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Akamai/Qualcomm Demo Goes over the Edge at CES

On the eve of this week's International CES in Las Vegas, Qualcomm issued this news release highlighting an interesting demonstration at their booth (#8252 in the Las Vegas Convention Center's central hall), of which Akamai is a part. As a proof of concept, we've worked with Qualcomm's Atheros subsidiary to show how Akamai Intelligent Software can run on an Atheros IPQ smart gateway to make consumer experiences markedly faster and more reliable in the home. 

The last estimates from the NPD Group suggest that there's an average of 5.7 Internet-connected devices in every home. Thanks to the glut of these connected devices being used to watch video, access dynamic websites, download software and play games online - particularly during prime times - the strain on household Internet connectivity is leading to inconsistent and even frustrating experiences for consumers. In fact, it's fairly common to find devices requesting more bandwidth than is available over the last mile. 

Our demonstration at CES with Qualcomm shows how Akamai's Intelligent Software can run on the Atheros smart gateway to help optimize delivery and prepositioning of content, thereby improving the efficiency of existing last-mile resources as well as the use of resources from the gateway to connected devices in the home. In a real-world use case, partnerships like this could allow service providers to improve quality of service and enable family members to enjoy far better all-around Internet experiences.

The demo also offers a glimpse into the future of the Akamai platform as we explore ways to move beyond the edge and onto devices of many types; not only gateways, but game consoles, set-top-boxes, Blu-ray players, connected TVs and more. It's this type of evolution that we feel can help address the existing issues of bandwidth content and also pave the way to help deliver the massive amounts of video and other content at scale, including 4K, that is expected to traverse the Internet over the coming years. 

Also, I would like to re-iterate that this proof-of-concept is designed to show the potential benefits that can be realized by placing Akamai's Intelligent Software onto in-home technology such as the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ smart gateway. We're not announcing business models or any information on availability at this time.

If you're interested in checking out the demo or want to set up some time to meet with Akamai at CES this week, please feel free to email kalexand@akamai.com.

Kris Alexander is Chief Strategist, Connected Devices & Gaming, at Akamai.

The Hyperconnected Holidays

Once again, we're full swing into the holidays and already beyond the biggest shopping days of the year. Like last year, we should ask ourselves what this means in terms of so many more connected devices coming online that were given as gifts during the holiday season. When these devices are removed from their packaging and connected, everyone involved in the ecosystem needs to be prepared to support the consumer.

In the spirit of the holidays and good fun, I present "The Twelve Days of Hyperconnectivity." I'll just ask that you allow a little leeway to make it work!

The first day of hyper connectivity gave to me, a connected device under the tree
The second day of hyper connectivity gave to me, a fully charged battery
The third day of hyper connectivity gave to me, Wi-fi and 4G
The fourth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, network services connecting
The fifth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, software patches loading
The sixth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, digital goods to shop for
The seventh day of hyper connectivity gave to me, gift codes to redeem
The eighth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, logins and passcodes
The ninth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, lots of apps downloading
The tenth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, lots of music and video streaming
The eleventh day of hyper connectivity gave to me, video games playing
The twelfth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, video chats running

In all seriousness, we are in a world where everyone from the connected device manufacturers and media, gaming and app businesses, to retailers, wireless carriers and broadband operators all need to be preparing. When someone first opens their connected holiday gift, they are going to want to use it, which means connecting, finding the content they want, obtaining the content and using the content. The quality of this consumer experience directly affects all the businesses involved. If part of the experience is poor, the consumer doesn't necessarily know who to contact to solve an issue, meaning anyone in the chain could get support inquiries. And if consumers can't solve issues they run into, then products are returned and exchanged.

Part 2: Fat Client Game Streaming or Cloud Gaming

Last week, I touched on Cloud Gaming and one approach, Thin Client Game Streaming. Today, I'd like to delve into Fat Client Game Streaming.

Fat Client Game Streaming is another popular method of game streaming that overcomes the challenges of reducing the time to play. Businesses like The Happy Cloud, Spoon, and BitRaider have been early implementers of this approach. This method takes an existing game and essentially creates a new version of the client that can be progressively delivered and installed. When you start to play a game, you don't need every library and component, only a small subset. Much of the software is typically not needed until you make decisions in the game that require additional libraries and components. This approach essentially creates a probability table of what component and libraries you need to start, and a tree of next likely resources. A new shell is created for the software to enable the game to start running with a subset of resources which are loaded based on the probability table.
This allows the gamer to start playing in just a few minutes.The probability table determines the typical starting point in the game for players, and downloads the rest of the library components in the background while the player begins play.

