Video drives network evolution
To thrive in the video era, service providers need to upgrade their IP edge to deliver higher speeds, more service intelligence and lower costs. Today, most service providers use separate networks and platforms to deliver video and high-speed Internet (HSI) services (Figure 1). Running parallel networks has 2 major limitations:
- It’s expensive and complex to operate and maintain. Multiple IP service platforms quickly consume capital budgets. And multiple service overlays complicate provisioning and capacity planning in access and aggregation networks.
- It creates a “wall” between services, making it very difficult for service providers to deliver the blended and personalized experience subscribers want.
As video on demand (VoD) explodes in popularity in the next few years, the transport costs for video will also explode. All of that surging video traffic will have to traverse the entire video network to reach big-screen TVs, PCs and tablets.
While transport costs will go up, network and server congestion will bring performance and service availability down. The legacy Broadband Remote Access Server (BRAS) routers in HSI networks simply do not have the performance, capacity, or features to keep up with VoD growth. They also often lack the IPv6 performance or a carrier-grade network address translation (NAT) capability to support a flexible transition to IPv6.
Three strategies will help service providers get their networks — and their businesses — ready for the video era:
- Adopt a next-generation residential broadband network architecture. This architecture converges the video and HSI networks to address the major limitations described above. It also replaces legacy BRAS routers with a terabit IP edge router to bring new speed and service intelligence to the IP edge.
- Monetize service intelligence and connectivity options. With service intelligence at the IP edge, service providers can control over-the-top (OTT) traffic so it doesn’t overwhelm their networks or their finances. With more control over application behavior in the network, service providers can offer subscribers the freedom to make bandwidth tradeoffs that best meet their needs. And they can turn OTT video vendors into partners by offering higher levels of quality of service (QoS) that are beyond their scope to achieve themselves.
- Take the IP edge and content closer to customers. This strategy extends the IP edge beyond the centralized location where it is today to encompass both the aggregation layer and the peering layer (Figure 2). Service providers no longer need to stream multiple copies of a movie across the entire network to reach multiple subscribers. Instead, they can send only a few copies to caches that are located close to customers. Cost per bit for video drops while QoS and reliability rise.
Adopt a next-gen architecture
In a next-gen residential broadband network architecture, a terabit speed, enhanced Broadband Network Gateway (eBNG) replaces the legacy BRAS router (Figure 3). The eBNG scales to deliver VoD and support new services. It also enables IPv6 migration.
When choosing an eBNG for their next-gen residential broadband network, service providers should look for enhanced subscriber management capabilities, including:
- The ability to converge legacy Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) access with Internet Protocol over Ethernet (IPoE) to enable video and other new service capabilities
- Multivendor support for Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) authentication, with built-in Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)-RADIUS proxy functions to take advantage of existing authentication infrastructure
- Flexible IP address management using DHCP relay or integrated DHCP servers
- PPPoE-based retail and wholesale support with Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) location area code support
- Time- and volume-based accounting support with RADIUS- or Diameter-based credit control to support prepaid and other new services
Performance in the eBNG is another important consideration. To handle unicast video growth over the next few years, Tier 1 and Tier 2 central offices (COs) will require dozens of new 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) ports. All eBNG features should be supported at line rate so network operators can create, monitor and control new feature-rich services without affecting performance.
Finally, service providers need to choose an eBNG that enables flexible migration to IPv6. With consumers rapidly adopting IP-capable devices, service providers can no longer defer IPv6 migration strategies. Ideally, the eBNG gives service providers the ability to choose whether they:
- Extend use of IPv4 as long as possible
- Migrate specific services or networks to IPv6
- Begin a full-scale IPv4 and IPv6 implementation
Monetize service intelligence and connectivity options
A super-fast and intelligent eBNG at the IP edge opens the door to new revenue opportunities. One of the first areas of focus for most service providers will be metering and fair-share use.
Today, many subscribers are frustrated with service providers’ attempts to limit their OTT VoD consumption. They consider most HSI plans to be rigid, confusing and punitive. With the intelligence in the eBNG, service providers can create personalized plans that let subscribers choose their preferred tradeoffs between bandwidth consumption and costs.
