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back to article BBC iPlayer upgrade prompts new ISP complaints

The BBC is facing more criticism that the way it delivers iPlayer traffic will make it harder for smaller ISPs to survive. The latest squeeze is a result of Auntie's decision to eschew its current content delivery network provider Akamai in favour of Level3. Content delivery networks are used to improve access to highly …

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Boffin

Pardon my ignorance, but

why does changing the codec from whatever it is today to H.264 need a radical change in content delivery architecture? Or is someone somewhere telling porkies, porkies which the good people at Zen don't want to raise in public?

Oh, and this Level 3 outfit, is that the same Level 3 outfit that many smaller independent ISPs did their best to get rid of in recent years, not because of L3's costs, but because of L3's *unreliability* as a carrier? If L3 can't make simple things like routers and cables work properly, what chance have they got when servers, software, and storage are added to the picture (pun not really intended)?

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Sucks to be on a bandwidth limited account

If the big ISPs do have some sort of "magic streaming box" installed in their system to deliver iPlayer content to it's users I get the horrible feeling that said content will still contribute to the bandwidth allocation per month that most ISPs enforce.

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Anonymous Coward

So?

ISP's have been selling broadband as unlimited, (with the usual fair use clause) and have been taking the money as such for years. Most advertising has always been in the form of download a TV show in minutes on our super whizzo fast network. Now there is something that can legally use that capability they need to deal with it. If they can't at the moment then unfortunatly they need to either charge the end user more, take the hit or close shop. It's not a nice prospect but that's reality. I pay my ISP for a service I expect them to provide what I need, if they need to charge more then they need to do so, and it's down to me to pay for the service or go elsewhere.

The ISP game has been dominated so far by the race to the lowest price at all costs, now quality and performance is coming into the frame. If you want good performance, great customer service, and large download capability then you pay the price. If like most people you want the cheapest price then you use a big player and forget customer service.

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Go

A solution?

Could the BBC not make it possible for each ISP to host their own cache? That way the ISP's aren't forking out for transit bandwidth, the BBC are getting free content delivery, the public get quicker deivery because it's already waiting at the other end of their line and everone looks good.

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Yes another example of Auntie Beeb violating it's operating contract

Yes boys -n- girls, you can have your TV License revenue and Edith too :(

Ofcom is seeking public comment on the Beeb straying dangerously over the cliff from public service to commercial operating entity. This type of behaviour is yet another validation that the people running Auntie have anything other than the almighty £/$ Bank and Trust fund in their eyes.

Whilst on one hand Auntie wants protection behind it's license, on the other hand Auntie must be quivering in her very boots given Ofcom's still seeking public comment on how the Beeb *is and should be operating / funded* for now and the next 10+ years.

I don't dispute that Auntie needs to exist -- quite the contrary but these new 'lectronic forays they're up to in White City need to be transfered back to people with a Clue Bag.

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BBC Local Radio

Doesn't the BBC have loads of regional offices round the country in the shape of BBC local radio centres. They could host their own content in their own distributed network instead of paying some nerks to do it for them... or is this not local enough.

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And the Problem is always Right at the Top of the Stack/Gravy Train

<<<Zen Internet is expecting the decision to increase its costs economically; all but a select few large networks must pay Level3 to receive traffic originated within their network.">>>

So the BBC network and traffic, which is paid for/provided by License Fee Subscription/Stealth Taxation with the threat of Imprisonment for Wilful Avoidance, will then be subject to further Public payment for viewing? Or have I picked that up wrong.

Indeed ....."As we reported earlier this year, the BBC is investigating building its own content delivery network in partnership with third party vendors." ..... third party vendors rather than partner suppliers would suggest that it is so.

A Better Service should always be a No Increased Cost Service as more Viewers Flock to Learn what it has to teach them whereas a more expensive service normally means that the customers are leaving to be Edutained elsewhere because of a Lack of Creativity and Pathetic ISP Management.

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Black Helicopters

Government broadcaster, Government policy.

A rogering for the little guys, and a reacharound for big business.

