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Akamai Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM), the leading global service provider for accelerating content and applications online, today announced that a consistent, high-definition video experience is now possible online via its global content distribution network. Akamai’s customers are now delivering HD quality content on Akamai’s uniquely distributed edge delivery network that is specifically tuned for optimal delivery of HD files online.
"As broadband connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, users are demanding – and frankly should expect – a high-quality, high-definition video experience on the Internet," said Mike Afergan, chief technology officer, Akamai. "Delivering premium HD content is a critical way for our customers to attract and delight their audiences in today's highly competitive media environment. We are just at the beginning of a very exciting market opportunity for delivering premium HD content. Consumer demand exists, broadband is ready, and businesses are looking for ways to maximize the value of their high-production HD content."
Technical Criteria for delivering HD
HDTV is defined by the industry to be video with significantly high pixel resolution of 1080i, 1080p or 720p. In the broadcast world, the industry is undergoing a series of transformations that are standardizing the delivery of high-definition video to the home. For the Internet, Akamai is making the HD web possible by continuing to refine the infrastructure required to bring the HDTV experience to online audiences. Additionally, Akamai will continue to lead this effort with new service launches, device integration, and partnerships with technology vendors, expected in the coming months.
Akamai has architected its platform to comply with the following technical criteria that content owners must leverage to successfully enable an HD web. Akamai believes that it is the first and only platform to meet these technical requirements which include offering:
Technology and an operational model to operate serving devices in the largest high-throughput networks around the world (servers need to be physically in the networks, as that is where the capacity lies)
Established relationships with the largest high throughput networks
Support for delivery, storage, and management of files greater than 2 Gigabytes
Support of VC-1 and MPEG-4 video standards, achieving visual parity with other broadcast video networks
Support for files with resolutions of 720p, 1080i and 1080p
Client-side technology that is deeply integrated into its delivery system to be deployed as appropriate
Industry studies have proven that without meeting these criteria, online audiences will become impatient, tune out, and find premium HD content that works elsewhere. By ensuring these requirements are met, content providers are able to avoid slow or delayed downloads, the inability to serve HD content in its entirety, download interruptions, limited audience reach, and overall poor end-user satisfaction, which often accompany the download of large files. In addition, multi-player compatibility is crucial to meet the needs of a diverse end user community.
The Market is Ready
"As broadband video viewership has escalated, consumers have raised the stakes by demanding better and better content experiences," said Will Richmond, president and founder of Broadband Directions LLC, a market intelligence and consulting firm specializing in broadband-delivered video. "To deliver against these requirements, media and entertainment companies need to offer higher bit rate files with enhanced online fidelity of video and audio files. Doing so in a scalable and cost-effective manner requires that the necessary infrastructure to support high definition content must be deployed."
"The capacity to deliver high throughput files already exists at the 'edge' – leveraging the massive build-outs occurring in hundreds of individual networks. The challenge comes from how you tap into that capacity. The only way to solve this problem is to deliver from within these networks," continued Akamai's Afergan. "For example, on our distributed platform, we serve more than half of all the files, 500 MB or greater, at more than 1.4 Mbps, and this is only increasing. This demonstrates that, by leveraging the right architecture, there are already a large number of end-users capable of downloading higher quality content. This technical capability coupled with the market demand is exciting for the industry."
Akamai's Unique Architecture for High Throughput Media
To realize this same vision and fidelity in the online world, a 2-hour feature-length movie would need to be encoded at a bit rate of at least 6-8 Mbps, which would result in the file being a size of 5-8 GB. This presents numerous technical challenges to deliver such a high-quality, large file. For instance, delivering a file encoded at 6 Mbps to an audience of one Nielsen ratings point (1,102,000 households) would require 6.6 Terabits of sustained bandwidth, and that doesn’t even take into account latency and network congestion.
The availability of very large, last-mile bandwidth connections does not always mean that an end user will be able to completely leverage that access. A critical factor to enable high bit rate delivery of very large HD files is the proximity of the end-user to the server sending the file. As the distance from the server becomes greater, throughput dramatically decreases. Even a seemingly small distance can result in lost throughput due to lower throughput, higher packet loss, and increased latency.
As an example, the only way to achieve 10 to 20 Mbps throughput for typical PC end-users is if the server is less than 20 milliseconds away. The more latency, the longer it takes to download the file, which interrupts the viewing experience and results in a poor end-user experience. Compared with other centralized models, the results that Akamai's network offers high quality content are unmatched on a global scale.
Broadband subscribers are guaranteed to have a faster download, and enjoy a quality HD experience, when downloading content from servers nearby the request. With servers distributed in over 750 cities, Akamai addresses these technology requirements with its unique edge delivery model that reduces latency to levels necessary for a quality HD experience. Because distance matters for high-quality large files, all content, whether it is frequently or rarely requested, must be served closest to the end user. Akamai's unique technology automatically and instantly spreads popular content on-demand for better scalability.
In addition, many large HD videos are not always watched in their entirety. It is therefore optimal to locally cache only the portion of a file that is most requested by end users, which on average is the beginning of the file or movie. This partial caching of HD video enables both popular and less popular, long-tail content to be served from the edge to guarantee optimal performance.
"Akamai's goal is to be able to support 100 Terabits per second of traffic. Our flexible and distributed architecture uniquely positions us to realize that vision and we are aggressively progressing toward that goal," said Afergan. "We are also committed to the long-term objective of building an ecosystem linking content owners, network providers and video platform players to ensure a superior HD web experience wherever last-mile infrastructure permits."
Akamai® is the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes online. Thousands of organizations have formed trusted relationships with Akamai, improving their revenue and reducing costs by maximizing the performance of their online businesses. Leveraging the Akamai EdgePlatform, these organizations gain business advantage today, and have the foundation for the emerging Web solutions of tomorrow. Akamai is "The Trusted Choice for Online Business." For more information, visit www.akamai.com.