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Welcome to the Future

This has been an amazing year in online video streaming at Akamai. Between the 96 live games of the Sochi Olympics, the 64 games of the World Cup, and a variety of other high profile live streaming events (remember the Super Bowl?), the Akamai support teams have certainly earned a summer vacation. Of course, since Akamai supports a lot more web activity above and beyond these high profile events every day, some of the team members are going to have to stick around, because the Internet does not take vacations.
In the coming days, we plan to release an assortment of statistics and trends that we observed around the tournament. For now, I'd like to share a chart that puts the size and growth of online media in a common frame of reference. In the chart below, I have identified the relative amount of traffic that was delivered for four major events with global appeal. We baselined the traffic for the 2010 FIFA World Cup at "1". As you can see, we delivered almost 8 times the traffic for the same event four years later.

Kurt Blog WC 1.png
This growth is being driven by a global audience that is adopting mobile devices in ever increasing numbers. IDC indicates that from 2010 to 2014, smartphone shipments grew 4 times (302.6M to 1.2B) and tablet shipments grew 15 times (18M to 271M). These devices are being used by audiences to watch their content wherever they are. Using data from Akamai's State of The Internet Report, we can see that from Q1'10 to Q1'14, the total number of unique device addresses (IP addresses) accessing the Akamai network grew 1.6 times (488M to 795M) while average global connection speeds grew 2.3 times (1.7 Mbps to 3.9 Mbps) and Peak Connection Speeds grew by 3.3 times (6.4 Mbps to 21.2 Mbps).

Kurt Blog WC 2.png
From this, we can see that the growth in World Cup Traffic is consistent, and even exaggerates the growth trends due to the global interest in the event.

So how is all of the online viewing changing our world? For some perspective, I'd like to share a few World Cup-related stories that I have experienced over the course of the tournament.

A friend told me about his experience flying home after a busy day of meetings, trying to relax at 30,000 feet. Suddenly, there were loud shouts - generally not a good thing on a plane. Looking up, he saw people smiling and sharing the screens of their mobile devices. They were watching the World Cup on the plane, over Wi-Fi, and their team had just won the game.

Another friend was on his way to the airport and the taxi driver expressed a desire to watch the World Cup on his mobile device (hopefully not while driving), but was not sure how to do it. While they drove, my friend loaded the appropriate app for him, and once they got to their destination, the driver checked out the app. He was thrilled not only with being able to get the games live, but also with the access he had to all kinds of extra on-demand content. My friend had done his good deed for the day, and the driver could not wait to tell all of his friends about the treasure trove of World Cup content a tap or two away.

My own personal experience was a bit mixed. My family was traveling home from a weekend away, and we were about three hours from home when the USA vs Portugal match began. I have not ever been much of a soccer fan, but with Akamai's involvement in the online delivery, I was curious how the streaming quality would be while we were driving. I will admit that there was also a bit of "bandwagoning" going on in my head. I asked my wife, Patti, if she would drive so I could watch the game. She gave me a strange look, said "a soccer game?" but then agreed. I pulled over, we switched seats, and I launched the Watch ESPN app on my iPad. I was not sure what to expect because we rarely stream video over mobile networks while in the car due to the expense of mobile data. In addition, we were in upstate New Hampshire, mountainous and rural. But this seemed like a worthwhile opportunity to make the attempt, and the mobile network along the highway, in spite of having some well-known dead spots, is otherwise fairly decent.

Without any drama, the stream started and I was watching the game. And the quality was good. Better than I expected at highway speeds in the mountains of New Hampshire. Yes, it rebuffered a handful of times, and I could tell when the bitrate dropped and increased as Adaptive Bitrate Streaming technology did its job, but the game was very watchable. With my headphones on, I quickly forgot about the streaming quality as I watched the incredible things these world-class athletes were able to do with a ball. In industry parlance, I was "engaged" with the content on the screen. And that is when I ran into marital jeopardy.

As Clint Dempsey kicked in the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute, taking the US ahead 2-1, I forgot where I was. I shouted, threw my hands up, and hit the headliner of the car. Items clipped to the visor went flying. The next few seconds went like this:

Kids: AAAH!
Patti: WHAT'S WRONG?
Me (suddenly realizing where I was): ummm...we scored...?
Patti: I meant what's wrong WITH YOU? You could have caused an accident!

My wife was right, of course, and I realized that this new experience comes with some new rules. While I have listened to many games on the radio in the car, those experiences never really transported me or engaged me the way this did. Like the people on the plane who shouted out, I had not factored in the effects of my "living room" behavior in response to engaging content in a mobile environment. I had not yet enabled that particular behavioral filter.

I can assure you, with my wife's assistance, that filter is now installed. The following day, in the Akamai offices, I conveyed this experience to a colleague, Jason Stonehouse, who said something that resonated with me.

"We are now living in the future."

For myself, I see this is true. Many of the things I experience today were elements of the content I watched or read growing up. The Jetsons, Dick Tracy's communicating watch, and lots of science fiction from visionaries like Asimov and Clarke all set my expectations. Now, working at Akamai, where we are deeply engaged in making the future vision a reality in may ways, provides a powerful inside perspective on how this future continues to evolve. We now clearly live in a hyperconnected world.

I wonder how things will look when the next World Cup rolls around?

We are truly moving Faster Forward.

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