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16 July 2020

Haivision’s Teltoo buy is more about delivery analytics than WebRTC

CDN alternatives have been something of a forbidden fruit for a long time, yet despite the rise of decentralized delivery software, the promise of disruption continues to fall short of manifesting into anything truly convulsive. But if anyone knows disruption, it is SRT co-founder Haivision, having just secured its second delivery technology acquisition to unsettle established players – buying peer-to-peer technology specialist Teltoo.

That said, Faultline is regularly reassured by fans of P2P software – including Teltoo’s largest customer Liberty Global – that the technology is more about refining specific network models into a hybrid of sorts, as opposed to anything resembling a long-term CDN replacement.

In acquiring the LightFlow Media Technologies part of video optimization outfit Epic Labs in October last year, Haivision was thrust deeper down the chain – extending from contribution and distribution to delivery via AI-based techniques to reduce CDN and transcoding costs by as much as 40%. This was a worrying sign for many rivals. Months later, Haivision has hammered home its desire to disrupt the video delivery market by bringing Teltoo into the equation, in what could be a fearsome combination of assets, particularly with Haivision’s contacts and reputation.

Faultline sees no coincidence that Haivision publicly announced its move for Teltoo only a week or so after we discussed how P2P technology firms have been somewhat stalled by the pandemic, but are set for a resurgence in 2021. Indeed, our coverage has sent flattery Teltoo’s way ever since Liberty Global deployed the technology back in December, which really put Teltoo on the map. We therefore got in touch with Haivision CTO and EVP of Product Development, Mahmoud J. Al-Daccak, for his view on where Teltoo technology can take Haivision – both technically speaking and in the sense of new markets.

“Our acquisition of Teltoo is certainly about content delivery, but it’s much more about P2P and delivery analytics than it is about WebRTC – with Teltoo, WebRTC is the communication mechanism that enables the secure sharing of video segments between peers. Haivision feels that the use of P2P within the market is very fragmented and we aim to create a framework that will consolidate its usage and add much needed credibility to P2P solutions,” Al-Daccak told us.

He explained that for enterprise customers, the Teltoo technology is ideal for overcoming a scaled audience where multicast is not viable. It also provides all the network analytics and device/player monitoring technology to assure cross-enterprise high quality live streaming.

As for Haivision’s broadcast and OTT clients, Al-Daccak described Teltoo technology as the “perfect complement” to its Lightflow AI which is now integrated in the SRT Hub cloud media routing system. “Extending our multi-CDN technology with decentralized P2P delivery is a natural fit and our AI team will be making the most out of the advanced network analytics to ensure the optimal video quality and latency across delivery networks,” he added.

Something we were less aware of was how critical Teltoo’s analytics capabilities are to Haivision. “When moving to decentralized and sustainable delivery methods you need to assure optimized quality of service. The advanced analytics that Teltoo brings to Haivision, combined with our focus on improvements through the application of artificial intelligence (Lightflow) provides the opportunity for delivery optimization that compliments the use of CDNs,” he continued.

So, the way we see it, with Haivision products deployed widely at broadcasters, the addition of P2P technology to its arsenal will help plug any CDN coverage holes, particularly as broadcasters expand their coverage of second and third-tier sports in specific geographic areas where CDN coverage can be poor.

What Madrid-based Teltoo brings to the table is – in principle – the same as any other decentralized P2P network. As the audience grows, the more efficient the network becomes, making it perfect for scaling live streams at peak times – particularly for localized live events where viewers are closer to the network edge. Servers within P2P networks are typically comprised of client devices that form a software-defined overlay based on the open source WebRTC framework, where the video buffer avoids an increase in latency because segments that are downloaded as the stream plays will have to wait in the buffer before they are displayed to the user – usually for about 2 seconds.

Founded in 2016, Teltoo recognized how OTT relies heavily on network assets, seeing an opportunity to collect and understand network assets better than the competition. While P2P differentiators can be hard to come by, something unique about Teltoo appears to be its close ties with the cable industry, working with CableLabs which led to the Liberty Global deal. This is in part because Teltoo’s P2P algorithms are based on WebRTC, which was designed for situations where data retransmission is impossible, as in one-way systems like DTH and DTT TV. It is also preferred when there is no time for retransmission, as when low latency trumps quality completely.

WebRTC differs from other low latency streaming protocols including RIST and Haivision’s own SRT by avoiding packet retransmission altogether and instead using the alternative approach to redundancy of Forward Error Correction (FEC). This works by adding extra redundant data bits in such a way that packets that are lost or corrupted can be reconstructed at the receiving end, up to a certain level of loss.

Some in the industry have floated WebRTC as a competing low latency streaming protocol to SRT and RIST, but realistically WebRTC is in a different ballpark. This means Haivision could expand its scope from broadcast and OTT networks, into cable TV but also markets which have experienced huge growth like in-sports betting and videoconferencing, although Al-Daccak did not comment on whether Haivision plans to target customers in these fields.

WebRTC can come with video quality issues, however, given that the underlying WebRTC protocol was optimized for ultra-low latency above error correction, designed for interactive applications such as telepresence. The other problem is simply loss of quality through dropped IP packets, given that WebRTC has less rigorous resending mechanisms than protocols designed specifically for video streaming like SRT and RIST.

Liberty Global told us at the time of its Teltoo deployment that the technology was being used on the Horizon Go OTT app, not the Horizon 4 set top, initially in the UK on the Virgin TV Go application, but this has most likely expanded elsewhere in the Liberty Global empire by now. A representative from the cable titan also told us that Teltoo will be used in combination with its existing CDN technologies, where it is refining specific network models as it deploys – not affecting any other supplier relationships or deployments with the likes of Akamai.

Haivision says Teltoo’s P2P delivery mechanism will be tightly integrated into its enterprise portfolio – allowing scalability where multicast is not a viable option and unicast presents scaling challenges. As Al-Daccak alluded to, Haivision’s cloud-based SRT Hub will get complementary P2P treatment to deliver streams to end viewers, unifying P2P, analytics, multi-CDN and AI optimization technologies into a product spread with some serious disruptive potential.