next-gen video slashes bandwidth costs

HEVC doesn't mean much to many of us now, but in future we'll be wondering how we managed without the newly ratified online video standard, officially known as H.265.

H.265/HEVC promises Super HD video quality - a video format that delivers a higher resolution image than HD, but at low bandwidth. Enterprise CIOs will be more interested in its other feature: it delivers the quality of online video you're used to now at half current bitrates, reducing the bandwidth demand on your networks.

The ability to reduce the size of video files, without reducing quality, is important because, when it comes to video we're in a stage of rapid growth - there's more reasons than ever to use it within enterprise infrastructure:

  • we video conference on phones, tablets and computers
  • we check our online training using the same tools
  • sometimes we watch TV online, or using IP-based television services such as iTunes or Netflix

As the quantity of video traffic increases it strains enterprise and consumer networks, driving service providers to expand the bandwidth they provide - at a cost. Cisco predicts video will account for 55 per cent of all consumer IP traffic in 2016.

speed data

Business makes increasing use of video. A survey across 140 enterprise technologists attending Interop 2012 found that 83% had deployed some form of video conferencing, while 60% had a combination of video assets (desktop, conferencing, videophones) in use across the company.

While habits on a per-country basis differ, streaming video (primarily YouTube use) tripled to account for 13% of bandwidth last year (Palo Alto Networks); this is narrowly beaten by the 14% of bandwidth used by P2P file sharing networks.  That's a lot of traffic for enterprises to pay for.

A Network Instruments survey found most enterprises have reserved just 10% of network capacity for video technologies - even though these already account for 29% of network bandwidth and are expected to reach 40% this year.

“The significant increase in the use of video and corresponding rise in bandwidth consumption will hit networks like a tidal wave,” said Stephen Brown, product marketing manager for Network Instruments in a press release.

“The rise in video has the potential to squeeze out other critical network traffic and degrade video quality due to the lack of network capacity. Without clear monitoring metrics and tools, it will be extremely difficult for IT to assess and ensure quality user experience.”

how can HEVC help the enterprise?

video conferencing

Take video conferencing. Ericsson Research recently demonstrated the world's first HEVC multi-party HD video conference session in which three clients captured HD video, compressed it with HEVC and shared it via the conference node server.

Once such solutions reach market, they should make video conferencing an even more regular part of everyday business. You'll get good quality experiences at half the bandwidth costs.

This also means road warriors should be enabled to participate in such conferences over mobile connections (such as LTE), with less or no lag and at better quality than before, and within data limits.

online training

The standard should also have a part to play in order to make online training more ubiquitous, enabling high quality video segments at lower bitrates. This should make it practical to offer such assets to people on mobile connections, for example, without impacting data limits.

There are three concerns: time, price and processors.

  • time: the new video standard isn't here yet, it has only recently been ratified. The big names are aboard: ATEME, Broadcom, Cyberlink, Ericsson, Fraunhofer HHI, Mitsubishi and NHK have already showcased implementations of HEVC. However, the need to add HEVC support to existing software - including Web browsers - means general consumer level deployments aren't expected for at least another five years.
  • price: The bigger challenge is price. Just like H.264 (the precursor to HEVC/H.265), some of the patent holders involved in the formation of the successor seem likely to want royalty payments from software makers. This doesn't affect your business, at least not directly, but does mean people making devices or software supporting the standard will be expected to pay for the privilege.
  • processor: The reduced bandwidth is great, but it requires a great processor to enable the technology to do its job. Qualcomm has managed to support HEVC using a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4; while other demonstrations have required an Intel Xeon chip. The processor is required because the standard demands the host machine transcodes the code into images in real-time. This is likely to create a temporary accessibility hurdle as enterprise users with older computer and mobile device systems upgrade to compatible equipment.

However, as the technology is deployed, CIOs can look forward to shifting more video across their existing networks without devouring all the available bandwidth, generating some significant cost savings, at least until the freed bandwidth gets used up.


Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.