In 2015, when Star India first broadcasted IPL matches, around 41 million people watched it on Hotstar. By the next season, the number had gone up to 77 million viewers. As of 19 January 2017, over 25 million watched just the second one-day international (ODI) match between India and England on the over-the-top (OTT) or on-demand video service platform.
Now, that big a number of people watching a match on their respective TVs, like the olden days, is one thing. On the internet, each user adds traffic to the network, therefore disturbing the seamlessness of the game, as it should be enjoyed. Yeah, that dreaded circle of buffering. The solution to this problem? A nifty little method called peering.
Peering helps exchange data directly between service providers, as opposed to through the internet. Without it, we’d all just be cursing at our Netflixs and Hotstars all day.
Besides, it kills two birds with one stone. A) It makes the OTT viewing experience more TV-like, and B) this results in the retention of viewers, thus helping the platforms capture some market share. However, peering isn’t novel. It has been used by internet service providers (ISP) for years to maintain the flow of traffic on the internet.
But peering isn’t all good news. While content and video streaming companies are leveraging it by partnering with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) like Akamai and Cloudflare, there have been concerns about the differential treatment of internet traffic—you sign up with the right guy, you get the fast lane, or be stuck with slow streaming. This is opposed to the spirit of net neutrality.
We, too, came across a few such potentially suspect ISP partnerships with the internet giants of the world. For instance, GBPS Networks, an ISP in Maharashtra, has partnered with Akamai and Google to provide “swift and immediate connection to Akamai along with all Google-related content with an exceptional speed of 30 Mbps.” In plain words, this is a tie-up to ensure that if you’re on it and on Google, you get to stay in that coveted fast lane.
There’s also Net 9 Online which offers a buffer-free 200 Mbps speed experience in all its fibre-optic plans for Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Netflix.
But before we get to all the incentives and disincentives of peering, let’s pause a moment to illustrate the above-mentioned concern.
As you can see, the origin of the YouTube video can be traced to a server located in a suburb in Mumbai itself, whereas, the URL for the Dailymotion video points to a server located in Singapore. So, while I was able to stream the YouTube video at 1080p without any buffering, Dailymotion, ironically, despite its name, barely moved.
The good guys, apparently
CDNs provide a globally distributed platform where servers are deployed inside an ISP or Telecom Service Provider (TSP).