The Genesis of medianets
Gazing into crystal balls, technological or otherwise, can be hazardous to your health! But the temptation is irresistible, and we all succumb from time to time. After all, the experts can surely discern underlying technology trends and market forces, so the future should be reasonably predictable. The only caveat being that sometimes new technologies can emerge unexpectedly, to upset the best made plans of mice and men.
At least in one area, that of the future of TV, some predictions would appear to be reasonably safe. The demand for high-definition TV and video content is mushrooming, and it appears that consumers demand video content anytime, anywhere, and on any screen at their disposal, whether it will be TV, PC, or cell phone. Online and mobile video technologies have transformed the video experience, leaving service and content providers scrambling to meet consumer demand. Most experts now accept that video traffic will dominate growth of service provider networks over the next decade, and the widely used Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) provides an excellent measure of this trend.
However, will content distribution networks evolve to handle the anticipated massive increase in bandwidth-hungry video traffic? A recent article from Cisco in the IEEE Communications Magazine, “IPTV and video networks in the 2015 timeframe: the evolution to medianets” addresses some of the underlying video technologies that are rapidly evolving to meet these needs. The IP Next Generation Network (IP NGN) optimized to deliver video traffic will derive massive scalability from the use of the underlying optical fiber-based IP over DWDM (IPoDWDM) and IP/MPLS transport technologies, in which Cisco is a recognized world leader. To extend the large bandwidth capacities required to the access and aggregation network domains, Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) transport technologies will increasingly come into play for SP networks. For cable networks, increased penetration of new ultra high-speed DOCSIS 3.0 technologies will provide the huge capacities needed for next generation broadband cable services, including interactive video services.
It is not just massive increases in raw bandwidth in the core and access that are the hallmarks of the video optimized networks of the future, it is the media-aware intelligence embedded in all parts of it that is key to enhancing the consumer’s video experience. A significant part of this savvy is geared towards ways of ensuring the network provides the high QoS demanded by video content. Cisco technology, called Visual Quality of Experience (VQE), continuously monitors video streams, and repairs packet losses that may degrade the viewing experience in real time, operates under the watchful control of the Video Assurance Management System (VAMS). This intelligence, also protects the viewers from unexpected failures or temporary defects that may occur to detract from the video experience, by optimizing the path the signal takes as well as switching over to a new path in the event of a failure, without any perceptible loss of signal quality.
As described in the IEEE article, Cisco calls such video optimized IP NGN’s, medianets, a term that conveniently encapsulates the symbiosis of multiple video enhancing technologies that work in concert to provide superior video experience. A large part of the smarts in the medianets also resides in the middleware, a term that loosely captures many of the capabilities necessary to deliver TV content to the consumer in a user-friendly way, while protecting and compressing the content using complex encryption and encoding technologies (e.g., Digital Rights Management (DRM), MPEG2 and AVC). The middleware capabilities also enable the consumer to easily find and control the programs or movies they want to access from the service provider, and be charged for that pleasure.
TV is changing rapidly with the advent of multiple sources of content, and a plethora of service offerings from different service providers. The technologies that are enabling these changes, whether video optimized IP/MPLS transport systems, sophisticated middleware and Web-based multimedia applications coupled with fast media control protocols, are evolving to meet the demand for high-quality video delivery anywhere, anytime on any screen. The encompassing architecture that links all this together seamlessly is the medianet, the intelligence that is designed into Cisco networks to deliver the ultimate video experience for the consumers.