MWC-2016: CDNs for Mobile Networks?

One of the more interesting trends from MWC-2016 in Barcelona last month is content delivery networks (CDNs) for mobile operators.  [A CDN is an interconnected system of cache servers that deliver web content based on geographical proximity. The CDN concept originated in the wire-line Internet world for traditional video services over “best effort” Internet transport.] 

Mobile CDN is a network of servers – systems, computers or devices – that cooperate transparently to optimize the delivery of content to end users on any type of wireless or mobile network. To provide good Qualtiy of Experience (QoE)  mobile content delivery networks (CDNs) offer an edge-based path to maintaining consumers’ QoE, aimed at optimizing mobile content delivery on that last-mile link from cell to device. 

“Sustaining a good user experience is extremely costly for operators and, despite their efforts to increase network capacity, video quality degrades as content gets more and more popular,” said Expway visit co-founder and CMO Claude Seyrat. “15 percent of videos never successfully start, and 25 percent of users give up when facing buffering. The mobile video market is at a crossroads: video traffic is accelerating and mobile operators have outmost difficulty to tame it.”

A number of vendors were showing CDN technologies at MWC-2016 including ExpwayQuickplay and Ericsson. The latter is also working to create a sort of global “super CDN” ecosystem among content providers (Brightcove, DailyMotion, EchoStarDeluxeLeTV and QuickPlay) and telcos (HutchisonTelstra,AIS, and Vodafone).  There’s also CDNetworks which claims to have a mobile CDN solution.

LTE Broadcast, a 3GPP feature available on some commercial LTE networks, is a one-to many approach that allows operators to deliver the content once, to a thousand users or more. Expway says it leads to ‘enormous’ bandwidth savings for the delivery of popular content. The company added that with its new offering called FastLane, mobile network operators can enhance their own CDNs or offer additional services with a guaranteed quality of service.

Related video tech at MWC-2016 included open caching solutions from such vendors as PeerApp and Qwilt.  Those vendors are trying to lighten the CDN load on the core network by moving popular content closer to end-users.

Akamai– the world’s leading CDN provider which claims to deliver between 15-30% of all Web traffic – demonstrated a CDN for mobile video delivery at MWC-2015.  At this year’s MWC, Akamai announced the commercial availability of its predictive content delivery solutions, intended to help solve mobile video quality challenges.  Akamai’s predictive content delivery (PCD) solutions were designed specifically to address the requirements of content providers, video platform providers and mobile network operators, and are available in two configurations: an SDK that can be integrated into existing or new media apps, or the turnkey, white-labelled Akamai WatchNow application. They both allow for pre-positioning or caching of new videos on the end-user device based on user preferences and viewing behavior. This is said to make searching for content easier and allows for offline viewing.

Other top rating CDN providers can be viewed here and here.

Exactly how many mobile operators will actually buy this new CDN/video technology is not clear. Getting into the video delivery business from entails a pretty steep learning curve, plus major capital and operational expense, and not every mobile operator will be able to afford to participate. Most likely it’ll be restricted to the largest wireless telcos for the foreseeable future, i.e. AT&T, VZW, Vodafone, etc.  Barriers to entry will be much more difficult for 2nd and 3rd tier wireless telcos like Sprint and T-Mobile.