With the launch of its 5G service just weeks away, Bharti Airtel, one of India’s largest telecom operators, is rolling out a nationwide Content Delivery Network (CDN) which it hopes will help it make facing the significant increase in streaming video traffic generated by its next generation mobile service customers.
Its CDN technology partner, Qwilt, based in Redwood City, California, is providing its Open Edge Cloud solution to support Airtel’s content delivery service, which will be called Airtel Cloud’s Edge CDN.
Founded in 2010, Qwilt has spent the past 12 years developing what it describes as “a massively distributed layer of content caching resources to deliver streaming media and applications from the closest possible location to subscribers”. He believes he has brought together a powerful mix of cloud-native microservices software and low-cost core hardware technologies, which is then integrated and operated by service provider partners (such as Airtel) at the edge of their networks as close end users as possible. (BT in the UK is also using Qwilt’s CDN technology.)
According to Qwilt, this approach reduces the cost of adding backhaul network capacity, improves the quality of service delivery, allows the service provider to scale easily as demand grows, and provides an IT platform to the edge of the service provider’s network on which other Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) can be deployed. Airtel deploys Qwilt’s technology to 120 edge sites across India.
It’s the technology detail, but it’s a transformational business model that Qwilt and, in this case, Airtel are really aiming for.
Qwilt’s Open Edge Cloud proposal is an attempt to reshape the content delivery platform market and take back control of caching and streaming functions from Akamai (first established in the late 1990s) and other major content delivery operators, but to do so in such a way as not to irritate both regulators and customers who might worry about the potential for monopolization of the delivery function of content. To give itself the best chance of making an impact, Qwilt became a founding member of the Streaming Video Alliance and a leader of the Open Caching industry movement. It has received investments from Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Cisco Ventures, Disruptive, Innovation Endeavors, Marker and Redpoint Ventures.
Qwilt’s proposal sits midway between a hyperscaler business model, designed to take advantage of significant scale advantages in cost and reach for a streaming service, and what Qwilt itself describes as a Uber model, where Qwilt, like Uber, orchestrates independent entities and, in its case, directs streaming traffic to and from edge servers deployed deep within the networks of its service provider partners.
Qwilt defines its key content delivery sharing solution as follows:
- A new streaming architecture based on edge computing where edge servers are deployed deep into service provider networks.
- A new business model based on partnerships, where service providers buy, deploy and operate the leading IT delivery infrastructure in their respective networks.
- A sharing model, in which Qwilt’s edge software and cloud services act as the control plane, matching content delivery requests with edge delivery nodes close to consumers.
- A new value chain in which publishers work in collaboration and directly with service providers.
What he does
Of course, content caching and serving and their benefits have been understood and invested in for at least two decades, so they are already widely appreciated. What’s different with Qwilt is how it distributes functions and shares the load across enterprise boundaries.
In addition to video streaming, Airtel has ambitions to use Open Edge Cloud deployment to support advanced business and consumer applications. So, in addition to 4K Live Streaming, which is the main application used for the Qwilt solution, edge nodes can also be used to run Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Autonomous Vehicle and Application IoT.
A major concern for Airtel, and one of the reasons for the timing of its rollout, is that it expects 5G users to be likely to carry large amounts of data on its network. Once Airtel launches its 5G services, which is expected to happen next month in key metropolitan areas across IndiaAjay Chitkara, Director and CEO of Airtel Business, “foresees a significant increase in data consumption in major cities (of India)… We already have relationships with over 16 content providers across India. India and we look forward to working with others,” he said.
Coping with streaming demand
The underlying narrative for telecommunications network capacity is that bandwidth consumption continues to grow without a commensurate increase in revenue, and it is expected that even the additional capacity that needs to be enabled by the deployment of standalone 5G (SA ) will not be enough to satisfy the growing demand. . The presumed villain, and cause of the greatest pressure on networks, in this scenario, is streaming video, which is expected to account for the vast majority of 5G bandwidth consumption.
This is particularly the case in India, where fixed broadband penetration rates are very low and most of the population depends on their cellular connections for data connectivity: the country has over 771 million broadband connections. mobile broadband (accounting for about three quarters of all cellular connections) but less than 30 million fixed and fixed wireless broadband connections.
Estimates vary, but it is generally accepted that in many territories around the world, the increase in video streaming will require additional network investment which many in the telecom industry (particularly the GSMA) expect to see. be partly paid for by likes. from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix given that they would be primarily responsible for the growth in streaming traffic volumes.
While many observers believe this argument is more than a little worn – after all, users pay handsomely for these broadband access services – many telecoms insiders seem to believe it does no harm to continue. doggedly asking for investment contributions from so-called big tech companies. and litigate injustice (on the basis that future contentious issues might move forward if there are lost causes in the rearview mirror).
But what is the real image of consumption behind all this lobbying? What’s the evidence that a concerted tsunami is really on the way? Will 5G traffic be 90% video streams by 2028, as was widely predicted in 2019?
Maybe not. It looks like bandwidth demand is definitely increasing overall, but there are other signs that users are looking to reduce their bandwidth consumption in anticipation of price inflation and recession. Being online may now be seen as a civil right and an educational necessity (post Covid), but increased image resolution and other costly “benefits” clearly are not. According to Dan Rayburn, in his streaming media blog.
He points out that “since the beginning of the year, many American streaming services have focused on a better job of optimizing their bitrates and, in some cases, reducing their bitrate scales in an effort to ‘to save money”.
Rayburn also points out that despite expectations, users seem to have stayed away from 4K/UHD high definition video formats, also as a cost-cutting measure, with CDN and service provider contacts telling him that the two formats together likely represent less than 10% of total bit delivery this year.
It seems “4K/UHD just isn’t something many consumers demand or are willing to pay more for,” Rayburn writes.
This is therefore another reason to expect that bandwidth consumption will not explode as many had previously predicted.
But perhaps the most telling factor is good old market saturation, something the mobile industry has become very familiar with over the past two decades. Once you consume x amount of streaming video, you are unlikely to watch more of it simply because it becomes more readily available. This, combined with ongoing technological improvements, always creates a downward trend in these exponentially increasing chart lines.
That’s not to say Qwilt’s offering doesn’t have a solid future – it probably does. But the fact that it’s taken so long to get this far probably means it won’t be a game changer.