BT repackages Broadpeak technology for more efficient live streaming

British telco BT Group and French IP solutions developer Broadpeak have teamed up on a means of delivering live streamed video that claims to be more reliable, efficient and sustainable than existing methods.

Announced this week, the companies said they expect a number of major broadcasters and content companies to trial the “breakthrough” technology this year.

Dubbed MAUD - Multicast-Assisted Unicast Delivery – the solution is in fact a rebadging of a technology that Broadpeak developed a decade ago, with a difference.

MAUD’s backbone is multicast ABR (mABR), a technology developed by Broadpeak in 2013 and commercially deployed a year later, combined with Broadpeak’s nanoCDN. Together these technologies are able to convert personal unicast streams to one (multicast) stream for delivery over the network, transforming the stream back to unicast in the player’s device, saving bandwidth in the process.

Customers already using this include France’s Bouygues Telecom and Telecom Italia.

Taking mABR a step further

BT Group has taken mABR one step further by integrating Broadpeak’s tech with content provider player applications, eliminating the need to modify customers’ apps, saving time and money.

“The basis of MAUD is our multicast ABR technology,” confirmed Xavier Leclercq, Broadpeak VP of Business Development to StreamTV Insider. “This is something we've deployed on a one to one basis with ISPs like Telecom Italia and with broadcasters to elevate their IP service. The limitation has been the fact that you need a relationship between the OTT provider that has the content and the network.

“With MAUD we are trying to remove this barrier. You don't have to onboard OTT providers since the platform is designed to dynamically get the content from the network when it becomes popular. It will seamlessly create a multicast stream and manage that all the way to the home player. The idea is to take multicast ABR and make its integration completely transparent to the player application.”

The deal is also significant in that it signals a wider trend among ISPs and OTT providers to move away from reliance on CDNs for live streaming content.

“Current CDN models don’t work very well with live. The fact is you need multiple terabits per second of capacity but you may only use it for a very short amount of time,” Leclercq said. “So, we’re starting to see the network being more relevant when it comes to distribution. At the end of the day ISPs know their network better than anybody else. Multicast ABR is a better technology because the network is doing the scaling rather than the CDN.”

He said the trend has been building over years as streaming replaces broadcast.

“We've seen ISPs build their own platform for distributing video using multicast rather than unicast because it’s more efficient.” 

Operators like Telecom Italia did this to run pay TV offer TIMVision, he noted, and having done so started to bring aboard OTT providers, such as DAZN, to distribute over its network.

Leclercq observed that telcos are also starting to move from legacy IPTV services streamed to the set-top box to distributing video to native internet-connected devices.

BT, for instance, recently rebranded its live TV and streaming platform BT TV as EE.TV (EE is BT’s mobile brand) and incorporated it into two new EE TV boxes, as well as bringing a set-top box experience to Apple TV 4K.

Also in the UK, Virgin Media relaunched its streaming service Stream on a Roku-style box without a TV tuner.

“Many ISPs are doing the same thing,” said Leclercq. “IPTV is a big cost. The set-top box is expensive. They are looking for a way to turn off IPTV and move to a more cost effective way of offering video services without the heavy set top box and hard drive and different tuners.”

The question is how do you transport vast amounts video over your network if it's not your video? If everything is over the top, how can ISPs deliver this with the right qualitative experience at the right cost?

“A main drawback with OTT video delivery is scalability. Since OTT requires unicast streaming whenever a subscriber requests a piece of content, an extra bandwidth resource is consumed in the network.  The cost can be prohibitive when handling popular sports content and even more if it is in 4K,” said Leclercq.

For Broadpeak and BT Group multicast ABR is the answer. Leveraging it can reduce traffic up to 85-90% in some parts of the network, Broadpeak claims.

“The end to end network will never be 100% multicast,” commented Leclercq. “For example, when you change [the] channel you need to get the first couple of chunks of video for a faster response or if you have packets being lost, which happens over WiFi, so you need some transmission over unicast but 90% reduction in traffic is possible and that will immediately reduce cost.”

He said the quality of experience also improves for OTT providers using mABR amplified networks. “We see a reduction of 89% on error rates [measured using third party Conviva data] comparing mABR distribution against traditional CDNs,” he said.

Ian Parr, broadband engineering director of BT Group, told StreamTV Insider, “Operators are facing the growing challenge of delivering more and larger amounts of live television over the internet, rather than traditional broadcast. We have reached the stage where we have extensive CDN caching in our network, and this is not sustainable as we lean into an all-IP TV future. MAUD will help by taking on the biggest driver of the demand for network and cache capacity - which is live (and particularly live event) based streaming.”

He added, “CDN and MAUD are complimentary. The MAUD solution will work with CDNs to achieve those efficiencies. We will continue to deploy caching to provide on-demand TV delivery, games downloads.”

Reduced rebuffering, enhanced sustainability

A key metric for OTT live sports streamers is the rebuffering rate: How often the screen freezes when you're watching a game. Broadpeak claims its technology reduces rebuffering by a factor of four.

“MAUD uses the same underlying technology. The transport is the same, the way the content is packaged and delivered is the same but how you get content in and out changes with MAUD,” he noted.

Sustainability is another plus since telcos don't need to build a physical CDN with banks of servers waiting for requests to be served.

“The issue with live is that it is nearly impossible to predict how popular the streams are going to be. If you wanted to do that, you might have to get a CDN, but it would be used for a couple of hours, once a year,” Leclercq explained. “This we think is not sustainable because you end up with lots of servers that are deployed, connected, powered doing nothing and you might use them one percent of the time. This is really bad in terms of sustainability.”

BT claims that MAUD uses up to 50% less bandwidth during peak events by reducing energy usage through the reduction of the number of deployed caches.  

BT further said in its announcement late last year that broadcasters, including the BBC, have been involved in evaluating the technology to support a range of live content.

Parr stressed that MAUD isn't specifically targeted at "broadcast clients" but at large OTT content delivery service providers who currently drive the need for huge peak network capacity when they deliver large events. The main benefits, according to Parr, will be network cost savings by avoiding having to build scale to meet periodic live event demand and the corresponding energy efficiency.

“Our partnership with Broadpeak will help us accelerate the delivery of the benefits of MAUD by integrating BT's MAUD intellectual property with Broadpeak’s current market leading mABR solutions,” he said.