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Challenges of Region-to-Region Streaming Delivery

What are some of the primary challenges to streaming at scale to remote ISPs? Steve Nathans-Kelly, VP and Editor-in-Chief of Streaming Media and Video Publishing Director at Information Today Inc. discusses this topic with Joshua Johnson, Director, Solution Architects, EdgeNext, and Corey Smith, Sr. Director, Advanced Production Technology, CBS Sports Digital, Paramount.

“Is it getting easier? Is it getting more challenging?” Nathans-Kelly asks.

Johnson stresses that while there is a lot of reach, there needs to be an increase in telco regulatory changes around the world to serve end users better.  “A large part of the world is starting to adopt a more P2P type of architecture,” he says. “But you don't have control over that P2P architecture, and while it might bring down your costs, it's not always providing the best type of performance in some of these remote regions of the world. There's less regulation within the ISPs. They're doing things in such a way to actually attract business and bringing traffic onto their ISPs to increase their revenues. But that doesn't always provide an advantage to the end user because while the ISP may very well bring it in, their latency might not be as good as a different one. And now they're starting to redirect traffic and pulling it in. So regulatory changes within certain parts of the world are necessary, especially from the telecommunications end of things.”

Johnson mentions a specific regional example that he recently heard about. “I was talking with a gentleman at an ISP this past week that was talking about the regulation in the Middle East…that they had put a new telecommunications director in place, and they had to literally shut down what they were doing and saying, ‘Okay, no, we're going to standardize this. You're not focusing on your end users anymore, and because you're all battling for the dollars, so I'm going to set a price line that says you can only charge this to these people, and if you want to be licensed, you have to be able to support these types of capacities and so forth.’ So while there are changes occurring, I don't think it's any easier because the technologies also are changing. Everybody's trying to adopt different technologies within their streaming, and you have to be able to provide support for all of that.”

“Well said,” Corey Smith remarks. He emphasizes the need to build capacity in the larger tech world has also benefited streaming. “Video games, they've gone from 7GB or 6GB fitting on a disk to blowing to anywhere between 80GB and 120GB for a single game download. And if you’ve got a AAA title that has some kind of content update, now all of a sudden, you're competing with basically an iOS phone update on some of these providers. Or you're pushing multiple terabytes per second of traffic. You could easily do that with a video streaming event based on the demand. However, the streaming world is benefiting on the other CDN capacity of the world having to build up all of this global performance over the years because of iPhone, and because of video game companies pushing these large files. So it's interesting to kind of see.”

Johnson agrees that streaming has benefited from increased capacity. Still, he says that it tends to be a significant ongoing cost to CDNs to continually reach necessary levels while also dealing with the various types of capacity needs. He notes that CDNs generally try not to max out over 60% capacity. “So you have that headroom,” he says. “But at the same time, if you have a blast event in a certain region, how do you actually make sure that you have additional capacity? How do you make sure that you can support it? It's not just your bandwidth, it's your server capacity. It’s your DNS capacity. It can be an infrastructure nightmare at times.”

Johnson also notes that suppliers also take advantage of these fluctuations. “All of a sudden, their pricing starts going up and up and up,” he says. “So there's a great big balance that goes on. It's when you're looking at investing in a new area and trying to make sure that the capacities are there and that you've got the performance, do you build it first and then sell to it, or do you sell and then build it? And a lot of times companies are not willing to wait for you to build it…they might take something that doesn't perform quite as well because the immediacy of need is there.”

Smith argues that ultimately CDNs will have to adapt to capacity simply to succeed and will have to be flexible. “I think the build-to-sell kind of conversation can be flipped on its head because a lot of these smaller capacity networks are going to get basically destroyed on certain events anyways because their customer base coming from their network is going to have to receive that traffic,” he says. “Whether it's a large file downloaded delivery, or it's a live event stream of some kind, they almost, by just sheer will to survive, have to build the capacity out and hope that their transit and peering agreements get better, [so] that they can actually offload some of those costs in other places.”

Johnson agrees and says that this will inevitably lead to a wider centralization of ISPs. “While these ISPs have pushed forward to be registered or licensed by their government, they actually can't meet the metrics that are required,” he says. “And they're finding out that in the long run, they handle [the] license. And now they're selling them off to the larger providers, and they're consolidating things. Now things are growing, I think they're going to centralize a little bit more. And you're not going to find as many of the smaller ISPs and telecommunication companies that are independent [and] can actually support this. A lot of the larger providers are just going to grow, and they're going to be the dominant players.”

Learn more about regional streaming delivery at Streaming Media East 2023.

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