Is WebRTC The Future Technology For Low-Latency Live Video Streaming?

There has been a lot of discussion about low-latency streaming and how Adobe’s upcoming end of support for Flash will impact low-latency workflows. RTMP media delivery had become the standard for many low-latency streaming workflows. However, when web browsers began deprecating support for Flash, CDNs started dropping RTMP streaming capabilities, and Adobe announced it will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, it became clear the industry needed a new solution.

As I have previously noted, HLS/DASH/Smooth and other HTTP streaming variants are the future. They all offer scalable delivery of on-demand content using standard codecs that are widely supported in most end-point devices. These adaptive segmented streaming formats use standard HTTP to deliver content in a variety of bitrates or spatial resolutions. By implementing smaller chunk sizes that require less buffering, stream delays can be significantly reduced. However, when chunk sizes are too small, it creates additional overhead from all of the additional HTTP requests and the potential for higher rebuffering rates.

CDN Limelight is betting big on WebRTC and has implemented acceleration techniques to allow streaming providers to reduce chunk sizes to the point where HLS and DASH traffic can be delivered with latency as low as four seconds. While this is a big improvement for on-demand workflows, it still isn’t fast enough to replace Flash in live streaming workflows for live sports, gaming, and online gambling use cases, all of which have some need for low-latency streaming.

To successfully replace Flash and still provide low-latency streaming, the industry needs a solution that provides the lowest possible latency from capture to client. It must also use a standard transmission protocol that does not require any special network configurations or optimizations, scales to support millions of simultaneous viewers using standard web clients and browsers, and doesn’t need any special plug-ins. Finally, the solution must have built-in capabilities for secure streaming. It’s a tall order.

Various streaming and CDN vendors are taking different approaches to solving this challenge. Some vendors have begun testing novel implementations of traditional chunk streaming formats such as HLS with very small segment sizes, but these techniques require specialized client software to support this non-standard implementation. Other vendors are pursuing solutions that use UDP for low-latency streaming, but they require specialized plug-ins to be installed on the clients.

WebRTC was originally developed by Google and they released as an open-source solution for browser-based realtime communication. It uses UDP to stream media without the need to create discrete media segments, which delivers a consistently low latency to all clients. With the addition of WebRTC support by Apple into the Safari 11 release, it is now natively supported by all major browsers including Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. The WebRTC protocol was designed to be flexible in its implementation, allowing companies to experiment with solutions geared toward one to one, one to few, and even one to millions. Plus, it supports delivery over TLS to ensure the security of content in transit.

In addition to low-latency streaming, WebRTC offers a realtime two-way data channel that can be used to send and receive data streams. This two-way data technology offers some interesting possibilities for how online streaming can now become a more interactive experience. Viewers can vote in realtime on what song they would like a performer to sing during a live concert. Sports fans can receive customized live sports statistics during a game or match. Live online shopping channels can display customized offers or pricing for different customers. The possibilities seem like they could profoundly change the live video experience.

While the benefits of WebRTC are promising, there is no guarantee it will win out. Other protocol-based solutions are available on the market and that focus on being mobile-optimized with advanced packet-loss concealment/recovery capabilities, so there are alternatives. But as more live content is streamed this year, and broadcasters and content owners continue to demand low latency solutions, the industry is going to need to settle on a technology. Let me know in the comments what technology you think will win out.

Announcing My Departure From StreamingMedia.com, But Not From The Industry

After 15 years at StreamingMedia.com I have decided to leave the company. I believe it is time to take the resources and experience I’ve gained over the past twenty plus years and use it to educate a larger audience, on a bigger stage, so I can help the industry grow faster, stronger and brighter. I’ll announce my new venture shortly, teaming up with an organization everyone in the industry knows well. I will still be producing conferences, covering news, organizing focused meetups, and writing on my blog (streamingmediablog.com) – amongst many other new offerings. I am also preparing a new conference around the content delivery market for spring 2018, starting a weekly podcast show in January and working on other resources for the industry. There will be no impact to my blog, email, or cell phone number.

My goal is to create more educational resources, to produce better conferences, create awareness for vendors, add more training content, share more data, provide more networking opportunities and to communicate more information in real-time. To give vendors and end-users a better way to collaborate, share information, gain exposure, and learn from each other.

