BT plans launch of content delivery network for UK internet
Sian Baldwin: hundreds of content caches across
country, integrated into ISPs’
BT is planning to launch a UK-wide content delivery network
that will offer owners of video and other content high-quality
access to internet service providers and on to their end
The UK incumbent is building the new network because of
increasing customer demand for high-bandwidth video content
— and a realisation that high-definition TV and movies
will put an even greater strain on the existing internet
services in the next few years.
"We’re planning to launch the new network in
May," says Sian Baldwin, BT Wholesale’s director
of broadband and content services. The UK incumbent has already
built a number of caches to store video content and deliver it
into the network on behalf of content owners.
The company then plans to launch a video streaming variant
of the service in March 2011, providing broadcast channels and
other live content to ISPs.
BT Wholesale is making the investment — though
Baldwin would not put a figure on the sums the company is
spending on the CDN — in the light of increasing
capacity in the local loop thanks to high-speed DSL services
and the arrival of fibre-to-the-home.
"IP traffic will quadruple between 2008 and 2012," says
Baldwin — that’s a doubling every two
years, similar to Moore’s law for
In 2012 traffic in the UK will be equivalent to a continuous
120 kilobits a second spread throughout the 24 hours of each
day, she adds. "That’s how we measure it." In 2008
it was 30 kilobits a second. "And it’s almost
In the UK, the BBC — the national broadcaster
— provides online access to most of its TV and radio
programmes for seven days or more after first transmission, in
high quality video and audio. This service, called iPlayer, is
so popular that it is consuming 12 gigabytes of data every
This service is likely to be succeeded later in 2010 by an
even more ambitious online TV project, Canvas, which will be a
cooperative venture of four broadcasters — the BBC,
Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV — and two telecoms
operators, BT and TalkTalk.
"We are fast approaching what we call the 'grumpiness
triangle’," says a BT spokesman. "ISPs are grumpy
because the growth in video increases their backhaul costs and
so they traffic shape. This makes end users grumpy because they
don’t want to wait to watch their favourite
television programme. And, in turn, this makes the content
creators grumpy because viewers can’t enjoy their
programmes as they intended."
The problem for network providers and ISPs is that current
networks were designed for email and web surfing, not for
continuous video, and users’ habits have changed.
For every one minute of surfing people consume 30 minutes of
"We’re planning ahead of the launch of Canvas,"
says Baldwin. "The CDN service will be tightly integrated into
At the moment ISPs "are cut out of the process", she adds.
With the CDN in place — using caches close to the
ISPs’ networks — they will be "about to
make quality guarantees to their customers".
BT Wholesale is hoping that ISPs will not be tempted to
build their own CDNs — warning that they will then
need to arrange interconnection with all the broadcasters and
the content aggregators. "We can provide a single point of
entry," she adds.
This will fill a gap she believes exists between the
companies that specialise in transporting content
internationally — mainly Akamai Technologies,
CDNetworks and Limelight Networks — and the
ISPs’ and local-loop unbundlers’
networks that reach the consumers.
"Once the content is in the UK, what happens to it?" asks
Baldwin. "I see that localisation of content delivery is the
BT Wholesale already has four content caches in operation as
part of its pre-launch trial — one in the
division’s headquarters in Faraday House, central
London. "We’ll have hundreds by the time
we’re finished. It’s part of our
The company hopes to launch the service with three variants
that ISPs will be able to select: a basic service, which brings
content to the edge of the network; a "best efforts" service,
with caches integrated into the network, "but no quality of
service guarantee", she says; and "an assured service, where
we’ll deploy caches deep within the
The caches are actually in the same place
for both products, but best efforts has no video QoS, she
adds, and so the retailer would need to prioritise the
traffic instead of BT Wholesale doing it for them as a complete
service. What will BT Wholesale charge ISPs for the
service? She won’t say.
Though Baldwin is planning for a launch in May, the real
test will come in December 2010 — when viewing peaks
for the Christmas and New Year holidays. "Christmas will be
critical," she says.
"This is the biggest growth market in the industry," she
says. "There’s a huge explosive market for
content. It would be just crazy to ignore it."