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Aspera Exec: FASPStream Overcomes Challenges of Streaming Live Content

Successfully streaming high-quality live — or even near-live — content over the Internet presents several challenges to media and entertainment companies, but Aspera FASPStream software overcomes many such issues, according to Mike Flathers, Aspera chief technologist.

“What we have done is we’ve tried to make it so you can actually use commodity Internet to actually transport very high quality video over public Internet connections,” he told a media conference in New York May 17. He noted that Aspera’s software can be used by companies on premises or via the cloud.

The need for high-quality live streaming is only increased when one is looking to transport high-profile, heavily in-demand TV programs such as the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, he said.

But bad network conditions, latency and distance are three issues that are known to significantly impair video streaming, according to Aspera. One big challenge for live video transport is that satellite is expensive and impractical, Flathers said.

Satellite uplinks are often not available on demand, require large investments of capital and/or long startup times, are tough to integrate with modern cloud environments, and are disproportionally costly for “long tail” content, according to Aspera.

In addition, existing commodity Internet-based transport approaches perform too poorly for broadcast quality. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) over Internet Protocol (IP), meanwhile, collapses with Wide Area Network (WAN) delay and packet loss, according to Aspera. The achievable bit rate is less than the stream rate, and that causes major delays and buffering, while Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) reduces the bit rate, resulting in lower-quality video and a diminished user experience, it said.

There are several challenges with alternative solutions, according to Aspera. The TCP alternative Forward Error Correction (FEC) over User Datagram Protocol (UDP) adds reliability by encoding the stream with redundant information so that the original data can be reconstructed even if some of it doesn’t reach the receiver, it said, noting that traditional FEC is also very bandwidth efficient. But the most efficient new error correction codes still involve significant pre-encoding time, so live point-to-point delivery can be delayed a lot, while reliability of the final delivery is still subject to network conditions, so if packet loss increases and the error protection isn’t sufficient, the stream quality will “glitch,” Flathers said.

The high-speed FASP “pipe” provided by FASPStream is a better option, according to Aspera, which says that the solution’s key benefits include the fact that it’s byte stream-based, so it’s independent of video encoding, and it operates on received data before the end of a file is reached. It also facilitates implementations of proxies, file systems and other middleware applications.

FASPStream adapts to available bandwidth to minimize packet loss and scales to large numbers of concurrent streams, Flathers pointed out, adding transfers no longer need to start and end with a file system.

It also has a “nearly zero start up delay for even worst-case global Internet WAN conditions” and there’s a very low probability of buffering, according to Aspera. “Even under some of the worst conditions … we can still pretty much guarantee that there’s a very, very low probability of receiving a glitch with FASP with around a second and a half of buffer time,” Flathers told the conference. FASPStream can be integrated in virtual, cloud, file and all-Internet workflows, according to the company.

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