Mobile network operators (MNOs) have a new opportunity to facilitate the real-time video operations that are essential to some of the most promising 5G services: they can enable direct exchanges of mobile traffic to and from cloud computing platforms at their edge locations.
1. Growing Support for Cloud Extension into 5G Facilities
So far, publicly announced implementations of the strategy include Amazon’s AWS Wavelength initiative, first announced in conjunction with a partnership with Verizon in late 2019, and carrier-related extensions of Microsoft’s Azure Edge Zones, announced in March 2020 in partnership with AT&T. Surely, other cloud computing platforms too are undertaking similar initiatives, as do the MNOs themselves as they take advantage of multi-cloud integration technology to launch their own cloud-based real-time streaming platforms.
Standing up seamless interfaces between 5G traffic and cloud computing platforms in MNO edge facilities is rapidly becoming a no-brainer in light of the high priority the mobile industry has placed on achieving as close to zero latency as possible for use of 5G connectivity in fields like smart manufacturing, public safety and autonomous driving. By avoiding the multiple hops 5G traffic would otherwise have to transit between MNOs’ and cloud providers’ points of presence, 5G edge-based cloud on-/off-ramps shave anywhere from tens of milliseconds to multiple seconds off end-to-end latency.
Typically, these small footprint extensions of the cloud serve to enable the execution of compute and storage functions in extremely close proximity to local instantiations of these latency-sensitive applications. But there’s also an explosion of video applications and services that call for 5G edge interfaces with a new class of cloud distribution infrastructures that can stream video to and from any number of participants at any distance in real-time, which is to say with per-stream latency no higher than 200 to 400 milliseconds and often lower.
2. Demand for Real-Time Interactive Video Experiences Is Accelerating
These experience delivery network (XDN) infrastructures transcend the latency, unidirectional and other limitations of traditional CDNs. XDN instances widely deployed on cloud resources at 5G edge points are creating a real-time multidirectional streaming environment that allows 5G customers to have the best possible experiences with these new applications and services.
This emergent world of real-time video experiences covers a lot of ground. As explained in a previous blog post and a new white paper produced by Red5 Pro, XDN-enabled video-rich consumer use cases that are springing up across the internet include:
- tightly synchronized real-time social engagements with live-streamed professional or user-generated video,
- on-screen audience participation in live events,
- on-the-fly personalization of features and advertisements,
- synchronization of dispersed operations in live event productions,
- live-streamed video shopping, auctions and other ecommerce applications,
- networked delivery of virtual reality and other extended reality experiences, and
- remote medical care.
Beyond the consumer domain, XDN technology supports a vast range of real-time video applications in commercial life. For example, real-time aggregation and delivery of land-and drone-based surveillance camera feeds is becoming a vital tool in first responders’ efforts to piece together and act on a full picture of emergencies. Remote real-time collaboration that requires video input from all directions is becoming a routine fact of workaday life, impacting engineering design, architecture, training, surgery and other pursuits.
All of these developments point to the wisdom of MNOs’ working with cloud services like AWS and Azure to bring extended cloud support into 5G edge facilities now. Indeed, announcements from both vendors attest to rapid buy-in by leading MNOs: Vodafone, SK Telecom and Telstra are integrating with both; KDDI and Verizon are integrating with AWS; and Rogers, Telefonica, Singtel, Etisalat, NTT Communications, Proximus, CenturyLink and AT&T with Azure.
3. Real-Time 5G Video Services Create New Revenue Opportunities for MNOs
Critically, the real-time video use cases listed above can be supported by XDN technology linked to 5G deployments on a non-standalone architecture (NSA), the lower-cost configuration using LTE resources that has by far the largest footprint worldwide. Of course, the slicing capabilities and lower 5G radio access network (RAN) processing contribution to latency that come with a standalone architecture (SA) will broaden MNOs’ opportunities to pursue extremely latency-sensitive applications like autonomous driving and smart manufacturing.
Regardless of which 5G architecture is currently used, any 5G customer connecting to applications and services delivered over XDNs that run on a commercial cloud computing platform that has been integrated into the 5G edge will have optimum real-time experiences. But there’s much more to be gained by MNOs who choose to leverage such integrations in conjunction with implementing their own XDNs.
Those that do can generate real-time video experiences with their own branded cloud-based services. And carriers who operate fixed as well as mobile networks can use the same real-time streaming platform to deliver this new class of services over all connections.
Moreover, operating their own XDNs will enable MNOs to derive B2B streaming support revenues from other providers looking for capabilities that CDNs don’t offer. In fact, MNOs can build out vast XDN footprints with seamless connectivity across multiple clouds.
4. XDN Infrastructure Enables Massive Scaling of Interactive Real-Time Video Services
The scope of the MNO XDN opportunity can be seen in the real-time video applications and services outlined earlier. The two-way XDN architecture developed by Red5 Pro enables live video streamed from any device during an interactive session to be received within a 200 to 400 ms latency window by all other participating devices, no matter how many there are or how far they may be from the source.
