World Cup leads to unprecedented IP traffic

Akamai handles 20% of the world’s internet traffic and, as such, has a fascinating insight into this most IP-led of World Cups, where data rates have so far peaked at an astonishing 6.84Tbps.

That peak figure was reached during the group stages when Portugal played Ghana and the USA took on Germany concurrently, but even that may be surpassed by the time the tournament reaches the final – and indeed might be completely blown away depending on how far the USA gets in the tournament.

Cloud service provider Akamai is delivering streams for over 50 rightsholders and handling the ingestion for all of them. Each rightsholder has their own workflow to address the unique characteristics of their markets, and each rightsholders is delivering different levels of quality, based on the last mile capabilities of the regions they serve.

“We are using adaptive bitrate technologies, so that the stream will adjust to the available last mile bandwidth,” explains Kurt Michel, director of product marketing – media. “So this is not really a problem. We provide whatever the last mile will support.

“The stream rates we are delivering for the World Cup range from 56Kbps audio-only to 5Mbps full HD,” he continues. “For a given event, there may be 10 or more different streams, or renditions, of varying quality.”

Many of Akamai’s clients are global brands with a global customer base. A quick snapshot of the traffic the company is handling (taken 01/07/14, 8am UTC) reveals in the region of 18.5m hits per second on their servers, 72.5m page views per minute and 65.8m active video and audio streams. The numbers are suitably mind-blowing (and you can see them in realtime at

How on earth does the company handle that load, especially when it peaks? The answer is a distributed architecture.

“We place many servers – over 147,000 today – in over 1200 networks and 2500 locations around the globe,” says Michel. “By placing the servers inside of those networks, we can get the content closer to viewers, offering a high quality of experience. In contrast, other CDN providers use centralised architectures, in which they place the servers in large, centralised data centres. While it is easier to build a centralised network, this architecture places the servers further away from the viewers, and they are more susceptible to network traffic congestion – especially when there are dramatic traffic spikes. And these centralised architectures are also susceptible to regional disruptions due to weather or other natural and man-made events.

“It is worth noting that on any given day, we are delivering ~12 Tbps of content to our customers. An event such as the World Cup is over and above that, and we must continue to keep our everyday business delivering to expectations, in addition to supporting the World Cup traffic.”

So how does the World Cup compare to the myriad other live events – and others, Apple iOS updates are always an interesting time – Akamai is involved with?

“This World Cup is the largest live event we have seen so far, and we are only halfway through it,” he comments. “As of Sunday, 6/22/14, after 32 of 64 games, we have already exceeded the total traffic (bytes delivered) from the Sochi games, and are more than 3x the amount from the 2010 World Cup, and almost 2x the amount of data delivered for the 2012 London Olympics. The prior traffic peak of 3.5Tbps we saw during the US-Canada Men’s hockey semifinal in Sochi was exceeded on Tuesday June 17 during the Brazil-Mexico game, with a 4.59 Tbps peak, over 30% higher. In fact, there have been six World Cup games that have exceeded the Sochi peak. We do not expect the 4.59 Tbps current record to stand very long.”

Demand for live events follows a different profile to something such as a software launch, where there is an early spike followed by a tail off over the course of a few days. Watch the data curve of a live sports event and you can clearly see where it starts, where half time is, and where the match ends.

“The demand change is very dramatic,” says Michel.”The speed of demand growth is increasing, since we now receive news flashes and social media notices with links that can take viewers to the content in seconds – especially on mobile devices.  A tweet that says ‘you have to see this game! Click here’ can multiply audiences quickly.”

Michel was speaking to SVG Europe before the end of the group stage and forecast that the consecutive matches might peak at 6Tbps, maybe more. With that reached and breached one can only guess at the final numbers. Which is the kind of thought that sets one thinking further into the future too and the onset of 4K.

“The industry as a whole is stepping up to the challenge, with new codecs like HEVC/H.265, and a focus on bringing the cost of the 4K panels down to levels required for wider demand. And we feel that online, or ‘over the top’ distribution of this 4K content will play a primary role in consumer adoption – but only if the quality is up to viewer expectations,” he says.

Indeed, Akamai’s own First Quarter, 2014 State of the Internet Report suggests that 11% of countries/regions meet a 4K readiness criteria of having connection speeds pegged at 15Mbps or above.

“For Akamai, our mission is to connect online audiences to content at the highest quality. 4K/Ultra HD is the next generation of video quality, and I can assure you we are keenly focused on making sure we can deliver content at those levels of quality. We see 4K emergence as an opportunity to demonstrate our focus on quality. To that end, we demonstrated 4K on-demand content delivery from our network at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and a live 4K stream at 60 frames per second along with Elemental Technologies at the NAB Show in April.

“We know what it takes, and it starts with the distributed network architecture that is close to viewers, intelligent software that runs the network, and a team of experts to keep things running smoothly. And while we are focused on developing our capacity to handle this, we are also developing some innovative technologies that will allow us to use our network capacity more efficiently, to deliver this higher bitrate content at the scale our customers and viewers will require. We are focused on getting to ‘broadcast quality plus’.”

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