Virgin Media Weighs CDN Options

U.K. cable operator is working with two CDN players and Cisco to find the best way to deal with video traffic growth

November 27, 2008

4 Min Read
Virgin Media Weighs CDN Options

British cable operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) has turned to two content delivery network (CDN) specialists and IP router vendor Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in an effort to deal with the fast-growing volumes of multimedia traffic on its network.

Virgin has more than 3.6 million cable broadband and 3.4 million digital TV users who are putting increasing demands on the operator's network. The company noted during its recent analyst day that its broadband customers' average monthly data consumption is up by 81 percent during the past 18 months, to 8.6 Gbytes from 4.7 Gbytes, driven largely by the consumption of streaming video services such as YouTube Inc. .

In addition, its digital TV customers are also ramping up their use of video on demand (VoD) services, particularly the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) 's iPlayer catch-up TV service that Virgin Media customers, under an exclusive arrangement, can access through their set top boxes. (See Virgin Media Touts iPlayer.)

Currently, Virgin Media customers are accessing about 12 million iPlayer programs per month. That's more than one third of the total iPlayer views, while the remainder are accessed over broadband connections for people to watch on their PCs.

Including the iPlayer accesses, Virgin media says its volume of VoD views increased by 96 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the same quarter this year.

And the broadband usage is likely to increase even further once the cable operator introduces its Docsis 3.0-based services in the coming months that will enable downstream speeds of up to 50 Mbit/s, from the 20 Mbit/s maximum available currently. (See Virgin Media Sees Silver Lining.)

While some of the VoD and on-demand TV content is stored close to the edge of Virgin's network, the operator is exploring a number of different ways to deal with the growing volume of traffic feeding into its network from the various external CDNs that deliver Internet video and iPlayer traffic.

"The volume of this content could grow by 10 times during the next few years," Virgin Media's director of technical strategy and development, Kevin Baughan, told attendees at this week's IP Telco World conference in London.

That level of growth would impact the quality of content services, so Virgin has initiated three trials to facilitate the "high quality delivery of content that matches DVB-C [Digital Video Broadcasting – Cable]," the method used to deliver Virgin's linear, real-time TV channels.

One trial, noted Baughan, is with Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), which delivers the BBC's iPlayer content to Virgin's network. (See BBC Tries Out H.264 – and Level 3.)

The ongoing pilot involves Level 3's CDN reaching much further to the edge of Virgin's network, closer to end users, with a 10 Gbit/s connection. That trial is "going well," stated Baughan.

At the same time, Virgin has instigated a trial with Velocix (formerly CacheLogic), the CDN that uses regional caching infrastructure for content distribution. Baughan saaid his company has installed a Velocix node within its network, and that the trial has, to date, been "successful." (See Velocix Streams Live, CacheLogic Rebrands, and CacheLogic Adds to Its CDN.)

It seems likely that this is one of the trials Velocix mentioned at the recent Contentonomics event in Los Angeles. (See Velocix Set to 'Cache In'.)

Virgin Media is also exploring the option of building a "CDN-friendly content distribution system within our network" instead of having to having multiple CDNs running through the operator's infrastructure. "We have a technical trial underway with Cisco to check that out," said Baughan.

All three trials are at an early stage, noted the Virgin Media man, with all providing useful proof points.

The good news for Virgin is that, while it may need to invest in additional services or infrastructure to cope with the growing levels of video traffic being consumed by its customers, developments such as the planned 50 Mbit/s broadband (way faster than anything the new ADSL2+ services from the U.K.'s ISPs can deliver), and the set-top-accessed iPlayer, are "sticky" services that will help attract new customers and reduce churn -– something that's vital for Virgin's long-term future in Britain's highly-competitive triple play market.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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