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23 July 2020

Synamedia CDN has possibly kicked Ericsson UDN out of Etisalat

Synamedia’s portage of a private CDN at UAE-based operator Etisalat will hardly be sending shivers down the spines of Akamai and Cloudflare, yet the deployment is symbolic of a need for large service providers to not just increase the size of their delivery pipes, but to diversify technologies inherent in the video delivery infrastructure itself.

A name that might well be disgruntled by the news, however, is Ericsson, having ran a joint deployment with Etisalat of its Unified Delivery Network (UDN) across the Middle East for delivery of OTT video since March 2017 – with ambitions of establishing a global telco-owned network capable of competing with established CDN players. Ericsson did not respond to our requests for clarification on whether its UDN is still operational at Etisalat, and how the arrival of Synamedia’s private CDN affects this relationship, if at all, while Synamedia prefers not to comment on rival matters.

So, Etisalat’s SwitchTV is the recipient of Synamedia technology, launched earlier this year as an OTT video package offered free of charge to existing Etisalat mobile subscribers. Based on Synamedia’s cloud-based Infinite platform and video network portfolio, SwitchTV is preparing for its next evolution delivered over private CDN infrastructure. Simply put, public CDNs cannot exclusively optimize for video the way a private or hybrid CDN can, despite what some CDN suppliers claim.

Taking a hybrid or private CDN approach allows video service providers to place edge caches inside the access network or even inside the core network of ISP networks – which drives down the amount of traffic that needs to be peered from the ISP. As a result, packets can swerve some of the peering bottlenecks – benefiting both content provider and ISP.

It’s worth noting that private CDNs exploit publicly available cloud infrastructure to solve the scaling problem, with Etisalat being an example of one of a handful of large operators hosting Synamedia’s Infinite TV on AWS. E-vision, an Etisalat subsidiary with operations across MENA, was already using Synamedia’s Infinite cloud TV on AWS in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, so its expansion to the core UAE market is a pretty sizable contract upgrade.

It was only January when Synamedia and Etisalat talked about a new multi-country, multi-tenant OTT service, going live in Egypt, followed shortly by Saudi Arabia, and now UAE. This is some serious quick-fire stuff from all the companies involved, with AWS infrastructure enabling complex platform projects to launch in weeks rather than months or years – in turn allowing Synamedia to innovate and introduce new features into the Infinite Video platform virtually on a weekly basis.

Wording in the press release appeared to suggest that SwitchTV is using a third-party encoding vendor, although Synamedia confirmed to Faultline that its own encoders are included in the video network portfolio to reduce latency at every stage of the video workflow, as well as shrinking bandwidth requirements.

SwitchTV was one of many charitable gestures from service providers during the height of the pandemic, but with a long-term plan to hook in consumers for monetization once the storm had cleared. At the time of Switch TV’s launch, Faultline described this as a perfect opportunity for freemium services to thrive but with the caveat that networks will be put through their paces like never before.

Upon launch, SwitchTV came with free live channels spanning sports, entertainment and news, alongside a decent sized VoD library and catch-up TV. Premium channels are available for purchase with Etisalat hoping extended lockdown periods will push SwitchTV users to eventually buy into added services.

Ericsson’s UDN is probably still ticking away at Etisalat, although our concerns for its longevity there are justified by the recent history of Ericsson’s media division that culminated in July 2018 with the sale to private equity firm One Equity Partners and rebranding as MediaKind. But in late 2018, Ericsson inked a deal with Limelight that added some temporary pizzazz to its UDN business, filling in a missing piece by providing proven global CDN capacity and capability – increasing the overall credibility of the UDN. The deal also made sense for Limelight by expanding its edge capability and reach into broadband access networks while reinforcing its position as a media CDN specialist.

As for developments with Etisalat’s mobile network infrastructure, earlier this year the operator launched a network using virtualized, disaggregated and open RAN technologies, supported by a group of suppliers including Altiostar, Cisco and NEC. The new RAN is being built on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and cloud infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of building an open vRAN across the whole UAE, although the operator has not specified the open specs being used here. Etisalat has already rolled out 5G services in Dubai.