Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Flash in the cloud

Flash Networks announced today that it is making its Harmony Mobile Internet Services Gateway optimization and monetization solution available in the cloud. The solution that was traditionally deployed in mobile core networks will soon be deployed in private and public clouds.

"Harmony Mobile Internet Services Gateway integrates web and video optimization, analytics, traffic management, web monetization, content control, cell-based congestion awareness, centralized caching, service orchestration, and an intelligent policy engine in a single gateway. "

I spoke today with Merav Bahat, VP Marketing and Business Development at Flash Networks and she adds: "We wanted to introduce the capability for our customers to use cloud services and cloud computing with our platform. Harmony will continue to be deployed in the core networks and in conjunction, can be deployed in private and public clouds. We have been able to duplicate several functions from our platform such as caching, storage and CPU-intensive transcoding and put them in the cloud to offer great additional savings , higher hit rates and enhanced quality of experience".`

As seen here and here, Flash Networks is the third company in the video optimization space who has announced plans to offer a cloud-based solution. Caching, transcoding, content recommendation are some of the services that Flash Networks will perform in the cloud, to benefit carriers with multi-sites or multi-networks footprint.

Cloud-based video optimization is gaining traction, as more and more mobile network operators  see the necessity to deploy video optimization (over 80 have selected vendors to date) but balk at the CAPEX and footprint necessary to enable a good quality of experience.

Cloud deployments and cloud computing were, until recently, seen as an improbable technology to deploy real time video encoding services, but a few tier one operators have tested and are deploying the technology as we speak. It seems that the technology is reaching market validation stage and is getting a much larger acceptance from the carriers' community. It is a good move from Flash Networks to capitalize on this market trend and expand their offering in that space.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Starhub selects Mobixell

Mobixell Networks announced today that it has been selected by Singapore's Starhub. Mobixell will deploy its Seamless Access gateway to perform intelligent traffic management, advertising insertion and video optimization.

Liong Hang Chew, Assistant Vice President of Mobile Network Engineering at StarHub said, “We chose Mobixell Seamless Access to enable a new era of mobile data traffic handling, increasing efficiency and improving customer experience. At the same time, implementing Seamless Access will enable future services such as content security and other possible revenue-generating features."

The deal was won almost a year ago, in the summer of 2010.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mobile video QOE part I: Subjective measurement

As video traffic continues to flood many wireless networks, over 80 mobile network operators have turned towards video optimization as a means to reduce the costs associated with growing their capacity for video traffic.
In many cases, the trials and deployments I have been involved in, have shown many carriers at a loss when it comes to comparing one vendor or technology against another. Lately, a few specialized vendors have been offering video QoE (Quality of Experience) tools to measure the quality of the video transmitted over wireless networks. In some cases, the video optimization vendors themselves have as well started to package some measurement with their tool to illustrate the quality of their encoding.
In the next few posts,and in more details, in my report "Video Optimization 2012" I examine the challenges and benefits of measuring  the video QoE in wireless networks, together with the most popular methods and their limitations.
Video QoE subjective measurement
Video quality is a very subjective matter. There is a whole body of science dedicated to provide an objective measure for a subjective quality. The attempt, here, is to rationalize the differences in quality between two videos via a mathematical measurement. It is called objective measurements and will be addressed in my next posts. Subjective measurement on the other hand, is a more reliable means to determine a video’s quality. It is also the most expensive and the most time-consuming technique if performed properly. 
For video optimization, a subjective measurement usually necessitates a focus group who is going to be shown several versions of a video, at different quality (read encoding). The individual opinion of the viewer is recorded in a templatized feedback form and averaged. For this method to work, all users need to see the same videos, in the same sequence, with the same conditions. It means that if the videos are to be streamed on a wireless network, it should be over a controlled environment, so that the same level of QoS is served for the same videos. You can then vary the protocol by having users comparing the original video with a modified version, both played at the same time, on the same device, for instance.
The averaged opinion, the Mean Opinion Score, of each video is then used to rank the different versions. In the case of video optimization, we can imagine an original video encoded at 2Mbps, then 4 versions provided by each vendor at 1Mbps, 750kbps and 500kbps and 250kbps. Each of the subject in the focus group will rank each version from each vendor from 1 to 5, for instance.
The environment must be strictly controlled for the results to be meaningful. The variables must be the same for each vendor, e.g. all performing transcoding in real time or all offline, same network conditions, for all the playback / streams and of course, same devices and same group of users.
You can easily understand that this method can be time consuming and costly, as network equipment and lab time must be reserved, network QoS must be controlled, focus group must be available for the duration, etc...
In that example, the carrier would have each corresponding version from each vendor compared in parallel for the computation of the MOS.  The result could be something like this:
The size of the sample (the number of users in the focus group) and how controlled the environment is, can dramatically affect the result, and it is not rare that you find aberrational results, as in the example above where vendor "a" sees its result increase from version 2 to 3.
If correctly executed, this test can track the relative quality of each vendor at different level of optimization. In this case, you can see that vendor "a" has a high level of perceived quality at medium-high bit rates but performs poorly at lower bit rates. Vendor "b" shows little degradation as the encoding decreases, vendors "c" and "d" show near-linear degradation inversely proportional to the encoding.
In every case, the test must be performed in a controlled environment to be valid. Results will vary sometimes greatly from one vendor to an other, and sometimes with the same vendor at different bit rate, so an expert in video is necessary to create the testing protocol, evaluate the vendors' setup, analyse the results and interpret the scores. As you can see, this is not an easy task and rare are the carriers who have successfully performed subjective analysis with meaningful results for vendor evaluation. This is why, by and large, vendors and carriers have started to look at automatized tools to evaluate existing video quality in a given network,  to compare different vendors and technologies and to measure ongoing perceived quality degradation due to network congestion or destructive video optimization. This will be subject of my next posts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Verizon / Redbox: from OTT to IYF, Netflix

I had predicted here  and here that we would soon see OTT offers from traditional MSOs.
Redbox, the DVD and games rental kiosk company with over 28,000 locations had announced, a year ago, that they would be looking for a or several streaming partners.

The search is now over, as Redbox and Verizon partner to deliver movie and TV shows on demand streaming services. Redbox provides the content and rights, while Verizon provides the infrastructure and transport. A neat arrangement, that could put Verizon as a major OTT content distributor in the future.

The OTT part, of course is that the service will be accessible to anyone, Verizon subscriber or not, on multi platforms (smartphones, tablets, PCs, Consoles, connected devices...). Verizon will leverage its VCast and its mobile CDN infrastructure and negotiated rights.

It will be interesting to see how Redbox service complements or competes against VCast and similar offering from Amazon, Hulu +... Of course the fight will really be on with the next Google TV and Apple TV incarnations. In the meantime, Verizon steps boldly in OTT - In Your Face, Netflix