Application assurance (AA) capabilities in the eBNG give service providers the network insight and capabilities needed to develop and support personalized plans. To start, service providers can use AA capabilities to find out:
- Who their top users are
- What applications they are consuming
- How much bandwidth is required per application
- The usage profile per application
- Which applications are flowing through peering points
- How much bandwidth these applications are consuming
- Who the top users of peering bandwidth are
- How applications flow in the network
- Which applications use the most bandwidth and when
- How applications perform over time
- What percentage of traffic is OTT
After personalized plans are developed, service providers can use AA capabilities to see into their network and control traffic down to the application level. They can limit, increase, and reprioritize traffic for each subscriber, session or application.
The combination of network insight and granular traffic control enabled by AA allows service providers to offer:
- Personalized plans that ensure fair-share usage in a way that satisfies each of their subscriber’s unique needs (Figure 4)
- Time-based metering, billing and QoS to monetize OTT applications such as Facebook® and Netflix
- Higher quality for OTT applications as a promotion to attract subscribers and encourage plan extensions
Offering subscriber-friendly plans is just a first step in changing subscriber perceptions. Service providers can use these same AA capabilities to offer:
- Specialized monitoring and control of applications and services provided by content, advertising and application providers, and by retailers so their offerings have more value to subscribers
- Higher quality transmissions to OTT vendors as part of a revenue-sharing arrangement
The trend for people to take their tablets everywhere creates another opportunity for service providers to provide new freedom. They can use wireless LAN (WLAN) capabilities in the eBNG to offer Wi-Fi® access with residential service plans. Now residential subscribers within range of their service provider’s Wi-Fi hotspots can simply and securely access all of their services and content as if they were at home.
Take the IP edge and content closer to customers
Extending the IP edge and adding a cache at eBNGs in Tier 1 and Tier 2 COs allows service providers to bring content closer to customers (Figure 5). The caches form a content delivery network (CDN) that shifts the video streaming origin point — and associated bandwidth load — from centralized video servers to distributed resources.
Similar to the benefits of a distributed data center architecture, a distributed eBNG and cache architecture:
- Reduces bandwidth requirements and transport costs
- Reduces hardware requirements and costs
- Increases quality of experience (QoE) for subscribers
The caches located with the eBNGs are used to deliver popular content. Caches that are situated deeper in the network hold a broad content library of less frequently watched content.
Bell Labs studies show that, during peak traffic periods, a distributed caching model can result in 43 percent reduction in overall network transport costs compared to centralized video storage. Because the content travels a shorter distance to the subscriber, the QoE is far beyond anything an OTT provider can offer through their Internet-based streaming servers.
The CDN delivery model can also be used to complement IPTV delivery. With this approach, service providers can support both live broadcast and on-demand content requirements while meeting user expectations for quality, availability and reliability. They can also enhance their linear IPTV service with broader content choices and evolve the traditional IPTV experience to an on-demand model as viewing habits evolve.
Enhancing linear IPTV services is important for service providers. While subscribers are flocking to VoD services, there is still revenue in linear TV services, particularly major events such as high-profile sports competitions. To monetize and increase the quality of the IPTV viewing experience, service providers need an eBNG that provides:
- PerfectStream video conditioning: The eBNG sends two copies of the IPTV stream and uses information from both copies to reconstruct a perfect stream with the highest possible quality in cases of data loss or corruption.
- Fast channel change: IPTV content is copied into a rolling cache on the eBNG and forwarded to the subscriber when the channel is changed. This ensures that content for the new channel is displayed almost instantly. Fast channel change is a significant contrast to the seconds it can take to switch channels when using the latest video compression formats.
- Retransmit on error for high QoE: The information in the rolling cache is used to reconstruct the multicast stream in case of error. This ensures high video stream integrity.
Embrace VoD – it’s here to stay
VoD is not a passing fad. Neither is OTT content. In fact, their popularity will only grow in the coming years as subscribers exercise their freedom to consume the content they want, where and when they want it.
Technology advances that take eBNGs to ever-higher speeds and bring new intelligence to the IP edge are available in products today. Service providers can immediately start evolving from an inefficient and costly centralized IP edge to a converged and distributed IP edge optimized for video. With the right architecture and the right approach to VoD content and partnerships, service providers can also experience freedom — the freedom to embrace the video era.
For more information about how increasing VoD consumption will impact networks, read our article Why You Need to Take Video to the Edge.