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In the United States streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are well established online media distribution networks. Their services work due to the content delivery network (CDN) agreements they have which distribute their content close to the subscriber.

Without CDNs, the Internet as we know it would be completely choked, as on demand content was simultaneously broadcast to hundreds of subscribers from the same source.

This would completely limit the audience of the content. There is a global explosion for data. More so in emerging markets. In order to cope with this and remain competitive, operators have to facilitate delivery at a competitive price.

CDN seems like a good solution.   

Perhaps the best known commercial content delivery network today is Akamai Technology.

The firm's global distribution network is responsible for caching content for some of the largest companies.

The aim is to protect the user experience by reducing or even eliminating delays accessing online content.

Akamai Technology's services make it possible for companies like Netflix and Hulu to distribute high-definition on demand content to thousands of subscribers.


Easily the world's largest CDN would bpbe the peer-to-peer (P2P) BitTorrent protocol. It is used for distributing large amounts of data over the Internet. BitTorrent is a common protocols for transferring large files.

It is estimated that peer-to-peer networks collectively have accounted for something like 43% to 70% of all Internet traffic as of 2009.

Every day thousands of files are distributed by end users themselves throughout the Internet, both legally and illegally.

Even commercial services like Akamai Technology uses a combination of dedicated servers and P2P connections to distribute content amongst subscribers.

A solid global content delivery model is required to stem the tide of illegal distribution, since lack of availability is the biggest motivator for piracy.

A major advantage of CDN technology is content redundancy that provides a fail-safe feature and allows for graceful degradation in the event of damage to, or malfunction of, a part of the Internet.

Even during a large-scale attack that disables many servers, content on a CDN will remain available to at least some users.

Streaming versus Download

The commercial online movie companies use a combination of a streaming connection from the content distribution server and or cached content on the subscriber's hard-drive to deliver content to other subscribers.

Regardless of the content control mechanisms used, it is impossible to stop users from downloading copyright protected content and re-distributing it illegally using P2P networks.

The motivation for this type of piracy is unclear since there is no financial incentive.

Content Portals and the Manufacturers

Virtually all mainstream manufacturers of entertainment products are creating their own multimedia portals within their products.

High definition (HD) televisions are appearing with portal applications, allowing users in selected markets to stream content directly to their TV, such as YouTube or Netflix.



Regardless of whether it is a games console, Blue-ray disk player or television, the manufacturers of entertainment hardware are looking to lock subscribers into their own media portal eco-system.

 Licensing and Content Control

The reason legitimate CDNs have not exploded worldwide is because of the lack of control and limited legal protection for content owners when using a third party CDN.

Until these agreements become internationally binding, we won't see media distribution outside of Europe and North America via the Internet.

Multicast and the Future
Today any type of content you watch on the Internet is delivered using a point-to-point unicast connection. The server must reserve a session and deliver the content on-demand to your PC. However, all network hardware today supports multicast.

Multicast works much like the television. A single source delivers a program stream and an unlimited number of clients “tune-in” to listen to the stream.

Although, all the hardware used by an ISP around the world today can support multi-cast, lack of charging infrastructure between operators mean that this network feature is permanently disabled in commercial ISP networks.

Ultimately, however, the marriage between content distribution (unicast) and multicast is essential to the future of the Internet.

Using this scenario, content from the source studios is broadcast using multicast to the content distribution networks.

The content distribution companies will cache the content on their regional servers close to the subscriber and either carry the stream live to the subscriber using multicast or on demand from the server cache at a later stage using unicast.

By using this model, expensive intercontinental links are not choked with duplicated traffic traversing the same links that improve the user experience for everyone.


By Angela Sutherland

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