2012 Summer Olympics Internet video streaming is in the Limelight

2012 Summer Olympics Internet video streaming is in the Limelight

Summary: The 2012 London Games requires the participation of multiple content delivery providers internationally in order to service intense demand for mobile and broadband video. Tempe, Arizona-based Limelight Networks is in the center of it.


The 2012 Summer Games are now underway and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are tuning in with their mobile and computing devices to watch live and recorded video streams of sporting events at London's various Olympic venues.

At the center of this incredible demand for viewing Olympics programming on mobile and desktop computing devices during this two week period is Tempe, AZ based Limelight Networks.

If the name sounds familiar, that's because the company was heavily involved in streaming Olympics programming during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijiing.

In 2008 Limelight was the sole video content delivery network provider for the Beijing Olympics -- it was joined by Akamai Technologies who provided the caching of static web material.

In 2008, over 70 million videos were watched over 800 million minutes of viewing, with an average of 27 minutes of viewing per video per session. There were 130,000 peak streams of Standard Definition 480i video per second with a total of 3.4 petabytes of video delivered.

All of this was done by Limelight in its 2 terabit network of globally replicated datacenters that were peer optical data connected to hundreds of ISPs around the world.

That may sound impressive -- and for the time, it was. But this is four years later, and there are now hundreds of millions more devices on the Internet than there were before, largely credited towards the rise of smartphones and tablets.

In 2010, for the Vancouver winter games, Limelight experienced a 600 percent increase mobile viewership over Beijing. If that doesn't boggle the mind, it should.

Because of the intense demand for mobile device video delivery and the different licensing rights to the content in different countries, multiple CDNs now need to be involved in the Olympics. Limelight is one of several that is involved with this process.

For the 2012 London Games, Limelight has been charged with Flash and HTTP delivery of video for several major European broadcasters and ISPs.

For North America, Limelight is specifically targeting mobile device delivery, whereas Google itself is taking on much of the North American demand for broadband video delivery.

Akamai, Limelight's direct competitor, is also doing quite a bit of heavy lifting for the 2012 Summer Games. Akamai is providing wide-scale support for major broadcasters around the world, which includes live and on-demand streaming, site acceleration, mobile performance services, security, and comprehensive media solutions.

As to what the exact demand for video at this Olympics will be is difficult to say. No event of this magnitude has ever had that many simultaneous streams. But if we take this year's UEFA EURO football championships as a benchmark, it could be massive.

Limelight has upgraded its network from 2 Terabits to approximately 7 terabits,  a more than three fold capacity increase since the 2008 Beiijing Games. At the 2012 UEFA EURO football matches, Limelight's network traffic peaked at more than 1 million simultaneous streams, sending 3.5 megabit 720p high-quality HD video to mobile and broadband viewers.

While the basic infrastructure to support the Olympics will be similar, there is the added complexity of different live venues being streamed simultaneously in addition to replays. Limelight told me in an interview that it will be difficult to determine just how many people are going to watch the games on their network, but it could very easily surpass the UEFA EURO event.

Are you watching Olympics events on your mobile devices in North America or in Europe? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Networking, Smartphones, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • The 2012 London Olympic Summer Games has shown the future of TV

    For the first time in my life, I have had complete viewer control of televised Olympic sporting events thanks to a mobile device vision started three years ago and which has finally come of age.

    That interactive TV vision has been made manifest for me by an iPad, an Apple TV and a large screen HDTV entertainment system. Let me explain.

    There are several iOS apps available that aid in reporting and watching the Olympics. My favorite app is called the NBC Olympics LIve Extra that, among many things it does, presents the viewer with multiple choices for watching live Olympic sporting events. It's like a dream smorgasbord (how's that for a culinary segue, Jason) of fascinating sporting viewing adventures.

    Then, after selecting the sporting event that I wish to view, I stream that event via AirPlay and my Apple TV onto my home HDTV viewing screen.

    This is the future of TV. Complete viewer control of only the programs that a consumer wishes to watch coupled to all the benefits of social interacting via the Internet.

    Some might think the above is a commercial for Apple. (In some ways, it is, admittedly). However, both Google and Microsoft will have or already have the hardware in place to provide a similar service. (Those ecosystems might not have the apps but they do have the hardware.) IMO, Apple will lead the way into the future of interactive TV with Google and Microsoft close behind.

    BTW, on a personal note, I happened to select a Women's Table Tennis live video feed. During that match, a Chinese athlete was battling a European opponent. Nothing special about the event except the European Olympian only had one hand. Her left arm had been amputated just below her elbow. She cradled the ping pong ball in the elbow joint at the start of her service point. Amazing and moving to see that athlete overcome a physical hardship and compete at that level. I wouldn't have been able to view that without a tablet from Apple and an App from NBC.

    BTW, Jason .. Do you know if Limelight Networks has had anything to do with streaming the video from the NBC Olympics Live Extra app?
    • Live Extra

      Limelight would not tell me specifically which broadcasters they doing mobile video streaming with in the US and broadband in Europe. However, if you read between the lines, it would suggest that they are likely the provider for NBC.
  • I've watched some....

    I watched some field hockey on my Droid this morning... but since I don't know anything about how field hockey is played I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but the streaming quality was very good.
    Hallowed are the Ori