XDN server software, implemented in containerized or virtual-machine environments, is hierarchically deployed and orchestrated in three-tiered clusters across one or more public or private clouds. Each cluster consists of a core origin node where encoded content is ingested and streamed out to relay nodes, each of which serves an array of edge nodes that deliver live unicast streams to their assigned service areas.
Automated node configuration and routing mechanisms enable all nodes in a cluster to provide real-time streaming support for content in all directions. This process involves assigning geographically close origin nodes for broadcasting as well as edge nodes for subscribing. Thus, in a situation where one hierarchical configuration of those nodes is supporting real-time streaming of, say, an esports event to millions of viewers, that same set of nodes is automatically configured into a distribution hierarchy for each user engaged in an interactive application tied to that content.
5. MNOs Can Seamlessly Operate XDNs Across Multiple IaaS Platforms
Preintegrations of Red5 Pro’s XDN platform with AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and DigitalOcean expedite the instantiation of XDNs on those services. And MNOs can readily mount XDN instances with other cloud services, individually or as part of a cross-cloud deployment, with the help of the integration APIs and other tools comprising Hashicorp’s widely used Terraform software stack.
Terraform facilitates individual and cross-cloud XDN instantiations by translating infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) resources into a high-level configuration syntax that allows IaaS APIs to be abstracted for access through Terraform Cloud APIs specific to each provider. In addition, the XDN orchestration engine can be manually integrated to work with the APIs of any cloud provider that isn’t integrated with Terraform.
Highly efficient and virtually unlimited scalability is enabled by automated scaling mechanisms that facilitate rapid addition or removal of nodes in response to fluctuations in traffic demand or the need to add more users. By translating the commands of the XDN operations system (OS) to the API calls of the cloud operators, the OS is able to execute the load balancing essential to persistent high performance across the entire infrastructure without manual intervention.
Autoscaling and rerouting also support the cluster-wide redundancy that’s essential to fail-safe operations by instantaneously shifting processing from a malfunctioning component within a node location to another appliance in that node and rerouting traffic accordingly. In the event the entire node location goes offline, the platform moves the node to another location with no disruption to the flow or increase in latency.
Whatever combination of cloud services might be used to support an MNO’s instantiation of an XDN, every point of interaction between the 5G network and the XDN doesn’t have to be supported by a direct integration with an extended cloud service edge in the MNO’s edge facilities. The MNO’s XDN runs seamlessly across all nodes wherever they’re positioned on the chosen cloud service or services.
6. XDNs Support Multiple Protocols with Real-Time Streaming
The XDN employs whichever of two real-time streaming modes are best suited for connecting over mobile or fixed networks on a session-by-session basis. In the case of fixed network connectivity, WebRTC is ideal, because it eliminates the need for plug-ins or purpose-built hardware by virtue of the support for client interactions with the protocol that have been implemented in all the major browsers, including Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari and Opera.
To stream content for access on mobile devices, Red5 Pro employs the Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). Like WebRTC, RTSP relies on the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) used in voice communications but exploits the dedicated client-player architecture employed in mobile communications, thus eliminating the need for browser support.
Notably, the XDN platform leverages these protocols’ mandatory support for utilization of the Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) to protect audio and video channels with AES encryption. This obviates spending on DRM services in instances where DRM requirements aren’t baked into licensing agreements.
Along with ingesting any content delivered via WebRTC or RTSP, the Red5 Pro XDN can ingest video formatted to all the other leading protocols used with video playout, including RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), SRT (Secure Reliable Transport), MPEG-TS (Transport Protocol) and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). These are packaged for streaming on the RTP foundation with preservation of the original encapsulations for egress to clients that can’t be reached via WebRTC or RTSP.
In addition, the XDN retains the multiprofile streaming options embodied in content that has been transcoded for delivery over adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming from external or colocated transcoders. This avoids the ABR client-server segment-by-segment communications and buffering mechanisms that make the HTTP-based mode of distribution unsuitable for use in real-time streaming.
The Red5 Pro approach preserves the benefits of ABR. The XDN origin nodes, having ingested those ABR ladder profiles, stream them over the RTP-based transport system in push mode to edge nodes. From there the content is streamed in profiles matched by node intelligence to each session in accord with client device characteristics and access bandwidth availability.
Clearly, breakthroughs in massive scaling of interactive real-time video as implemented by Red5 Pro have changed the perspective on MNOs’ ability to generate returns on 5G from the outset, whether they’re operating on NSA or SA infrastructures. The opportunity to interface their traffic directly with XDNs through edge integrations with the cloud will add to their advantage in the race to satisfy demand as the real-time streaming era gets underway.
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