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Anonymous Coward

Do what the Dutch do

The Beeb just screwed up by fighting against the ISP's.

In the Netherlands, the ISP's and Public Broadcaster are cooperating:

the ISP's setup edge streaming capacity in their networks, and the broadcasters can use this capacity.

It allows the ISP's to optimize traffic within their network. It saves the broadcasters millions of euros they otherwise had to pay to Akamai or Level3. The number of viewers increases, so does the QoS. Theyre testing HD streams!

And the backbones and Internet Exchange are offloaded, so there's actually more capacity for other services and the ISP's don't have to invest in extra capacity.

For example, the Olympics are broadcast via this way. 17 million views in less than a week for a nation of just 16 million people. No costs. Compare this to 30 million views in the same period by NBC for the US: 300 million people. At full CDN costs. Do the math...

The ISP's are supported by streaming specialists. See here for details: http://www.jetstream.eu/opencdnproject.html

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Anonymous Coward

Small ISPs

>As many Reg readers frequently attest, the UK's smaller ISPs generally offer >much better customer and network service than the giants.

....great customer and network service so long as you don't actually want the throughput you're supposedly paying for.

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All very well

If there's something worth watching.

And will the new version of Flash work in Linux systems ?

(~Ubuntu user here)

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Why switch to L3 ?

simply to save costs, the BBC don't want to pay to have their content delivered (MPs and others (around here) are always bitching about the Beeb spending money).

Funny how people say that routers & cables are simple things when they don't have to deal with them

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Ha Ha

so now the TV watchers are the new fileshares.

Filesharing was going to bring the net to its knees blah blah.....everyone involved have happily sat back for years knowing what was coming yet no one got them all round a table and thrashed this out.

we all need fibre to the home it would serve us all better than having the olympics for example and the cost would be about the same.The government could have fronted the money as they are going to get every penny and more back in our subscriptions.

my worry is that this could mean the end of the small isp Zen are noted as being exceptionally good whereas BT,virgin et al are not.

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Boffin

Public Service

I don't have any problem with the BBC investing money in this sort of service. I have no idea who it was, but someone on the BBC a few months ago sugested a (to my mind) rather brilliant definition of Public Service Broadcasting. He suggested the BBC should only be involved in things that would otherwise either not happen or take longer to come to fruition were a large, publicly funded corporation not involved.

His examples of things that wouldn't count were Deadenders (there are dozens of identikit Soaps so why is the tax payer having to spend Millions a year on another?), Jonathon Ross (if the Beeb needed to pay X million to get his contract, presumably that is because there was competition. If there was competition, the public gained nothing by the BBC signing him because he would be on the telly anyway) and How do you solve a problem like Maria (the license fee should not be spent on 10 hour commercials for West End Productions).

Example of things that would fall into this category would be proper science documentaries, regional news, educational programming, local radio etc. Although it was never mentioned, I think iPlayer and a national content delivery system is EXACTLY the sort of thing the BBC should be doing and I have no problem with them investing large amounts of the license fee in it.

By all means, drop the generic shite available on any commercial station and invest the money in new technology and the sort of content you just can't get made commercially.

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Scrap iPlayer. Improve Freeview +

Title says it all.

Many Reg Readers have probably heard of Freeview Playback, now rebranded Freeview+, but the general public hasn't. I keep seeing adverts for Sky+ with celebrities praising all the great features like series link. Guess what? I've already got all of that without paying sky or virgin. Only problem is that the broadcasters don't always send accurate info.

Why use all that network bandwidth to deliver a lower quality version of something that was broadcast within the last few days? If people can afford a £600 tele, a £300 PC and £120 licence fee then they can afford a £180 for a PVR.

So Aunty, scrap the iPlayer and spend the dosh on improving the Freeview+ datafeeds and advertising it. Oh, and hurry up with the "digital switchover" too. Even my grandmother has a digibox already.

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@Yes another example of Auntie Beeb violating it's operating contract

"Ofcom is seeking public comment on the Beeb straying dangerously over the cliff from public service to commercial operating entity."

