within the home is becoming a priority for more platform operators. One of the technologies that helps to support this, nanoCDN from Broadpeak, will be deployed for the first time this year. The first customer, which is launching a streaming TV service that avoids the need for a traditional IPTV network, will be announced within the next few months. Another deployment will go public in the second half of the year. This one focuses on delivering multiscreen services to devices within the home. In both cases, nanoCDN will be used to optimize the delivery of linear/live TV over broadband.

As we reported previously, the Broadpeak solution introduces very lightweight clients into the home router/gateway and these intercept the unicast stream requests made by a tablet or smartphone to an origin server. The client looks for a multicast stream of the linear content instead. The platform operator works with a content owner to make the most popular channels available in multicast, perhaps during peak times or for popular shows or live sports, or even 24/7. The nanoCDN client receives this multicast stream instead, then converts it to unicast ABR (adaptive bit rate) inside the home so it can be watched on the multiscreen devices without any changes to their apps.

By replacing multiple unicast streams with a single multicast stream in the broadband network, nanoCDN reduces the bandwidth demands for linear/live video. nanoCDN is pioneering because of the way it harnesses multicast within a CDN environment and because it makes in-home devices an extension of the CDN.

Broadpeak also has plans to extend the functionality of the client software that resides in the home. The company has already talked about its use of local caching, where it harnesses some local memory, whether in a broadband router or the hard drive on a DVR, to store up to 15 minutes of the linear stream once it has already played out on the display device. This is another method to minimize the number of unicast requests sent to the network by multiscreen devices.

If your original content request was converted from a unicast request to multicast, and you are now watching a shared stream, any trick-play like pause or rewind would require that you break out of the multicast and issue a new unicast request. Having a 15 minute storage buffer means you can rewind 14 minutes and stream the content from the cache, so a unicast session is still avoided.

According to Nivedita Nouvel, VP Marketing at Broadpeak, a 15 minute buffer enables a platform operator to handle 80% of time-shift requirements without the need for unicasting. If the nanoCDN can make use of a DVR hard drive you can expand the size of the storage buffer. Of course, if there is no storage available in the home gateway/router, trick-play requests lead immediately to a unicast request.

Now Broadpeak is about to take in-home CDN caching much further with an application that pre-loads VOD titles onto in-home storage, which could also be a DVR drive. It is the CDN equivalent of satellite push-VOD, but instead of titles being downloaded over broadcast satellite spectrum overnight, the titles are downloaded over broadband using multicast, avoiding peak times, and in this case the VOD movies are pre-placed with the intention that they are going to be consumed on multiscreen devices.

Nouvel explains that an operator can predict which movies will be very popular and pre-position them. “They could also make a special offer for the top ten blockbuster movies via the end-user portal that is available on screens inside the home. They can pre-position that content and provide a better Quality of Service for the video, by making HD content available at 4-6Mbps even if users only have a 2Mbps connection.”

The CMS (Content Management System) tells the CDN what devices are present in the home so the content can be pre-cached on the home-gateway in the formats needed to display on them. So a VOD title would be pre-positioned in both Microsoft Smooth Streaming and HLS formats, for example. There is no processing of content in the home gateway.

Broadpeak has put an emphasis on keeping the processing footprint for its own client software low. In this application the additional software resides on the home gateway/router and no changes are needed to the end devices, like the tablet.

Broadpeak is working on another important extension to what its client software can do. The next step is to support the transformation of classic IPTV multicast streams (as delivered to a set-top box) into the ABR formats needed to feed multiscreen devices around the home. The French company is responding to interest from telcos who want to harness the linear channels they have to deliver anyway, and so reduce the amount of content that is also made available across the network in streaming formats.

In the case of an Apple device, the classic IPTV stream will be transformed into HLS mono-layer, something that can be done without putting excessive processing demands on the home gateway. Nouvel points out that this model can be used for a fast multiscreen launch that makes use of the existing IPTV headend and makes live content available around the home. “It is a way to launch multicast, multiscreen services at minimum cost,” she says.

The gateway client needs to know  whether a channel is available on the classic IPTV line-up so it can refer to this for the content (instigating a stream transformation) or whether it needs to look to the CDN. And in an example of how ‘hybrid’ video delivery is becoming, any requests to the CDN might be for a multicast or a unicast stream.

In yet another example of how an in-home client benefits a CDN architecture, a client can send back information about retry efforts for data that did not arrive, providing valuable information to the CDN about what is happening in the network up to the point of the home gateway. Broadpeak will be announcing more about this soon. This does not require any changes in the final (multiscreen) receive devices.

If an operator is using Broadpeak’s Umbrella CDN product for dynamic CDN selection it is also possible to gather intelligence about conditions all the way down to the player app in the multiscreen device, but this requires some additional code in the app. So this approach works for apps that are within the control of the operator (like their TV Everywhere app). Umbrella CDN can also be used by content owners to gauge QoE for their apps.

There is at least one other use of the CDN client that Broadpeak is working on, and this time the software acts as a probe to help the CDN understand what content is most popular and then cache that content closer to users within the network. Users then stream content from the local network cache rather than the origin servers. The main purpose of this function is to help network operators minimize the impact of third-party video over their broadband networks.

During IBC last year we reported how ACCESS and Alcatel-Lucent Velocix are looking to harness content delivered from broadcast networks, content from the CDN and content stored in the home and provide unified resource management for this under the auspices of DLNA, while treating the CDN servers as just another DLNA server. This requires DLNA clients in the home.

And we reported recently how Akamai has been demonstrating proof-of-concept client software that is designed to optimize the delivery and pre-positioning of content like video and software. The company said the demo at CES 2014 on a Qualcomm Atheros IPQ home gateway “offers a glimpse into the future of the Akamai platform as we explore ways to move beyond the edge and onto devices of many types.”

So it looks as if there is going to be a bigger role for CDN client software in future, and Broadpeak is pioneering the concept of in-home devices becoming an integral part of the CDN architecture.