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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stimulating Broadband Tech: Akamai Rolls Out HD Network

StimulatingBroadband.com 09/29/09 Akamai Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM), the content distribution network (CDN) headquartered in Cambridge, MA today announced the launch of the Akamai HD Network, its next generation video delivery offering.

The firm states it is rolling out the first platform to deliver high definition (HD) video online to viewers using the most popular runtime environments, including Adobe Flash technology, Microsoft Silverlight, and to the iPhone, at broadcast-level audience scale.


Why Is This Important?
Content Distribution Networks are specifically designed to support the high bandwidth requirements of the most popular content providers on the Internet. Television networks, sports leagues, and online film distributors all rely on CDNs to provide their programming to thousands, and at times millions, of simultaneous viewers.

While a variety of providers have jumped into the CDN business, we believe that Akamai operates the most advanced CDN on the planet. It maintains upwards of 50,000 severs in academic computing centers, collocation facilities, and other data centers globally. Content of Akamai customers is provided to Internet viewers on a distributed basis, i.e. on thousands of servers arrayed across the global Internet at the same time. The distributed nature of the CDN's delivery of programming makes the overall Internet more efficient.

Want to watch a game on FOX Sports Web, or check-out the latest slick commercial for your favorite German car while in a hotel in Kuala Lampur? Akamai carries that programming on its servers in Southeast Asia, reducing the load on trans Pacific fiber links, and reducing the latency a viewer experiences.

As more and more programming is delivered via IP (Internet Protocol) networks, CDNs become critical parts of the worldwide Internet infrastructure, like optical fiber networks, data centers, and broadband enabled consumer electronics (CE). CDN's are part of the the entire burgeoning broadband ecosystem.

4 Primary Functions
Akamai will be leveraging its globally-distributed EdgePlatform of more than 48,000 servers distributed across 70 countries, delivering increased throughputs to almost 1,000 networks, to enable content providers to deliver more HD content than previously possible. The CDN has designed its HD Network as a streaming platform that delivers four (4) primary functions:
  • Adaptive Bitrate Streaming - Unique network and player streaming process that is designed to enable uninterrupted playback at HD bitrates that seamlessly adjusts to fluctuations in available bandwidth to provide the best quality possible for each user.
  • Instant Response - Immediate response to viewer interactions with the video player, including sub-second time-shifting (such as pause, rewind, seek and play commands) video startup times, and seamless stream switching.
  • HD Video Player - Open, standards-based video player for faster time to market.
  • HD Player Authentication - Authenticates player for all three environments ensuring only authorized players access content
"Seeing is believing," said Paul Sagan, President and CEO, Akamai. "With the Akamai HD Network, we are revolutionizing the way content traverses the Internet with a new approach to bringing an HDTV-like experience online."

"We're entering a different online world, where many content owners and publishers need to deliver HD-quality video to a much wider online audience, with a higher level of interactivity for consumers. Delivering 'web-quality' content to 'web-sized' audiences is one thing, but delivering HD-quality content to broadcast-scale audiences is another," concluded Sagan.

CDN Sees "Two Key Trends"
Akamai sees two key trends have made it necessary to now evolve how streaming media is delivered on the Internet.

First, online audiences have grown to broadcast scale.

Second, those viewers are demanding higher quality content. Studies show that when higher quality video content is offered, viewer engagement time increases. Supporting this level of traffic requires a global network that can manage millions of simultaneous users streaming very high bitrate content. The Akamai HD Network was designed for large-scale broadcasters and film distributors looking to increase audience engagement and to expand revenues by complementing traditional mediums, such as TV and DVD, with the Internet.

The Runtime Platforms Speak
"We are excited to see Akamai's commitment to HTTP adaptive streaming as the future of online video delivery, as we have worked closely over the past year to build a robust end-to-end media delivery platform with IIS Smooth Streaming and Silverlight," said Steve Sklepowich, director for Silverlight at Microsoft Corp, in Akamai's press release of today.

"Adobe works closely with Akamai to optimize Flash Media delivery on Akamai's network for the benefit of our mutual customers," said Jim Guerard, Vice-President and General Manager, Dynamic Media at Adobe. "We're pleased that customers who already leverage the Flash Platform as the number one video format online will now enjoy increased scalability and quality gains as a result of utilizing Akamai's vast edge infrastructure via HTTP video streaming."

Archived Press Conference
Akamai® held an online (of course) press conference today as part of its announcement of the new HD offering. An archived version of the press conference, and an online demo of the HD product is here.

Our Take: We'd like Akamai even if they weren't based in Massachusetts, even if they didn't publish such wicked cool quarterly reports about global Internet usage, and even if they didn't use fiber we put in the ground.

As more and more programming moves onto the Internet for distribution in IP formats, the large global CDN's, like Akamai, gain increasing importance in terms of overall market share of content delivered, and the basic efficiency of the Internet itself.

Especially as the United States moves to finally deploy an effective National Broadband Plan, with the resulting increase in the deployed capacities of bigger and bigger broadband pipes, greater adoption rates across demographic and geographic areas of the nation, and a continuing upsurge in mobile broadband usage, high capacity CDNs become invaluable assets of the new American broadband ecosystem. StimulatingBroadband.com
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