1. BBC license fee should be scrapped.

2. It should keep it's public service duty.

3. It should be funded by a levy on broadcasters who don't have that duty, Sky for example, should hand over half of it's subscription to the BBC to fund it's share of it's public service duty.

4. Oh and Ofcoms 126 annual million budget is too much, 120 of it should go to the BBC too.

Fair? IMHO, BBC are extremely popular right now, good programs, successful content delivery, iPlayer, Freeview, Freesat... Murdoch's lot are trying to stir up trouble, but that's because Sky is failing (largely their own incompetence).

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Paris Hilton

Bandwidth limit = BT

@Haku

Of course you will be charged for bandwidth if it is for data travelling from the ISP to you via BT's ATM network, as that's what they get charged through the nose for.

If the streaming box were in your local exchange with its own backhaul and routing on the customer side then the bandwidth cost would be entirely contained within each exchange and hence negligible. But it would require a lot of local content delivery systems which would have to be funded somehow.

No such thing as a free lunch.

Paris, she's been responsible for a lot of bandwidth usage.

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Higher resources?

I would like a lower quality option, similar to youtube standard, so old computers and lower bandwidth connections are usable

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Paris Hilton

Small ISPs FTW!

Anomalous Coward....

>....great customer and network service so long as you don't actually want

>the throughput you're supposedly paying for.

Maybe you should try a decent smaller ISP before spouting garbage. As an ex. Tiscali sufferer now with the MUCH smaller ICUK I've seen my speeds go from throttled 50Kb/s (yes "b" not even "B") in the evening, to filling an 8Mb pipe at any time of day or night. And a customer service department that tell you when there's problems, explain the causes and generally put things right.

The Beeb better sort this one out as the small guys are worth their weight in gold against the corporate ISPs who's customers are simply a collection of 1's and 0's on a balance sheet.

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Happy

@Frederick Karno

Frederick Karno said:

"my worry is that this could mean the end of the small isp Zen are noted as being exceptionally good whereas BT,virgin et al are not."

You're right. The way BT, Virgin et al are going Zen will be a big ISP soon!

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Stop

@ Gareth Jones

To be fair, there's nothing stopping smaller ISP's running their own proxy that ignores all address' with exception to iPlayer address(s). This way they can cache the content (do a poll every 10 minutes or whatever).

The question is, will it finally look good on my Wii on my 42"? :) Or should I stop being lazy and just Sky+ everything?

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Solution

PVR, and Broadcast.

Bottleneck of Interwebs bypassed.

Several Gbps per user and no cap. Any number of terminals.

What do you mean we've had that since 1936 for video?

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Flame

Chickens coming home to roost

The race for the lowest price -- or even 'free' -- broadband with speed 'up to' 8Mb (when really 1.5Mb) and downloads 'unlimited' (except for limitations) means there is a huge gap between customer expectations and reality of what these ISPs can provide.

Now that we're getting IPTV services, of which the BBC is only one -- albeit the most popular -- the ISPs are going to have to invest in their networks or stop exaggerating the quality and performance of their service in their marketing.

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Dead Vulture

A bit sad ain't it?

Watching Cory Enders repeats on your 'puter? What will they be showing on TV if the repeats are on the net? I wonder why we need iPlayer at all, I certainly cant find the time for it on TV let alone on my laptop. So who wants this?

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IT Angle

Ha Ha Ha (to F. Karno)

Dear Fred, you truly are funny.

It looks like you are one of those guys who still don't get the subtle difference between access network and backbone network.

In that very case, by allowing more bandwith on the access side, while backbone problems are not solved, FTTH would just worsen the situation...

Everybody wants its car pimped with the 22" golden rims, but nobody cares if the engine can make it turn...

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Virgin got it right

VM actually got things right with the i-player they upload the content into the cable-TV on-demand infrastructure.

This means that we can watch catch-up TV programs on the TV (amazing concept)

and use the same interface for catch-up TV from non BBC channels as well.

