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Multi-CDNs Are Stepping Up to Deal with Network Congestion

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Video streaming is the new normal, with both mainstream media and new media both vying for internet users’ attention. With more people preferring to stream content, slow loading times are a major setback for engagement across the board. Last year’s Disney+ launch was marred by complaints, and even some gentle trolling centered on the hotly-awaited VoD platform's buffering issues.

The company, which sought to reassure users that the issue was due to "overwhelming demand" and that they were working hard to resolve it, is well aware that latency and buffering are a big problem for subscribers—and a costly one for providers. According to a recent study by Akamai, buffering costs major U.S. streaming networks on average $85K in lost advertising revenue.

Streaming platforms aren't the only companies dealing with revenue losses due to latency issues. Amazon observed that every 100 ms of latency cost them a massive 1% in sales, figures backed up by Google, who estimated around the same time that an extra .5 seconds in search page load time could decrease traffic by 20%.

As the Internet Expands, Pressure Increases

The sheer volume of data offered by online platforms in the form of 4K video, images, music, gaming, and interactive content far surpasses what was thought possible at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Added to this, the digital population is growing, with more and more people across the globe gaining access to the internet.

While internet expansion helps grow the global economy and puts previously cut-off communities on the map, a combination of rising demand and data-hungry formats is putting legacy infrastructure to the test. Users in developing nations are all the more affected by congestion and aging systems, with high discrepancies in the quality of internet access from one region to the next and between urban and rural areas.

With video streaming accounting for an impressive 58% of the total downstream volume of internet traffic, and gaming in the form of Twitch streaming and esports gaining momentum, internet congestion is a ticking time-bomb.

Loading Times Affect Bottom Lines

Studies show that load time affects the internet user’s experience more than just about any other factor online—design, functionality, and content included. A 2018 research initiative by Google found that 53% of mobile users will abandon a site that takes over three seconds to load, while another survey discovered that nearly 70% of users feel that page speed has an impact on their willingness to make a purchase.

Experts have been warning of the effects of problematic user experiences for a few years now. Conviva flagged up an estimated $20 billion opportunity loss in its Viewer Experience Report, which identified poor quality video streams—i.e., buffering, slow startup time, and low resolution—as a major turn-off for users. The company also discovered that 33% of users would abandon a poor-quality video immediately, and 84% of them would do so by the one-minute mark. With more and more brands producing video content for their website, that's a lot of wasted resources.

The explosion of esports and gaming is another factor that is driving the need for network evolution. The gaming sector boasts unequaled engagement levels, with users habitually tuning in for sessions lasting up to 3 hours. With live esports championship matches sometimes worth millions of dollars' worth of sponsorship and advertising, a few milliseconds of latency can have a costly impact.

Looking Towards Robust Solutions

Existing protocols are clearly struggling to keep up. The 40-year-old Border Gateway Protocol, which routes content through the shortest possible paths, is falling short. Internet service providers are seeking to temporarily resolve the problem by adding more hardware and advertising speedy connections that rarely live up to user expectations. There is a need to find a more robust approach.

As the issue grows more pressing, technology companies are beginning to provide services to alleviate the strain. While content distribution networks (CDNs) are vital to streaming services to deliver content, providers have recently begun to harness a more decentralized and intelligent solution—the multi CDN. MetaCDN is one such provider who has prompted the shift from traditional CDN to Multi-CDN.

Founded by Dr. James Broberg, the Australian company’s new approach amalgamates various CDN networks under one fluid network, allowing the end-user to receive not just content from CDNs closest to them, but to receive content from the fastest network possible. Broberg has published several works on distributed networks, cloud computing and content delivery having addressed distribution principals for nearly twenty years. Naturally, his company’s large choice of networks means load is reduced and users are not forced to rely on a single server.

Recognizing a similar deficit in traditional CDNs in congested regions, Warpcache is beginning to offer multi-CDN services but with an additional managerial edge. The company allows any CDN to join its larger network, and manages these networks through a web interface and API. Like MetaCDN, Warpcache guarantees connectivity through its rerouting processes—an appealing notion especially in areas where network load limits entirely restricts content delivery. The Dutch company places an extra focus on security with its networks designed to prevent all forms of application layer threats and DDoS attacks.

Experts are also looking towards artificial intelligence (AI) and other innovative technologies as a scalable and durable solution to worldwide Internet congestion. System73, for example, addresses network load issues through AI and machine learning to forecast capacity and optimize delivery paths, resulting in a streamlined flow of information. Here, network capacity is able to expand to meet growing demand.

Key investor in System73 and serial entrepreneur William Erbey comes from a background of informatics, statistics, and finance and has taken an active interest in reducing global congestion. As the founder of six multi-billion dollar companies after having presided as President of GE’s Mortgage Insurance Corporation, Erbey’s finance and mathematics acumen are reassuring to internet users.

Erbey forecasts that AI-augmented, multi-CDNs will predict internet capacity and traffic usage so that data can move through under-utilized internet resources assuring the best user experience for video stream viewers—no new physical infrastructure is needed. “Software, including AI, as opposed to hardware will allow the growth of video streaming to continue”, he said.

Networks can no longer afford to operate on a static model but need to be able to scale on-demand in order to deliver the experiences that users expect. Intelligently-automated systems that make the most of available infrastructure and self-optimize in real-time are crucial.

With the demand for high-quality, interactive, and therefore data-hungry online experiences only set to increase over the next few years, internet congestion is one that needs to be addressed, notably by rethinking infrastructure and bringing in innovative, sustainable solutions.

[Photo by Koushik Pal on Unsplash]

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