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Verizon Talks High-Res Unicast Delivery at CES

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LAS VEGAS—“People have been wanting a new way to consume online media for 15 years, since the Internet was created,” says David Rips president of digital media services at Verizon.

If Rips sounds enthusiastic these days, its because his division is in the middle of releasing its years-in-the-making unicast delivery platform for high-quality, large entertainment files.

“We’ll be able to deliver to any device on any network true unicast high-res streaming,” Rips says.

The internet wasn’t designed for wideband communications, Rips explains, and would crash under the weight of a unicast distribution system (where large files are sent to single users). What content creators, studios, and publishers need, he says, is an alternative to the web.

“The only way to avoid using the internet is to design a different type of net,” Rips says.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Verizon started designing such a system, says Rips, and two years about it began the creation, isolating a piece of its IP backbone for high-speed transactions.

“We will merely be an enabler,” says Rips, describing Verizon’s businesslike approach to the platform, Verizon Digital Media Services. Verizon will ingest content, create all the necessary variations to stream it to every device and platform, then stream it to the recipients. Underscoring that businesslike approach, Rips refers to file variations as “SKUs” and calls the whole workflow “pick, pack, and ship.”

One section of Verizon Digital Media Services–Digital Content Distribution Service–began operations in the fall of 2011, allowing content owners and creators to deliver large files to retailers. The second section–Unicast Content Delivery Services–will bring files directly to customers. This part will roll out in two phases this year, first with video-on-demand and then with live video.

It’s the network that makes Verizon able to offer unicast delivery of high-quality longform files. Two data centers store the files, pushing them out to 20 to 25 edge centers in the U.S. All the nodes are connected in a mesh, and the system will be able to handle tens of millions of unicast streams. The result will give content owners a way to distinguish premium content offerings, providing instant access to high-quality new releases. It’s a level of quality Rips believes consumers will be willing to pay for.

The platform’s edge centers are located differently than with a content delivery network (CDN). Placing them close to the consumers won’t work for unicast delivery, Rips says, so they’re back behind the peering points.

The last mile of delivery is out of Verizon’s hands, and Rips notes that content may occasionally need to be downscaled for delivery. That won’t happen for Verizon FIOS and LTE customers, he notes wryly.

While Rips doesn’t have permission to mention customers by name, he said the platform already has over 30 signed agreements from some of the largest media companies, movie studios, publishers, and retailers.

For content creators, it’s a cost-effective system for delivering large files, one that includes third-party dynamic ad insertion, recommendation engines, and DRM. For customers its fast access to high-quality content, one that works on any device, and that remembers a viewer’s place between viewings. It’s all part of building tomorrow’s more sophisticated digital merchandising environment, Rips says.

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