Cisco, Alcatel in group to create open streaming video standards

Organizations are increasingly interested in streaming video for a wide range of applications including Webcasts for reaching existing and potential customers. But the technology suffers from a wide range of video formats, including MPG, Flash and QuickTime, plus different content delivery platforms.

A group of network equipment makers including Cisco Systems and Alcatel Lucent, content delivery providers and carriers hope they can change that. Today they announced their intent to form of what they call the Streaming Video Alliance to create an open architecture and best practices to scale the infrastructure for online video.

Video is already consuming much of the network bandwidth around the world. Some estimates show that Netflix alone eats up 80 per cent of bandwidth during prime time in North America. Cisco estimates that Content delivery networks will carry over half of Internet traffic by 2018, up from 36 per cent last year.

Globally, IP video traffic will be 79 per cent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2018, up from 66 per cent in 2013, Cisco says. This percentage does not include video exchanged through peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing. The sum of all forms of video (TV, video on demand [VoD], Internet, and P2P) will be in the range of 80 to 90 per cent of global consumer traffic by 2018.

According to Zeus Kerravala, principle at ZK Research,  the problem is the lack of standards means content creators can’t be sure content formatted for delivery on one system will be able to be delivered in the future on another should they decide to change platforms or business partners. “It makes it very difficult for a company trying to deploy streaming video,” he said.

There is a challenge to get various organizations, many of which are competitors, to agree on standards. Of course, there are lots of examples where it happens (the Open Networking Foundation, the IEEE, 4G Americas). “While there may be short term value in keeping your platform proprietary,” he said, “ultimately it hurts the industry if there’s a lack of interoperable solutions.”

The announcement of the intention to create an alliance can be seen as a call to other major industry players to get on board before a standard is set without them. Those included are U.S. Internet providers Charter Communications  and Comcast, EPIX, broadcaster Fox Networks Group, Korea Telecom, Level 3 Communications, Liberty Global, Limelight Networks, Major League Baseball Advanced Media (a large content provider), Qwilt, Telecom Italia, Telstra, Ustream, Wowza Media Systems and Yahoo!.

Missing from the list are Google (which owns YouTube), Amazon (whose content delivery platform is called CloudFront), Akamai and Microsoft (Azure) — all delivery platforms — Adobe (creator of Flash) and Apple (QuickTime) or BrightCove. Nor are large streaming content providers like the BBC, the NHL or the NFL. In Canada Bell Canada and Rogers Communications are both content providers and have delivery networks.

Steve Vonder Haar, an analyst with Wainhouse Research, also noted not in the alliance are enterprise video solution providers such Qumu, Vbrick, Kaltura.

The alliance said it hopes to look initially at three areas:

  • Open Architecture: Defining specifications for the architecture and functionality of network and cloud-based streaming and caching infrastructure to support the growth of on-demand and live online video
  • Quality of Experience: Creating a common approach to defining, measuring, optimizing and reporting the quality of the video streaming experience for content providers, network operators and consumers
  • Interoperability: Creating standards for interoperability and performance to ensure content providers, content delivery networks and network operators can efficiently stream high definition and high quality video to consumers throughout the world.

“If you were to have a (broad) set of companies working for greater standardization it would have a significant impact on enterprise streaming, ” Vonder Haar said. Today most enterprise platforms are single-vendor solutions, which is why streaming works “relatively reliably” — compared to the infamous Victoria Secret Webcast that crashed during the 1999 SuperBowl half time.

Fourteen years later  the technology has become more reliable, so there are increasing opportunities for vendors to work with one another if they have open APIs to instead deploy best of breed solutions at every step of the workflow, he said — including content creation, management, analytics and editing. That may open the door to better overall streaming solutions, he said.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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