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Mushroom Networks' Portable Streamer Sends Any Video Source To a Content Delivery Network

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Can you believe : I have written four articles about cellular multiplexers in about as many weeks (one of which is appearing in the Autumn issue of the European edition of Streaming Media magazine, which will be online soon).

If I could invest in this exploding subsector I would. It’s a geek niche, but its exciting. This is the space to watch in the streaming media sector at the moment.

Just to recap:

  • There are several technologies on the market–I call them cellular multiplexers.
  •  Each enables you to transmit a live stream back to another point on the Internet
  • Typically they run multiple cellular links, "channel bonding" them together to make multiple small links appear to be one larger IP pipe.
  • The video encoding and channel bonding is intrinsically tied together in a single unit, with the objective being a simplified ‘red button’ operator experience.
  • In the past months I produced a review comparing the TV1 MiniCaster, the AVIWEST DMNG and LiveU (the article that is in the Autumn issue of Streaming Media magazine's European edition).
  • In the review AVIWEST was the only unit that was supplied in a unit that was standalone and about the size of a box of chocolates.
  • Within weeks of this review TV1 announced its updated unit, which was the size of a chocolates box.
  • And just days after this announcement LiveU announced the same thing – their own chocolate box unit.

So that’s crazy enough right?

Wrong….

Then I get passed some details about a new device, Streamer, from San Diego-based Mushroom Networks. Initially the press release caught my eye because it purported to be a new device in the same space as the other cellular multiplexers, and I went to read it in depth.

Streamer solves poor picture quality and buffering issues due to lack of bandwidth resources by combining four cellular cards into a single high-speed connection. If one of the links fails – the others take over ensuring near 100% uptime without interruption to the broadcast.

So that’s a very familiar proposition.

Then I realised that there was a key difference: Streamer is a plug & play setup and will accept a video stream via an Ethernet cable connecting the Streamer to a video source (laptop, encoder, switcher) and send the stream to your choice of CDN or video server

With the video input interface being specified as Ethernet, rather than say SDI or analog, my first instinct was to dismiss the proposition since it was occluding the fact that you need a secondary device. But then I started to see some of the brilliance and uniqueness of this new proposition; while a high-capacity internet line is demanded by live webcasters for their initial "contribution feed" to their playout, this type of connectivity is useful in other circumstances too, and the unit that Mushroom has developed will also provide ad-hoc high capacity bandwidth links for any purpose.

You see, when you connect to the CDN, their device acts like a router, and it is the device you connect to their Ethernet port which makes the connection to the CDN. Their device is clever at Layer 2, but unlike the other devices I have been so far reviewing, this device is only concerned with bonding Layer 3 network links and turning them into a single aggregated underlying layer for Layer 3 IP and up.

It facilitates live streaming, but it doesn’t actually do any encoding or packaging into any form of transport or format.

So you need another device. Don’t forget with all the other devices you need another device at the other logical end of the cellular link to not only connect to the bonded channels and glue everything back together, but to decompress the video and present it to SDI – from where, if you wanted the stream to go to a CDN you may have to re-encode from SDI and package the stream into, for example, RTMP again. And interestingly this would be exactly the same encoder that you could plug directly into the Mushroom device and that would send the video direct to the CDN, taking out one stage of re-encoding and packetizing altogether.

This is arguably a "pure" cellular multiplexer. My term (cellular multiplexers) refers more to devices that can split data over several pathways and restore that data at the remote end and be transparent to the applications and services that use that link.

This modular breakdown is a very flexible strategy. By addressing the issue of the multiplexing in a standalone unit I could potentially set one of these up and use it with many different IP video (and other) devices.

That longevity offers a great deal of value for money–IP is IP. Its not going to ‘date’ very quickly, where video compression and formats change rapidly by comparison. As such breaking out the two devices make a lot of sense.

With this breakdown in price—the Streamer lists at around $10,000—is coming a new level of affordability. I want to see these become a mass market commodity. When they do, then content by amateurs of events like the Arab Spring, extreme sports, wild mountaineering feats, nature footage, and surgical military manoeuvres will all be streamed in hi-definition and not blocky images, and  journalists will be able to use the technology and resources at hand, while barely even being aware that they are carrying them. The portability will change the variety of places that reports come from, and the dropping costs will increase the richness of the array of choice.

This single group of technologies will probably do more for raising the bar of prosumer-quality social TV than anything else over the same time.

This week was off the scale in how much this technology came of age all at once, and I look forward to getting all these new devices on the workbench and reporting back on how well they actually fare under stress.

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