The advantage to this model is that start up times are typically just a few minutes to begin play. After a player authenticates and selects a game, they do not need to wait to download and install the entire game.

Another advantage to this model is that it still allows for offline game play after the initial install is complete while playing. The thin client model does not allow offline gameplay, since a server in the cloud is doing the computations and rendering.

The other major advantage to this model is it does not require the developer to create a separate version of the game. This method involves taking existing gaming code and running it through a set of tools to create the new package that can be streamed. This process can take the course of a few hours to a hundred hours per game.  

The Future of Cloud Gaming Is...Still Cloudy

One of the most popular topics I have been encountering in the online game industry, and among connected device businesses, is the concept of cloud gaming or streaming games to consoles, PCs, smart phones, tablets and smart TVs. I'm also often asked how I define cloud gaming, and whether a fat client or thin client approach is better. Cloud gaming is a very broad term being used to define multiple use cases. At a high level, most people define cloud gaming as running some portion of an online game in the cloud.

Delivering games to users on the plethora of devices on the market today has its challenges, including the fact that users often have to wait an unreasonable time to start playing a game. Game software typically contains libraries and components that need to be downloaded and installed before a user can start playing. So if a person wants to try a new game, they may still need to wait an hour or more to download and install it, before they can play. This is very different from the user experience with online movies or TV shows, where users can quickly and easily watch clips to determine if they want to watch, rent, or purchase a video. Videos can also be transcoded fairly easily for viewing on many different connected device environments. This process is not as easy with game software, since porting code is much more involved and costly, and may not even port to certain devices due to processing, GPU or memory constraints.  

Offering games available across multiple devices also requires creating different versions of a game for various devices. Today, consumers can buy a song or movie and play it across multiple devices, and they want to do the same thing with their games.

Thin Client Game Streaming or Cloud Gaming?
Using a thin client is one popular approach that helps overcome the challenges of "time-to-play" and game porting. Businesses like OnLive, GaiKai (recently acquired by Sony) and Big Fish have been early implementers.  Thin client leverages a light-weight installable client to act as a interface for the gamer, and graphics are pre-rendered on servers in the network and transformed into a video stream to the end device. The thin client sends user information back to the game servers in the cloud, which are rendering the game environment.

Ready, Set, Play at Games on the Edge!

The online gaming industry has faced enormous change over the last few years - from digital distribution to internet-connected consoles to more mobile access of casual and social games.

There are 4 key trends creating change in the gaming industry and related eco-systems. First, digital distribution of games is going mainstream, and will likely become the only means of distributing games with the next generation consoles. Second, games are the most popular type of social app for people to interact with each other, which means almost every game has to support online gameplay and communities. Third, games have created one of the largest economies of virtual goods and microtransactions, with players buying, selling, and trading virtual property and paying for virtual property. And lastly, and this is an emerging trend, consumers want the right to play a game across multiple devices once they have paid.

Games on the Edge is a site featuring gaming-related content from leading global game publishers showcasing online delivery of game demos, game site content and game trailers leveraging Akamai's Intelligent Platform. These companies are on the cutting-edge of many of these industry trends. Visit the site to learn more about their games and vision. Hear game-related announcements and industry commentary from gPotato and Aeria Games on the Industry Voices section. Play games ranging from MMOs to Action to Adventure to Fighting to Real Time Strategy to Casual from Aeria Games, gPotato, Trion Worlds, mGame USA, OG Planet and Moviestarplanet.

The gaming industry is on the cutting edge for leveraging the latest technologies and business models, so it proves a great showcase for how these companies benefit from the various solutions within Akamai's Intelligent Platform across delivery, security, downloads and more. We invite you to visit www.gamesontheedge.com, play some games, and contact us if you have questions or comments.

Kris Alexander is Chief Strategist, Connected Devices and Gaming, at Akamai.

Another Step in The Hyperconnected Post-PC Era

I have been on my flight out to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference as I write this, and have been thinking about how greatly our lives have been changed by hyperconnectivity. Do you feel like your lives have been impacted in this new era of devices? In which ways? Share your stories with us. I have been following Apple's product announcements today over my non-PC device via wifi on the airplane.  Apple kicked off mentioning that it sold 172M post PC devices last year, which now make up 76% of Apple's revenue. 

There is already chatter about the impact the next generation of connected devices will have.  Support for 4G/LTE promises to give users a better experience, enable new apps and experiences, and provide new revenue for the operators... However, it has also introduced the question of more congestion on already strained network resources.  More functionality and higher resolutions are also being supported on connected living devices ranging from the media boxes like the Apple TV to Smart TVs to game consoles, which introduces similar challenges in enabling experiences in the office, local metro, or home due to increased network contention. 

