Content delivery network (CDN)

Operator CDNs: Prioritize Purpose Over Platform

Many network operators have deployed their own content delivery networks (CDNs) in recent years, including Verizon, AT&T, BT, Telecom Italia, and Teléfonica. Their primary deployment drivers were optimizing network capacity and protecting end-user quality of experience (QoE) without breaking the bank for network upgrades. Operators also want to get a foot in the door as a new content ecosystem evolves based on OTT delivery.

However, operators are finding there are different kinds of CDNs. They need to develop a solution that is best suited to the type of content delivery functions most required in their individual markets, rather than picking a platform first and then trying to target the various affiliated market opportunities.

There are three main flavors of operator CDN.

Transparent Internet caching (TIC)
Though not generally counted as a CDN because it has no revenue-generating role, transparent caching is still a caching and content delivery function. The primary goal for operators deploying TIC is network optimization for opex relief and deferring network capex investments while maintaining high QoE to manage subscriber satisfaction and churn.

Initial deployments were driven by a need to manage transit costs, but with sharp declines in most parts of the world, this is not a major driver for most operators anymore. Rather, being able to identify the major types and sources of traffic on the network and being able to cache this traffic while preserving all application logic have become the key requirements from a TIC.

Managed content CDNs
Most operators with a pay TV service are now looking for ways to extend that service to additional devices, but they must maintain high QoE even on these new devices. Prior research in this area has shown that most operators look to a CDN for managing multiscreen QoE.

In some cases, CDN infrastructure is also being used to deliver video to the TV (as part of the pay TV network). This can simplify network management and provide cost savings.

Commercial CDNs
Some operators have developed fully fledged commercial CDN offerings to compete with traditional Internet CDNs. This type of model offers operators a new source of revenue and a role in the OTT ecosystem, from which they would be left out otherwise. Commercial CDNs have two variants of their own. Depending on which variant is the main priority, operators will need to define slightly different strategies.

Video-oriented CDNs are for operators that want to leverage their ownership of the network and their ability to cache content considerably closer to the end user than traditional CDNs. This proximity could result in improved QoE over traditional CDNs, which could be an important differentiator when selling to local broadcasters and other online video distributors.

Enterprise-oriented CDNs are aimed at enterprises looking for faster web downloads and uninterrupted access to their websites. E-commerce sites in particular are going to value rapid downloads of site content very highly, because they directly affect revenue. However, enterprises will also look for web and software acceleration, security, global reach, and a host of other applications from their CDN beyond just content delivery. Operators targeting this customer segment must have the required capabilities or lose out to traditional CDNs.

Operators also face additional requirements for both variants of the commercial CDN model. They will require a trained sales staff and the tools to manage capacity, commercial relationships, customer portals and interfaces, etc., which may not be available in-house at most operators today.

Though each of the CDN flavors described in this article can be performed by the same basic platform, operators would be best served if they were very clear about their priorities and reasoning for entering this space. Selecting the right model to prioritize could be the difference between success and failure, since the selection of key applications, market analysis, product positioning/communication, and even vendors should be driven by the particular CDN flavor the operator selects.

In our opinion, operators would be well advised to focus first on the individual market opportunity before them. Once the business case has been thoroughly vetted, then they can select the type of CDN they want to deploy and the associated functions. The commercial argument will then drive technology selection -- which is as it should be.

Aditya Kishore is the principal analyst at Diametric Analysis.

albreznick 10/27/2013 | 8:59:13 PM
CDNs in smaller markets Hi,Adi. Great to see your post here. Thanks for explaining the different types of CDNs. What do you think makes sense for smaller video operators in smaller markets? Should they do their own CDN or team up for federated CDNs? Has the federated approach worked anywhere yet? 
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