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Akamai Technologies: The Adoption of 4K & more

Kurt Michel, Director, Product Marketing, Media Delivery Solutions for Akamai Technologies (pictured here) shares his insight on 4K adoption, along with it's future & quality.

Q How are you preparing for the adoption of 4K?

A Akamai is preparing for the increase in viewer quality expectations that 4K will bring, which, in our case, means greater capacity and scalability of our network, storage and workflow solutions. Of course, increasing our capacity and scalability to stay ahead of demand is something we have been doing since 1998; 4K just happens to be the latest quality level that is pushing the need for more bits – faster. We’re not just getting ready for 4K, but other things that might come next, such as higher frame rates and high dynamic range (HDR) technologies, which again will drive network capacity and scale requirements.

Also, Akamai has begun to track 4K readiness through our quarterly State of the Internet Report. The new metric aims to identify what geographies are most likely to be able to sustain 15 Mbps streams, which we see as the baseline connection speed for supporting online delivery of 4K content.

Q Where do you see the future of 4K heading and where are viewers/consumers of media most enjoying the 4K experience?

A 4K viewing will largely take place in living rooms or wherever else large displays are used. Live sports along with premium VOD content will be significant drivers for adoption, and TV manufacturers will also help get us to the point where 4K is as ubiquitous as HD.

It’s also worth noting that 4K, through higher resolution panels, opens up opportunities for more interactivity with the screen and the possibility of video walls as opposed to simply watching video on a display. In general, 4K is thought about in the context of a “lean-back” experience, but the higher quality can also makes it easier for users to get closer to and interact with the screen. This may enable a host of new use cases.

Q What are a few pros and cons to working with 4K?

A The pro is simple: 4K looks fantastic. However, it does require completely new workflows along with 2x to 4x more bandwidth and 2x to 4x more storage capacity anywhere you want to place the content. That’s not to mention many multiples of processing power to manipulate 4K video compared to what’s needed for HD. And these demands are even greater when you get into 60 frames per second, which is stunning for sports.

However, 4K could also be the forcing function that accelerates the migration of traditional broadcast infrastructures to an all-IP infrastructure, which is really where the frontier lies. It could finally mean that IP and IP-enabled mobile viewing is no longer considered the exception – and in this emerging reality the TV becomes an IP device just like any other device … it’s simply another viewing endpoint.

Q What 4K products do you think will help make the use of 4K a bit easier?

A Cost will be a big factor in 4K adoption. That’s not just lower-priced TV sets, but also for bandwidth. If connectivity at 15 Mbps is considered acceptable today, consumers are eventually going to expect 30 or 50 Mbps at a similar price.

We’re also going to need streamlined workflow products that can make it easier to turn 4K source content into whatever’s easiest to deliver to both 4K devices as well as any others. This is eventually going to require equipment in the home and on devices, getting into products like intelligent network-enabled routers, gateways, smart TVs, consoles and others. Those types of devices communicating with the delivery network can help us take significant strides toward improving last-mile connectivity.

Finally, the availability of H.265 HEVC codec technology and making it ubiquitous at end points will make it far more feasible to deliver 4K content.

Q What are the reactions/opinions you hear from others in regards to 4K?

A I’ve heard decidedly mixed opinions in regard to 4K. Some question the need and liken it to 3D. Others feel we faced a similar scenario before HD caught on, and argue that you’d never go back to SD at this point.

I don’t feel 4K will suffer the same fate as 3D. 4K is passive; you don’t have to do anything exceptional – like don glasses – to watch it. And while we’re certainly in a “hype stage” at the moment, this is natural for the adoption of most any type of technology or innovation. I do think we’ll get there with 4K, but it will take some time. Remember when 2 megapixel digital cameras were great quality? Now popular smartphones have 16MP for the main camera and 2MP for the “low grade” front facing camera.

Consumers are continuously demanding higher quality. 3D was never really about quality, and I’d never bet against higher quality expectations from consumers.

Q Anything else you would like to add?

A We believe 4K is the next HD. Akamai is committed to helping our customers deliver their content to their audiences with the highest possible quality, and we think IP in general and our network in particular will play a significant role in the evolution and adoption of 4K. We have teams dedicated to continuously improving our existing network, and they focus on what we will need one, two and even five years down the road, which will require not only more capacity, but new innovations in how content is delivered over tomorrow’s networks. 4K is coming, and we are working to make sure our CDN and associated services are ready for the challenges it brings.

Q Want to learn more about Kurt Michel?

A Kurt Michel is the Product Marketing Director for digital media products and services at Akamai Technologies where he drives the marketing activities for Akamai's Sola Media Solutions that provide cloud-based video delivery for many of the world’s largest media streaming events. He has more than 25 years of technical development and marketing experience in telecommunications, data communications and media processing semiconductor industries.

Prior to joining Akamai, Kurt was the Marketing Director at Mindspeed Technologies, where he helped drive the evolution Voice over IP (VoIP) and Video over IP. He also held senior engineering development and management roles with Maker Communications, General Dynamics, and GTE.

Kurt holds an MBA from Babson College and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Northeastern University.