Viewpoint: Multicast ABR – the Key to OTT Viewing Success

The number of mobile phone video viewers in the United States is expected to reach almost 170 million this year. An additional 10 million may be added by 2020. With such large and increasing audiences, broadcasters are eager to serve these viewers. As streaming live over LTE networks becomes increasingly common, operators that are prepared by using multicast ABR will be the long-term winners.

With 90% of 25 – 34-year-olds now accessing TV from the internet, and Netflix gaining 24 million new subscribers over last year, there’s little doubt that OTT broadcasting is continuing its rise in popularity. Last year, 12.6 billion hours of content were viewed using OTT services, more than double that of the year before. And with technological advances promising to further enhance delivery and quality there is little reason why this disruption of traditional television viewing habits won’t continue.

The success of streaming over OTT is not restricted to video on demand content, but includes the live streaming market too. Now that mobile data costs are more affordable, and with the rise of 4G and the coming of 5G technology, an increasing number of viewers find that watching their favourite shows on mobile devices live outside the home is both convenient and inexpensive.

And, with sporting events like the coming FIFA World Cup matches, it’s safe to assume that live streaming numbers are set to increase. Millions of people around the world will want to watch matches while commuting to and from work or even when they are sitting in a coffee shop or on holiday.

Many service providers offer enticing data rates to encourage customers to watch video on their smart phones. Image: T-Mobile

Many service providers offer enticing data rates to encourage customers to watch video on their smart phones. Image: T-Mobile

Meeting Viewers’ Demands

However, this growing trend is putting heavy demands on broadcasters and operators. OTT live streaming requires considerable bandwidth. And because live sports can create large traffic peaks, operators may struggle to cope with high demand and the requirement to deliver each stream at the highest quality possible with as little latency as possible.

Some may be using unicast technology. However, this means that if a million subscribers want to watch the same live match or concert, the operator needs to send the stream a million times. In other words, unicast is not very scalable and puts a huge strain on network bandwidth.

Consequently, when it comes to building a multi-screen service, operators are now considering multicast technology with adaptive bitrate (ABR) protocols over a managed network. With such a solution, a million subscribers will have the same impact on the network as just one. From the operator’s point of view, this means sending the signal only once, which saves a huge amount of data bandwidth on a mobile network.

Benefits of ABR

The ABR protocol enables the signal to adapt according to the size of screen on which the broadcast is being watched. The larger the screen, the higher the quality of signal required to support the extra size and additional pixels. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to deliver a 4K quality stream to someone watching on a tablet or a smartphone as it’s an inefficient use of bandwidth capacity.

There remains one more challenge to address. No operator uses fibre or DSL only. They are all working across multiple different networks. In fact, the current trend is around consolidation, which means that many operators end up with a network using different media including mobile. Some multicast ABR technologies are not compatible with all transport methods.

So, any live streaming service making use of multicast ABR technology should be compatible with LTE broadcast, which supports a unified multicast CDN that works across all networks including DSL, fibre, Wi-Fi and mobile. The good news is that this also improves the quality of the live stream for the viewer. They can now expect a smooth stream regardless of location or viewing device. Viewers can even change networks in the middle of streaming. Multicast ABR is also highly scalable so operators are never limited in the number of viewers it can support without threatening the quality of delivery.

In other words, viewers can leave the comfort of their home TV and Wi-Fi network and join an external network without missing a vital goal or their favourite band perform live – their stream won’t be interrupted in any way. Instead, it will carry on streaming at optimum quality over the LTE network without disruption.

Unified Multicast CDN

The live video streaming market is estimated to be worth more than $70 billion by 2021. Yet multicast ABR technology is not widely used across the industry. This means operators need to act quickly and get ahead of the inevitable viewer demand for live streaming over various networks including LTE.

As advances in technology continue to redefine how we consume live TV content, broadcasters and operators need to carefully consider their next steps. How can operators deliver the high quality, intuitive streaming experience that will meet the increasingly discerning and sophisticated viewer and keep them happy now and in the future? Unified multicast CDN is proving an effective solution for coping with large volumes of streaming traffic over home networks – and now outside of the home and across external LTE networks too.

Viewers watching on their mobile devices in this way are just as important to broadcasters and operators as their more traditional customer. As streaming live over LTE networks becomes increasingly common, operators that are prepared by using multicast ABR will be the long-term winners.

Damien Lucas, CTO, Anevia

Damien Lucas, CTO, Anevia

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