Even better I can grab the laptop and use the broadband while my kids are watching the i-Player programs.

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New Flash/Ubuntu

If you are suggesting what I think you are suggesting, then yes, Flash 10 [beta] works OK in Hardy Heron Ubuntu, but it sometimes has trouble with video stuff/firefox - causing the FF session to die on it's arse without warning.

Given that my old intel 845 Centrino based lappy can barely play Youtube vids without stuttering, I don't hold much hope for HD iPlayer working on my machine, arf.

Steven R

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Re: BBC Local Radio

Unfortunately "local" in this case refers to network links rather than physical location.

If your ISP is done through BT's wholesale service, then all of your data goes through their main network centres. In theory this means that if the show is "hosted" 10 feet away, the data is quite likely to travel a good few hundred miles to get to it.

This is something that customers on Be, Sky (I think), and other "LLU" ISPs are not going to suffer from in the same way - you have to deal with their network instead of BTs.

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Boffin

where are the multicast faithful

where are the multicast faithful when you need them most? If it's bandwidth from BBC to ISP that's the challenge, surely multicast can handle something simple that (it's just routers and cables, it can't be that complicated ;))? Multicast is useless in the bit from ISP to end user, but that's another story, one which Mr Orlowski promised to write about much earlier in the year, but I'm still waiting patiently here...

Anybody with a clue able to demolish the BBC's claim that they *need* to do this because of the change from today's codecs to H.264 codecs? Or is it purely a matter of bigger files = higher costs?

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@Virgin got it right

My thoughts exactly Stephen. I'm sure there was talk months ago of the BBC working WITH ISPs to setup what amounted to a server (or cluster) strictly loaded with a copy of all the data held on the master iplayer servers - ISP takes each program's raw file once into server over their line, reroutes all iplayer media URLs to their own server.

Surely what they're paying in bandwidth on iplayer content now they'd recoup the initial investment very quickly and save from that point onwards.

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Heart

It's Bills Fault

Bloody Hell ! It's had a load of postings and not one blaming Microsoft or Apple. Come on fanbouys I'm disappointed

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Linux

@Steven Raith about YouTube

Unfortunatly, a lot of an older system's resource (CPU/Memory) is taken up by the large animated looping flash adverts that YouTube now carries (ironicaly from Crucial, or maybe that is by design!) My EeePC701 used to play YouTube well, even at Higher Quality, but now stutters along. The newer releases of FireFox also appears to place a load on a system with this type of advert.

If you can find or make an embedded link for the video so that the adverts do not show, slower PCs can still work quite well. Alternativly, try full screen (I know this sounds silly). Or download the videos, and watch them offline.

I am happily running Ubuntu Hardy Heron on my EeePC.

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@Ross Ryles

Thats exactly what I did. On BT 8Mb Unlimited (total misuse of the term since its massively throttled) BitTorrent 300Kb Corrie xvid from UKNova took a day to download.

BBC iPlayer (e.g. Dr Who which could only be streamed and not downloaded) kept pausing and quality was poor.

So I went the PVR route. For fun I built a Linux 500Gb one. But even my mum now has a cheap 160Gb PVR from Tesco. Now I can watch quality (bit rate not content!) and it does not count against my valuable (unlimited) BT bandwidth.

Quite simply the UK infrastructure and ISPs do not have/want to give the capacity for decent quality streaming media. Email and Internet shopping is all the Internet in the UK is good for.

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Coat

business advice to a Tiscali executive

Look, if you Tiscali guys could run an organisation sensibly, you'd not be both

1) consistently among the lowest rated ISPs at places like thinkbroadband

2) still looking for someone to buy your hopeless outfit, best part of a year after you "let it be known" that management wanted rid of you

Have a nice weekend

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Happy

@amanfrommars

It is me, or did Amanfrommars's comment seem to make almost sense?

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HD trial

Tried HD last night. The picture quality was MUCH better, however it would play for 4~5 minutes, then stop and download some more. Sufficiently bad that I reverted to normal def, which works fine. I have 20 meg from Virgin (which I really do get at times) so I doubt it's that at fault. Maybe there's something in Safari that can be tweaked?

