Ericsson pitches global CDN at mobile video

Ericsson has upped the ante in the global CDN (Content Delivery Network) market by uniting its fragmented delivery services into a single converged platform designed for all forms of video service.

To be launched at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month, the Ericsson Media Delivery Network is the fruit of collaboration with pioneering CDN vendor Akamai.

It is far from the first global CDN optimized for video, but Ericsson claims it breaks new ground by being equally effective for both managed and unmanaged content for ultimate delivery over fixed or mobile networks, exploiting the company’s expertise spanning all of these. It combines packet core and radio capabilities with new management tools for intelligent control and support for a variety of business models.

It is pitched at both fixed and mobile operators, including Telcos and pay TV providers that want to exploit their own local infrastructures to deliver video. But it will also be marketed at broadcasters and content providers as a way of guaranteeing quality of experience across all networks, particularly for OTT services.

The number one focus though is mobile video, as Per Borgklint, Ericsson’s Senior Vice President and Head of Business Unit Support Solutions, indicated, pointing out its CDN was designed particularly to address a worldwide consumer movement toward broadband mobility.

"Yesterday, our mobile devices were telephones, today they are everything, our TVs, our banks, our conference rooms," Borgklint said. "Our recent Ericsson Mobility Report shows that mobile data traffic will grow 12 times by 2018, and this is only the start of the tremendous transformation we will witness.

"The Ericsson Media Delivery Network solution breaks the boundaries of traditional CDN solutions, offering operators a single, intelligent, and agile management platform for superior efficiency, optimization, velocity of service, and monetization opportunities."

One of the key technical features of the Ericsson CDN is transparent caching, which gives the CDN’s operator customers greater control over optimization of the service. This appears to have come from Akamai, with which Ericsson announced a strategic partnership in Feb. 2011. At the time this move was motivated partly by Internet rule changes introduced in the US by the Federal Communications Commission allowing mobile operators to prioritize certain content on their networks.

Akamai, itself, went on to develop its own managed CDN service aimed at operators and incorporating transparent caching, launched in Feb. 2012. To that extent then Ericsson is playing catch up, as transparent caching becomes an essential component for managed CDN services. This is because transparent caching enables intelligent decisions to be made over which content to cache locally and when to do it, in order to optimize end to end delivery. Before transparent caching came along, CDNs only stored content based on prior business agreements, without the flexibility to amend these in real time to suit changing network conditions.

It is called transparent because it is invisible to both the content source and the end recipient. It involves interaction between the CDN and the operator’s network, within which the transparent caches reside. The idea is that when content streamed from a source across a CDN into an operator’s network for final delivery to a subscriber exceeds a given level of popularity, it is stored in the transparent cache. It is then no longer transmitted across the CDN but served locally to subscribers from the operator’s cache, until such time as popularity drops off again.

The advantage is that CDN delivery costs are reduced, and QoS is easier to guarantee over a shorter transmission path with lower latency, especially in the event of a global or trans-continental service.

Transparent caching does have to be implemented correctly so that the content is always up to date and fresh, and preserves end-to-end application logic, supporting proper user authorization, geo-control and ability to execute device-specific delivery. It should also of course meet local regulatory requirements, such as the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the European EU E-Commerce Directive 2000. It should support the key protocols or content services, particularly HTTPflash, HTTP based file sharing, Microsoft Silverlight, RTMP, Bit Torrent, and Netflix.

For global providers like Ericsson and Akamai, transparent caching enables their operator customers to have much greater control over what to cache and when to cache, because the storage is embedded in their network. Crucially this also means operators can determine how much to accelerate the delivery in order to avoid choking further caching points downstream in their own networks. It gives them a smooth transition between the CDN and their own network.

Many Telcos and mobile operators now see transparent caching as necessary to control their OTT delivery and provide the best possible end-to-end user experience. But it is not easy to deploy, which is why only a few big providers such as Ericsson and Akamai currently offer it.

It is notable that some large players are actually giving up on CDNs and partnering instead with one of the specialist players such as Akamai or Limelight. This is the case for AT&T, which has just announced an alliance with Akamai, but is really becoming more of a customer. This involves Akamai deploying CDN servers at the edge of AT&T’s IP network in the US. AT&T will then transfer its existing CDN operations, customers and services to the Akamai platform during this year.