Today, an entire industry of professionals relies on streaming and online video services for their livelihood. And I believe that it’s time that “together”, as an industry, we do everything we can to “make video matter”. With my new venture, it will be my job to provide you with the resources you need to help you do your job better, to advance your career, to keep the spotlight on our space, to highlight all the value video provides. I look forward to hearing your ideas, how you want to contribute, what resources you would like to see in the market, and how best I can help you and your company.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported myself and StreamingMedia.com over the past 15 years. I could not have produced the content for 47 conferences over that time, without your help. It has been an honor to represent the industry, so to speak, working to educate as many people as possible, and it’s not a responsibility I take lightly. This industry has taken very good care of me, and I try to look after it as best I can. Some may not always agree with how I do it, but the passion I have for this space is still what drives me, for what we have all accomplished together over the past twenty years. I look forward to continuing to do that on a larger scale and as always, you can reach out to me at anytime, 24 hours a day, by phone (917-523-4562) or email (dan@danrayburn.com). And if you’d like to hear about my new ventures, give me a shout!

When I got into this industry 23 years ago, it wasn’t about stock, money or buyouts. It was because everyday was challenging, cutting edge and fun – and for me, it still is. Here’s to a great New Year and new opportunities for us all.

CenturyLink Says They Will Double-Down On Level 3’s CDN Business

With the acquisition of Level 3 by CenturyLink now complete, many have been asking if CenturyLink plans to stay in the commercial CDN business. Based on the conversations I have had with CenturyLink executives the company plans to continue to support the commercial CDN services that have long been offered by Level 3 and will work to grow the business.

Over the past 18 months, Level 3 has been quietly but consistently growing share despite a perceived lack of market activity, announcing double-digit growth in the CDN product line for each of the last 6 quarters. (Q2 2016: 22%, Q3 2016: 15%, Q4 2016: 15%, Q1 2017: 15%, Q2 2017: 12%, Q3 2017: 15% projected) This has primarily been driven by a strategy of targeting existing customers in their base, which accounts for their lack of noise in the market compared with some of their competitors.

One discussion the company has stayed close to is the emergence of a trend towards multi-CDN in large-scale delivery. Through partnering with independent load-balancing and QoS analytics companies, they have recognized that the opportunity for CDNs is increasingly not defined by a “them OR us” sales conversation, but rather a “them AND us” one, with traffic being dynamically allocated based primarily on performance and secondarily on cost.

To that end, Level 3’s development through 2017 has focused on performance, with architectural changes enabling a more flexible set of deployment options. In addition, 2017 product releases included an all-new video packaging platform, support for HTTP/2 and IPv6, a redesigned portal and a real-time log streaming module, which suggests continued investment. Maintaining momentum will be important, as volume delivery increases of 50+% YoY and growing will continue to drive significant peaks in demand. In addition to software optimizations, the company points towards a 60%+ increase in raw serving capacity, with pronounced jumps in APAC and LATAM and steady increases in North America and EMEA.

I haven’t seen any signs of Level 3 losing any major share of CDN business in the market, but they did recently lose Jon Alexander who was at Level 3 for six years, most recently as Senior Director of Product Management for their CDN business. The company says they are actively looking to fill that position and it’s crucial they get someone with deep knowledge of the CDN industry and one who can map out a clear vision for their CDN product offering going forward.

Looking For Board Position Opportunities In The New Year

I am currently evaluating some recent offers by companies to join their board in the New Year, so I thought it would be a good idea to let all companies know that I am currently interested in taking on a few board positions in 2018. If you think I can contribute to your company in this capacity, I’d love to hear more about it. dan@danrayburn.com

Latest CDN and Web Performance Pricing Shows Major Changes and Competitive Pressure

Last month I collected the latest CDN pricing information from over 150 web performance customers and 600 media delivery customers and the results show some major changes taking place in both price and competitive wins. Pricing on both services are down by a large percentage, especially on the bigger deals and many customers are now dual-sourcing vendors for performance traffic, which is a new trend. The data also shows which vendors are taking share, traffic growth, yearly spend and includes feedback from customers on what they think has disrupted the web performance market the most. If you are interested in purchasing the raw data, please contact me.