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Two steps backwards

In the longer term - the next few years - the BBC should be moving to multicast delivery anyway, which is apparently what the iPlayer had been intended to use originally, except the older BT ADSL connections don't support that yet. (The new network being rolled out over the next four years, "21CN", does, along with the higher top speed of 24 Mbps.) This would be delivered, presumably, from the BBC's existing server farm connected to LINX, rather than going through some third party.

Moving to Level3's CDN rather than Akamai's seems like a step back as well, from Akamai's ubiquitous and fast (but expensive) network which offloads peering links, cutting ISP costs, to making more money for Level3 (by charging ISPs for peering). It's probably cheaper for the BBC, but will be less efficient and more expensive for ISPs - when the move to multicast will be the opposite.

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@Stephen Booth

Thirded. I use VM's cable service and that along with the V+ box is excellent, and defintely the best way of handling iPlayer.

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Local caches

Don't some ISPs already do this for frequently accessed content?

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Unhappy

iPlayer = iCrasher

When I try to use the Beeb's current iPlayer it causes my BT Home Hub to reset, so I lose my internet connection for a few minutes. Looking at forum threads on the web, this is a problem that's been known about for many months but not addressed by BT or the BBC. I can only imagine the HD version will make this problem worse.

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Anonymous Coward

It's the way UK BB works!

The cost that the ISP is paying to L3 is far less than they will be needing to pay to BT for transit over BT Centrals.

The problem is that most ISPs are seriously underpriced. Last time I did the figures, it cost about £1 a gig to get data from the end user, over the BT IPStream network, to you as the ISP.

Then there's obviously the onward transit costs which, however, are a lot smaller!

The best solution would be to allow ISPs to hold their own iPlayer servers which would then mean they at least don't have to pay the central charges to BT.

Even better, for the LLU guys, would be that they could probably install a couple of rack-mount servers in their exchange space that they rent in every unbundled exchange in the country serving up iPlayer data to the masses.

This way they don't have to use their national network to unicast thousands of episodes of Craptenders to the masses. The data would already be at the exchange, and the few hundred people on that exhange all watching the same thing at the same time wouldn't hammer the centrals.

BT need to invest in some sort of system to allow ISPs on IPStream to do this as well - did anyone notice what happened to the BT Centrals on all the major UK ISPs over the last few weeks while the olympics have been on? They ground to a halt! If one sporting event can do that then it's a good indicator that we really need to invest in some capacity.

Sadly, even 21CN isn't going to completely solve our current problems - let alone those we're going to be having a few years down the line when 21CN comes online........

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Peering..

Don't most ISPs already peer directly with the BBC? It would be stupid for that traffic to go out to level3 and back, instead of directly across the peering links...

Aside from that, transit costs are relatively cheap compared to adsl backhaul from BT, that's where the costs are for ISPs except the large players who can afford their own backhaul.

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Anonymous Coward

No no, no no no no, there's no limits.

It was bad when Too Unlimited did it, and it's bad when the ISP's do it.

(For de yoots: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzyFmilkd80)

Which is, again, the problem.

If the ISP's had sold accounts with download charges then this would result in more revenue. Instead they have a model where they sell something that they want no-one to use.

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@Outcast

Re: H264 Flash on Linux - yes, the latest Flash 9 player on 'nix has this high-def codec support, same as the latest Flash 9 players on other platforms.

Flash 10 (on labs.adobe.com right now) of course has it too.

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Paris Hilton

@amanfromMars

Your posts are always an interesting read - and often cut straight to the heart of the matter - but I didn't have to use a decoder ring this time. Is everything OK?

Paris, because you don't need to show her a ring to get the benefits...

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Boffin

Ah, the multicast faithful are finally here to save us!

