SVG@NAB Perspectives: SES’s Corda on Satellite-Based CDN Testing, the Rise of 4K/UHD Content
At NAB 2016, SES once again featured a 4K/UHD transmission demo that used the multicasting capability of the DOCSIS 3.0 transmission standard to deliver 4K content from the four North America-based channels relying on SES satellites.
In addition, SES announced that it has begun the first phase of content-delivery–network (CDN) development at Rutgers University’s School of Engineering to demonstrate and measure the effectiveness of SES’s CDN overlay solution in meeting the growing demand for streaming OTT video. Conducted at Rutgers’s Wireless Information Network Lab (WINLAB), the initial demonstrations will involve satellite for delivery of both linear and on-demand OTT content to multiple devices and platforms within the ORBIT (Open-Access Research Testbed for Next-Generation Wireless Networks) and GENI (Global Environment for Network Innovations). A national demonstration of the satellite-based CDN will make up the second phase of the project, through a collaborative effort involving other universities and their network test beds across the U.S. Delivering and caching OTT content across a wide array of distribution points, SES believes, can help television networks, content producers, and cable and wireless providers meet escalating OTT demand with the reliability and scalability of traditional broadcast television. Rutgers researchers will also be looking at applying the strengths of satellite in support of future networks, including the development and deployment of 5G.
During the show, SVG sat down with Steve Corda, VP, business development, North America, SES, to discuss the CDN development at Rutgers, the 4K/UHD demo at the show, and how he sees 4K/UHD content distribution exploding in the coming years.
Tell us a bit about the 4K demo at NAB 2016 and how it has improved on SES’s 4K demo last year?
Things have progressed quite a bit for us since last year. We’ve refined and fine-tuned our UHD video over DOCSIS approach. We don’t have live feeds coming to the booth, but we do have captures from the four channels in North America that we have on the satellite: Fashion One 4K, NASA TV UHD, High 4KTV, and our UHD1 channel, which is a venue for up-and-coming 4K channels to start to build their brand and an audience. Then, over time, as their content portfolio builds and they have enough for a 24/7 channel, then they’ll launch their own channel. We have three different programmers, and it’s a great venue for those who don’t know a whole lot about 4K to get exposed to it.
The 4K-production ecosystem is maturing slowly but surely; so how do you see distribution of 4K/UHD content growing in the next year?
4K set-top boxes are now shipping. We’ve got quite a few ourselves that we’ve ordered to pre-position into some cable systems over the next few months. We have a few cable operators who have inquired when they can start getting 4K programming into their systems. [They are] telling us that their customers have called them asking for 4K channels. I think the TV manufacturers did a really good job of promoting 4K. The number of TVs now shipping is pretty large: upwards of 4 million last year and 10 million this year in the U.S. alone. So 4K/UHD is getting to be a good percentage of the market.
I think [the 4K-adoption rate] is going to accelerate because we’re getting more and more sources of content. Then you have more TVs shipping, and, more important, more [4K-ready] set-top boxes are shipping. That’s been the biggest barrier, for us at least, for the last year. I believe 2017 is going to be the year when we can say Ultra HD is here. That will be when anybody who had an Ultra HD TV will have some way to get large amounts of content — whether it’s through their cable operator or someone who is a DTH customer.
Tell us a bit about the Rutgers CDN demonstration and what SES hopes to accomplish?
We’ve entered into an arrangement with [Rutgers University] to co-develop a CDN solution over satellite, which we call a linear CDN. The value of this is, it takes advantage of all the things that broadcast has done over the years in terms of the “one for many” model and provides the economies of scale and the quality that goes along with that. So we’ll be able to push the content that way and then drop it off into a distribution plant, whether it’s cable, wireless, or something else. Then they deliver it out to the customers. So it’s a CDN that doesn’t go over terrestrial or internet; it’s dedicated bandwidth pushing content out.
We’re working with Rutgers to develop approaches for intelligent caching and routing to decide what content is better suited to send over a satellite versus over a terrestrial network. We are looking for intelligent caching technology that allows the cache to decide whether to leave content in the cache or to dump it out. This allows us to balance satellite bandwidth with the amount of storage that’s needed at the edge to be able to optimize between the two. If you have unlimited satellite bandwidth, you wouldn’t need any storage; if you had very limited satellite bandwidth, you’d need a lot of storage. Somewhere in between is a balance, which is what we’re working with Rutgers on.
How do you see a solution like this benefiting live sports streaming?
It’s pretty exciting for VOD, but it’s even more important for linear. Try to imagine attempting to distribute something like the Super Bowl linearly over the network. It would just crush the network. If you have 30 million or 40 million viewers [streaming] at once, I don’t think there’s any network that could handle that. And then think about if it’s in Ultra HD: that quadruples the bandwidth, which makes it even more difficult. With the way we’re doing it, it’s really not so different than TV today because we use the satellite to do that middle mile, where most of the congestion is, and then you just drop it off into the cable and for the wireless networks.
We’ve been working on this for a number of years, and we’re really pleased that we now have involved Rutgers to take it to the next level. We’ll start out with a lab demonstration, and then we’ll move it into a larger-scale demonstration, where we’ll have other universities besides Rutgers participate. We’ll be dropping off the satellite transmission into terminals at a number of universities, and so we’ll be able to start to see a larger-scale network.