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Ericsson Adapts to the TV Streaming Challenge

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) believes it has come up with a network-based approach to fix a bandwidth-sharing flaw with adaptive bit rate (ABR) streaming that tends to come into play when more than one video stream is delivered to the home.

The idea focuses on the familiar question of whether the intelligence behind a service belongs at the very edge -- the client device, in this case -- or deeper inside the network.

The problem with ABR is that the client device, such as a smartphone or tablet, is in charge of the bandwidth and isn't fair about how that capacity is allocated. If an iPhone is the first device on the home network to request a video stream, it will typically receive a high bit-rate version -- perhaps more than it really needs. Then, when a connected HD television requests a stream, it tends to get the scraps, resulting in a crummy-looking pixel-icious image.

After that, the devices typically end up battling over the available bandwidth, a situation that only worsens as more devices on the home network request streams. (See Adaptive Streaming's Primetime Challenge .)

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is trying to solve the problem by applying Weighted Fair Queuing (WFQ), a data packet scheduling technique, to ABR streams. Rather than putting the client in control, Ericsson wants to put those smarts out on the network to define how bandwidth is shared among the devices in the home. The bit rate could be dialed up for video that's streamed to connected TVs or via game consoles, and pinched down for smaller screens, such as tablets or smartphones.

The result, if it works as advertised, will ensure that bandwidth is shared fairly and that each device gets the appropriately sized stream.

"The whole idea is that the network would have a voice in the size of the segments that are being sent, versus blindly sending what the client is asking for," says Jim Alexander, Ericson's senior director of solutions architecture.

Ericsson is trying to tackle this problem at an important time. Cable operators, for example, are starting to use ABR streaming to deliver video to IP-connected devices. They like it because ABR helps to avoid buffering and keeps the video flowing by adjusting bit rates on the fly as bandwidth levels fluctuate. But they'll become less enamored with the technology if they have limited control of the quality as more and more video streaming devices get attached to a subscriber's home network. (See Cable Adapting to Video's Streaming Future and Dish Makes Its Adaptive Streaming Move.)

Ericsson's approach would place control with proxy servers on the network, and would do so without deep packet inspection. In one scenario, the system could work in tandem with a simple dashboard that lets customers register devices and determine how they should be prioritized from a bandwidth perspective. The connected TVs in a given home would probably be at the top of such a list.

But creating such a dashboard will require some serious experimentation. Ericsson's WFQ-based approach is still in the "investigation stage," according to Brad Ferris, Ericsson's head of portfolio management for solution-area media, and the company isn't speculating on when it will be ready for prime time.

Ericsson will demonstrate what it's put together so far at next week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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