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Improving Quality of Service for Live Sports Streaming

Live streaming of major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the European football championships has exploded in popularity. In fact, the 2016 Super Bowl made headlines when 3.96 million people streamed the big game live. The Olympic games in Rio, Brazil drew huge streaming audiences. Now operators and content providers are looking for ways to manage the complexities of the streaming environment.

One of the biggest challenges is handling peaks in audience, which can be unpredictable, especially during live sporting events. This can significantly impact the delivery chain. Another issue is the requirement for low latency. No one wants to hear a neighbor screaming about a goal that was just scored match 30 seconds before they see it in on their own screen. ??Utilizing ABR technologies traditionally implies unicast, which is expensive and bandwidth-hungry in terms of usage of peak resources. Operators and content providers need advanced CDN technologies to address latency issues and improve quality of service (QoS). This article will outline some of the recent advancements in CDN technologies that are helping optimize ABR streaming for live sporting events.

Technologies for optimising ABR QoS

There are a few ways that content providers can enhance the live ABR streaming process. One solution is to use multiple CDNs for content delivery, allocating requests based on specific criteria, such as geolocation, NSPs, type of content, etc. The best CDN for delivering video content in the UK, for example, is not necessarily the same as for delivering it in The Netherlands. Some CDNs perform better for certain NSP subscribers than others. In addition, some CDNs are more expensive than others but provide a better quality of service, which is essential for premium content like live sports. To obtain even better QoS, content providers can rely on several CDNs simultaneously, dynamically taking into account the changing network conditions to request more from the CDNs that are performing best at a given time.

Another option for content providers is to deploy local caches in the operator’s networks to reduce CDN costs and improve end-users’ QoE. With this solution, local caching servers capture the most popular content from a specific provider and stream it to viewers. Live channels can be sent once through a CDN as a service, used as a contribution network, to the local cache box, which will repeat them for all the viewers watching the same content. Since the content is streamed from a location closer to end-users, bandwidth fluctuation is reduced. Another benefit is that delivery costs are substantially less, as the content provider pays the CDN as a service mainly for a contribution link and not for all the traffic.

On the operator front, multicast ABR technology can be used to cost-effectively manage the consumption peaks of live multiscreen services for millions of simultaneous viewers with only a few megabits per second used from the operator network. Under this approach, operators rely on the multicast capabilities of their own networks to transport ABR content while leveraging end-user devices to convert it back into unicast. All of this takes place in a way that is completely transparent to end-user devices, and it makes scalability for live event streaming a real possibility.

Utilising multicast technology, operators can also reduce latency, as it allows them to use smaller chunks and to reduce the number of chunks to be buffered in the player, allowing operators to reach latencies comparable with IPTV.

Remaining competitive

Live sporting events are being streamed by more and more providers on multiple devices, including TVs, PCs, smartphones, and tablets. If content providers and operators want to remain competitive, they must figure out a cost-effective strategy for delivering live video content anytime, anywhere, on any device, and over any network with minimal latency.

Today, many operators are looking to transition from IPTV to ABR delivery technology to unify their distribution architecture and reduce costs. The two things that are holding them back are the issues of scalability and latency. Utilising a multicast technology, they can solve them both, and have a unified solution for all the screens in the house. Ultimately, these technologies make viewers happy and put more revenue into the pockets of both content providers and operators.

Nivedita Nouvel is VP of marketing at Broadpeak.