Akamai Announces HDTV Video Distribution Service

Aug 28th, 2007 | By | Category: Corporate Podcasts, Digital Video Downloads, Internet TV, Podcasting Networks, Podcasting Services, Streaming Video, Video

Akamai Technologies, a leading provider of Internet content delivery services, has announced that it is offering services to help customers deliver the HD Web.

Akamai’s content delivery network works by distributing requests for files over a worldwide network of servers. That way, when you click on a link to play an Akamai-hosted video, you get the file from a server that can deliver the file to you quickly.

The Market is Ready For The HD Web

“As broadband video viewership has escalated, consumers have raised the stakes by demanding better and better content experiences,” said Will Richmond, president and founder of Broadband Directions LLC, a market intelligence and consulting firm specializing in broadband-delivered video. “To deliver against these requirements, media and entertainment companies need to offer higher bit rate files with enhanced online fidelity of video and audio files. Doing so in a scalable and cost-effective manner requires that the necessary infrastructure to support high definition content must be deployed.”

“The capacity to deliver high throughput files already exists at the ‘edge’ ‚Äì leveraging the massive build-outs occurring in hundreds of individual networks. The challenge comes from how you tap into that capacity. The only way to solve this problem is to deliver from within these networks,” according to Akamai’s Mike Afergan. “For example, on our distributed platform, we serve more than half of all the files, 500 MB or greater, at more than 1.4 Mbps, and this is only increasing. This demonstrates that, by leveraging the right architecture, there are already a large number of end-users capable of downloading higher quality content. This technical capability coupled with the market demand is exciting for the industry.”

Features of Akamai’s service include:

  • Technology and an operational model to operate servers on the largest high-throughput networks around the world
  • Support for delivery, storage, and management of files greater than 2 Gigabytes
  • Support of VC-1 and MPEG-4 video standards, achieving visual parity with other broadcast video networks
  • Support for files with resolutions of 720p, 1080i and 1080p
  • Client-side technology that is deeply integrated into its delivery system to be deployed as appropriate

“As broadband connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, users are demanding ‚Äì and frankly should expect ‚Äì a high-quality, high-definition video experience on the Internet,” said Mike Afergan, chief technology officer, Akamai. “Delivering premium HD content is a critical way for our customers to attract and delight their audiences in today’s highly competitive media environment. We are just at the beginning of a very exciting market opportunity for delivering premium HD content. Consumer demand exists, broadband is ready, and businesses are looking for ways to maximize the value of their high-production HD content.”

Akamai’s Architecture for High Throughput Media

To realize this same vision and fidelity in the online world, a 2-hour feature-length movie would need to be encoded at a bit rate of at least 6-8 Mbps, which would result in the file being a size of 5-8 GB. This presents numerous technical challenges to deliver such a high-quality, large file. For instance, delivering a file encoded at 6 Mbps to an audience of one Nielsen ratings point (1,102,000 households) would require 6.6 Terabits of sustained bandwidth, and that doesn’t even take into account latency and network congestion.

The availability of very large, last-mile bandwidth connections does not always mean that an end user will be able to completely leverage that access. A critical factor to enable high bit rate delivery of very large HD files is the proximity of the end-user to the server sending the file. As the distance from the server becomes greater, throughput dramatically decreases. Even a seemingly small distance can result in lost throughput due to lower throughput, higher packet loss, and increased latency.

As an example, the only way to achieve 10 to 20 Mbps throughput for typical PC end-users is if the server is less than 20 milliseconds away. The more latency, the longer it takes to download the file, which interrupts the viewing experience and results in a poor end-user experience. Compared with other centralized models, the results that Akamai’s network offers high quality content are unmatched on a global scale.

According to Akamai, broadband subscribers are guaranteed to have a faster download, and enjoy a quality HD experience, when downloading content from servers nearby the request. With servers distributed in over 750 cities, Akamai addresses these technology requirements with its unique edge delivery model that reduces latency to levels necessary for a quality HD experience. Because distance matters for high-quality large files, all content, whether it is frequently or rarely requested, must be served closest to the end user. Akamai’s unique technology automatically and instantly spreads popular content on-demand for better scalability.

In addition, many large HD videos are not always watched in their entirety. It is therefore optimal to locally cache only the portion of a file that is most requested by end users, which on average is the beginning of the file or movie. This partial caching of HD video enables both popular and less popular, long-tail content to be served from the edge to guarantee optimal performance.

“Akamai’s goal is to be able to support 100 Terabits per second of traffic. Our flexible and distributed architecture uniquely positions us to realize that vision and we are aggressively progressing toward that goal,” said Afergan. “We are also committed to the long-term objective of building an ecosystem linking content owners, network providers and video platform players to ensure a superior HD web experience wherever last-mile infrastructure permits.”

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