Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – April 2021

Opening The Internet

The internet is coming of age for broadcasters, not only in terms of OTT and VOD, but also for contribution circuits. Clearly, we need to know some of the detail of its operation, but how much is enough? Could we ever really understand the internet in its entirety? And should we even try?

A distributed combination of telcos, service providers, content generators, and physical interconnectivity, all effectively held together with the BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), forms the internet. Yes, this is a gross over-simplification, and the devil is always in the detail, and if we start to dig into the operation of the internet, we soon find not only is it complex but has a large dollop of commercial agreements that we will never have access to.

Keeping latency low and data throughput high is the end game for broadcasters, especially when provisioning contribution circuits for live video and audio feeds. But the original internet was designed to facilitate companies providing their own private autonomous networks while collaborating with each other to deliver a much bigger system. It’s based on a transactional model of data exchange, not relentless high bandwidth video and audio transfer.

BGP provides the routing information to facilitate packet forwarding between the networks that combined are the internet. However, not all links between these networks are the same and the individual networks they connect vary enormously. This in itself leads to differing latencies and data throughput rates which influences the value of the network, which in turn impacts the commercial contracts between the network service providers. But their value is also influenced by other factors such as the connectivity to other networks, and the number of content generators and end-users.

The point is, the value of a component network within the internet is as much of a function of its commercial agreement as it is of the technical specification. And the commercial value is based on much more than the technology. Therefore, it’s almost impossible for an “outsider” to truly optimize internet routing for their own benefit.

Even if a broadcaster was to build their own ISP (and some have) to gain access to the internet “backbone”, the number of commercial relationships they would have to enter into to gain access to the “internet exchanges” and other high-speed networks is not to be underestimated.

Optimizing the internet is much more involved than solving a technical challenge. Yes, it is possible to register IP addresses and ASNs, buy enterprise routers to run BGP and populate the necessary routing tables so you can be part of the internet club, but you’ll need an army of engineers to understand which high-performance networks to connect to, and an equally sized number of negotiators and legal professionals to negotiate your connectivity and limit your liability (the connectivity is a two-way street).

The very good news is that there is a growing number of media-friendly internet service providers who understand the routing within the internet and are able to optimize paths for specialist media applications, such as provisioning live contribution circuits. Although the internet is proving it’s worth for broadcasters, there are just some occasions when you have to let somebody else take the strain. And we can always get the service we need through the power of SLAs.

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