Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge computing and solutions architecture at Limelight

The great content migration

Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge computing and solutions architecture at Limelight Networks, outlines what he expects to see trending in 2021 including real-time streaming, 5G migration and content security

2020 was a dramatic year for OTT content providers and content delivery networks (CDNs). The shift to online living and remote working resulted in a massive surge in demand for content – from streaming services, to online gaming and video conferencing solutions. Yet, despite the strain, the CDNs remained robust when it mattered most. As new content platforms go live, the priority won’t just be to deliver content – but to ensure the user experience is as innovative, low-latency and engaging as possible.

The content we like to consume is changing. COVID-19 didn’t start the trend, but it has accelerated it. People – especially younger generations – are gravitating towards short-form content and real-time, data-intensive OTT services. They are beginning to expect more interactive experiences from their content, and that means larger data volumes and more pressure to reduce latency. The next generation of viewers won’t just consume real-time content, more and more they’ll interact with it.

One area where this will be really prevalent is live sports. As sporting events returned to our screens this summer, several broadcasters experimented with new virtual offerings to make the real-time streaming experience more engaging. This experimentation will only increase in 2021. We can expect gambling integration and personalised services that provide alternative commentaries, live audio feeds from the referee’s mic, and crowd sounds for an authentic stadium experience. We will also see more features focused on social streaming, allowing friends to watch together. These features might be short-lived, but those that really engage audiences will remain and change how live streaming experiences are defined. We’re not there yet, but we’re approaching a model where the user controls the content experience for themselves.

This of course will require real-time distribution of data from service providers. What this means is much more data delivered in a shorter window of time. This is especially true given growing demand for 4K content streaming. Efficient delivery of content will continue to be critical to the viewing experience, so providers will look for the best and most efficient standards and formats for the job. For example, techniques like Content Aware Encoding can create high quality video with lower overheads, helping keep costs under control.

5G will help content migrate to the edge
The continued rollout of 5G micro stations and antennas will bring forward the opportunity for bandwidth improvements. Most consumer devices on the market are still heavily 4G-dependent however, so the improvement will not be immediate. But in time, we’ll start to see consumer devices come out that can properly capitalise on the 5G spectrum. When this happens, consumers will be able to enjoy the higher bandwidth that 5G promises.

The steady uptake of 5G devices will create greater opportunities for more data-rich experiences. There will also likely be an explosion in the amount of data generated by devices connected to the 5G network. This gives rise to the need to process that data closer to the end user, to deliver strong performance and an individualised experience while also reducing the costs of centralised processing.

5G creates more capacity at the network edge to deliver quality, data-intensive content experiences. However, capitalising on its potential will depend on close collaboration between telecommunications providers and CDNs. Telcos will need to consider where in the network to place the capacity to distribute content and process data most effectively. This will be important where users are demanding radically different kinds of content and using new data rich services. Fortunately, CDNs can enable them to determine the best network locations to service this demand.

COVID-19 has created a fertile environment for cybercriminals. Lockdown didn’t just inspire a spate of ransomware attacks on remote workers, it fuelled attacks on business continuity and service infrastructure. DDoS attacks continue to be one of the most popular tools for hackers. While security priorities used to be confined to the protection of data, the scope will extend to the security of content services, intellectual property and streaming infrastructure in 2021.

More steps will be taken to protect the infrastructure responsible for content creation. DDoS protection and perimeter security will receive greater investment, alongside new access control and user authentication measures. Zero trust between systems will become the default setting for many organisations to ensure content can’t be compromised from without or within. We’ll also see companies take steps to reduce the pirating of their content and identify illegal credential sharing by users.

Techniques like forensic watermarking will be used to stop pirates from copying and distributing content illegally. CDNs will play an important role in identifying credential sharing, allowing publishers to confidently make decisions like blocking or banning the offending users easily.”

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