Every user who starts up an app or browser is fighting with every other user's demand, and most users are multi-tasking with multiple apps and browsers.  While we at Akamai have been working on technologies to address these and other challenges, the pace of innovation across industries and Eco systems is likely to continue to create a more rapid pace of challenges. How are you addressing these challenges where you work? Share your innovation stories.

Sent from my mobile device, on wifi, on an airplane... Please excuse typos

Kris Alexander is Akamai's Chief Strategist for Connected Devices and Gaming
The sun has set on another CES show filled with new gadgets, celebrity appearances, endless cab lines, partially-functional voice and data services, and back-to-back meetings. After meeting with many connected device companies, content owners, press and analysts, a few themes seemed to stand out.

The first big theme is that hyperconnectivity has become completely pervasive. Every imaginable device can be connected to the Internet to provide additional services. Phones, tablets, TVs and game consoles have typically been the big talk, with innovation focused around thinner, lighter weight devices, faster processing and memory, and greater storage on the device. However, the pervasiveness of this trend toward Internet-connected devices emerged in Las Vegas. In particular, it's interesting that many businesses in the automotive industry made major announcements at CES instead of the North American International Auto Show, which was taking place at the same time. It was also interesting to see all the growth in connected devices across health, fitness, home automation and control, home security and more. A great example of innovation is a company called Nest, that has reinvented something as simple as a thermostat to become a smart device by leveraging learning capabilities with Internet-supported functionality to make better decisions about controlling temperature, providing real value and energy cost savings to consumers. However, more devices from different businesses and industries becoming connected has created a major challenge.

Las Vegas is a Zoo!

Twitter and the blogosphere are buzzing about CES 2012. As the sun set the night before the show officially started, there was already a lot to think about. The cab lines at the airport weren't nearly as long as in years past, cell coverage seems to be working still (it was non existent last year at this time) and kangaroo's are the latest press conference gimmick. Should be a fun week ahead!

A few themes emerged already as major consumer electronic companies held press conferences and set the stage for their 2012 digital strategies. Stay tuned for more insights from the show floor this week.

Broader Device Reach
Lots of new tablets and smartphones were unveiled yesterday including those from Lenovo, AT&T and Samsung. Sony said it will bring more than 200 connected devices to market in the next three years alone! Also, a great article in Venture Beat takes a look at the new digital strategy by one of Akamai's leading customers - Fox News - to address the growing landscape of Internet-connected devices.

"The starting point for all [these changes] is there are more devices, more connectivity," Fox New and Business' vice president of digital, Jeff Misenti, told Venture Beat. Fox is introducing a slew of new ways for its audience to interact with news anchors, articles, video content, live streaming, and even the front page of Fox News' website itself. The emphasis, however, is on the recently adopted term "TV Everywhere." A number of media outlets are taking to TV Everywhere as a way to deliver content to a number of different devices and to do that as seamlessly as possible. But syncing your customers' viewing experience across a variety of screens is a challenge. One of Fox's first major moves Fox on this front is a partnership with Akamai to create a cross-device authentication system that allows Fox customers to prove they have Fox News accounts. From there, they can access saved and new content on any authorized device.

It seems that this holiday season was a highly-connected holiday based on initial numbers coming in from multiple sources.  According to Flurry Analytics, about 6.8 million tablets and smartphones using Apple iOS or Google Android were activated on Christmas Day, which is more than double the 2.8 million devices activated last Christmas Day. In addition, about a quarter of a billion apps were downloaded on Christmas Day at Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market, up from 85 million last Christmas. Forrester Research estimated Apple sold another 8 million iPads in the United States this quarter and Amazon sold 5 million Kindle Fires. Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii have also sold millions of more units in the fourth quarter, with nearly 1 million Xbox 360 consoles being sold Black Friday week. These are just a few examples of the data points showing how much more connected we are becoming as a society, and reinforces the point that a great user experience goes beyond the initial sale to the content and apps the device will interface with.

Now that we are full swing into the holidays, and we have passed some of the big shopping days of the year.  What will this mean in terms of more connected devices coming online as gifts during the holiday season?  Many gifts being purchased include connected devices.  When these devices are opened up and connected, we typically see an increase in online activity because many of these devices need to get software updates and patches before they can be used.  

In addition, consumers are purchasing gift cards which can be redeemed through the devices for digital goods such as music, movies, games, books.  This type of shift is requiring many different businesses to further rethink their plans of how to support consumers each year, to ensure that new connected gift or digital goods offers a great experience.  Ensuring a good experience is important, since a poor experience can result in increased support calls and products returns.  It is also not as simple as it used to be. 
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