"The new network being rolled out over the next four years, "21CN", does support multicast, along with the higher top speed of 24 Mbps"

Seen any *evidence* of multicast support, or just loose talk from BTwholesale PR presentations? Afaict, multicast in the present context only helps the bit between BBC content and ISP. The BBC content in this picture doesn't even live at the BBC except briefly when first shipped out to the content delivery network's servers (Akamai today or Level 3 tomorrow). Afterwards, users access those CDN servers, not the BBC servers. So no big role for multicast in saving BBC bandwidth there; maybe a little one if they use multicast between BBC and multiple Akamai content servers?

Then there's the bit between the content servers and the end user. Today, the bottleneck (the most expensive bit) in that journey is BTwholesale's ridiculously overpriced "Centrals". Multicast doesn't help here because of the logical layout of the BTw network, and its mixed IP/PPPoA nature - by the time the traffic leaves BTw it's effectively already replicated into lots of single streams; even if they look like multicast streams, they're not actually saving bandwidth.

In the much overhyped BT 21CN, the overpriced Centrals aren't there as such, instead the ridiculously expensive bit is bandwidth in the dozen or so regional "points of presence" where non-LLU ISPs (ie most of the quality ones) can choose to connect to their customers in that region.

Even though 21CN is touted as an all-IP network, it's hard to see where multicast might sensibly fit in and make a worthwhile saving in bandwidth (unless you've seen details of how it's done?).

"This would be delivered, presumably, from the BBC's existing server farm connected to LINX, rather than going through some third party."

Maybe, but that's not the way it works today; as per above, the server farms in this picture currently aren't BBC server farms, they're Akamai server farms (which the BBC pay for).

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Still don't see the point of iPlayer

PVR, VHS, DVD recorders are cheap and do a better job.

Save the Internet bandwidth for better things.

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Linux

@ S. Pam

We Linux fanbois are often accused of of being ranty - but regarding iPlayer all we asked for was platform neutrality, no favours, just choice. BBC preferred working exclusively with the market dominant player.

Now BBC appears to be stiffing small ISPs (ones we can choose to use or not) in favour of larger market dominating ISPs.

Does anyone know what this has got to do with BBC's public service remit?

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PH

iPlayer... an interface abomination

Why oh why oh why oh why oh why did Beeb web underlings not revolt when the tossers in charge of iPlayer announced in the bar:

"Hey, y'know that excellent web/radio interface thingy we've got, you know the thing that pops up in the one compact window with the list of all the programmes that you can see right in front of you in the player, the one that lists shows by station or by genre, yeah? Yeah? Well, we've been having a think in the strategy meetings, kicked around a few ideas, and we've concluded it's just not black and glossy enough.

We want a new player that oozes sex - glossy like an Apple icon, sexy like a First Direct homepage, like a Prada thong carelessly discarded on a Christmas Eve, yeah?

And that easy-to-use interface - guys, let's ditch that while we're at it. What are you like?! What's this - public service or something?! Guys, up-size that click path - say, five-fold. Get the punters jogging round the site - do them some good. Put them through, oh I don't know, say, though some long rambling Listen Again schedule, one day per view, or a programme A to Z, maybe - that's what we're thinking.

What? Add an audio stream search? Ha - yeah, good one! No, no no, absolutely not - route all those via the main search and then whatever you do don't send directly to the feed they're trying to listen to.

What's that? What's the real reason behind this interface redesign? Ahem, well we can't say at this stage but, well... lots of great things will come of it: at least now it'll now be a little harder to spot that BBC7 really just endlessly recycles the same handful of tired old shows. Eh?"

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bad bbc

if you do a traceroute to bbc most likely you dont go via level3. bbc host their own servers or atleast host them with someone your isp can peer with. this is how isps work, they make deals with other companies and set up links. they usually also have a level3 connection as backup/networks they dont peer with.

level3 are a big transit company, they charge smaller companies to connect to them.

level3 will probably be hosting the iplayer server for very cheap or maybe even free, because they will get money from isps.

it is kind of crap that the BBC has done this, level 3 is flakey at best and while saves the BBC a bit of money it is much more expensive for all isps, worse for everyone other than the BBC. assuming complaints dont matter.

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