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Digital Fountain Challenges HD Web Video Delivery Cost Structures

Digital Fountain, a long time supplier of underlying IP video and audio delivery technology to IPTV and mobile operators, may challenge the core economics of content delivery networks with the February beta launch of its own video CDN service.

Traditional CDNs have ensured video and audio quality largely by building extensive distributed infrastructure with media files stored and updated in local cache servers close to end users. More recently, many CDN operators have initiated ‘peer assisted’ architectures that also leverage end customer storage to further ensure that video files travel short distances and, therefore, face fewer risks of packet loss or delay.

By contrast, Digital Fountain’s newly launched DF Splash dispenses with investment in so much local, distributed store-and-forward infrastructure. Rather than buying, deploying and maintaining thousands of local servers worldwide, DF Splash will deliver high quality, full-screen H.264 video from only a handful of super-regional hosting centers directly to broadband connected devices, without any assist from cache or peer machines.

According to Scott Monson, general manager of business development and sales for DF Splash, the company can achieve this feat because of core DF Raptor forward error correction (FEC) software corrects up to 99% of packet loss, thereby ensuring glitch-less Web video delivery even over unmanaged public Internet connections.

In simplified terms, DF Raptor FEC is capable of recovering lost data packets and correcting “missing” or “lost” data without requiring retransmission from the sender. Unlike streaming systems that require buffering of media streams to ensure that all packets have arrived before rendering images on a screen, the FEC software uses encoded output symbols to fill in for any data that might be missing at the receive end.

With FEC software built into its centralized server infrastructure and into its media player for fixed and mobile browsers, DF Splash will specialize in delivering high-quality HD video.

“We are focused on the niche market of a high quality video experience over the web,” Monson says. “We want to bring the experience of TV to the browser. The top two complaints about Internet video are slow load times and poor image quality. We’re solving those for a full-screen experience without increasing the buffer even at 1.2 megabits per second. This is high quality, full screen, bull bit rate, no wait. We don’t require each packet to be present to produce the video. Within a couple hundred milliseconds, we’re up on the screen.

“If you were to add HD video to your site, you’d offload those pieces of video to our network, and we can help with encoding if you need that,” he explains. “We provide a player which requires a one-time video client software download. We’re a complement to your existing video efforts. Over time, as the player client gets more and more accepted, people will move more and more video onto our network.” FEC also could allow HD ad insertion on the fly, he adds.

Also somewhat uniquely in the current marketplace, Digital Fountain is offering a “pay-as-you-go” CDN solution with no long term commitments and transparent pricing. That strategy reflects the flexibility of the company’s own costs: it has built DF Splash on Amazon.com’s Amazon EC2 Web infrastructure outsourcing service that provides resizable compute capacity in the Internet cloud. EC2 changes the economics of bandwidth consumption by allowing Digital Fountain and other clients to pay only for the capacity they actually use, a cost saving that Digital Fountain intends to pass on to its customers.

“Can you imagine committing to a CDN for two years, which is two life times on the Web?” Monson says. “We’re not asking for long term commitments. We want to create a real self-serve model.”

Although pricing is not yet public, he says the model will be “pay as you go with a small minimum. The more they stream, the lower their cost per gigabyte will be. Those who want to do large volumes will pay lower rates.”

Following the beta phase, the company plans general availability of its DF Splash CDN service in early summer. “We’ll be a new player in the CDN space, but not a newbie,” Monson says. “It’s an extension of our long term business.”

Far from a new or untested technology, DF Raptor FEC has been adopted as a transport layer component by the leading European IPTV standards body, DVB, for the DVB-IPTV (Digital Video Broadcasting – IPTV) specification and by the leading mobile multimedia standards body 3GPP for its MBMS and DVB-H specifications.

Over the past decade, the company’s FEC technology has been licensed by a wide range of IPTV, mobile and defense industry integration partners ranging from mobile operator SK Telekom and fixed line broadband operator KDDI in Korea to Dutch IPTV operator Tele2 Nederland, mobile broadcast software supplier Roundbox and Global Hawk military surveillance system supplier Northrup Grumman. Cisco Systems, Sumitomo Electric Networks, Sirius Satellite Radio, XM Radio, Sony, and Nokia are among other DF Raptor licensees generating millions of dollars in annual revenue for the company, Monson says.

“We are very well positioned to solve problems that others can’t,” he says. “Since we have the transport layer to solve latency, we don’t care about long haul distances. This allows us very competitive pricing and quick return on investment, because it requires so little capital expenditure on data centers or regional fiber. We’ll never require the amount of infrastructure capital of the standard CDN competitor.”

Monson says the company will build out its infrastructure in North America first, initially targeting clients among “the boutique content providers rather than the five big broadcasters. There’s a lot of content out there being delivered by relatively small companies.”

Anish Koirala
Anish Koirala
Anish is a gaming writer and tech expert, specializing in the intersection of gaming culture and cutting-edge technology. With a degree in Information Management, Anish offer insightful analysis and reviews on gaming hardware, software, and industry trends.
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