TV Application streaming with Cloud Browser

Introduction
Pay TV operators have to cope also with ever increasing requirements from application providers to run on pay TV operator managed devices. Set-Top Boxes (STB) are progressively becoming expensive, trying to meet such requirements. Operators can also run the applications only after a long and arduous certification process. Moreover, due to the different STB models and versions deployed on the market, not all Pay-TV customers can provide a consistent user experience with the latest advancements in the applications.

Application streaming moves traditional client-side native apps to a virtualized cloud server environment with complete transparency to the end user. Applications run on powerful cloud servers with seemingly unlimited Central Processing Unit (CPU), Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) and storage or memory resources from the client perspective, and are subsequently streamed to consumer devices. It brings enhanced user experience previously not possible on devices with limited resource or computing horsepower.

Cloud based application streaming significantly reduces the development effort and shortens the time-to-market. Using a cloud browser, developers can build applications with standard web tools such as JavaScript and HTML5. They develop them once and applications can be deployed anywhere.

The technology is currently under development by a dedicated Cloud Browser Task Force [1] at W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Web and TV Working Group. The article is based on a GSMA paper giving an overview about Cloud Browser based application streaming [4].

Cloud Browser Technology
The Cloud Browser solution enables the shift of the browser into the Cloud environment. Therefore, all data to be delivered to the end customer, such as UI applications are fed into the Cloud Browser instance. This instance performs media processing and application execution. Cloud Browser combines video, user interface, applications and services, captures it into a video and streams it to the user. The user receives the entire service as a video stream and nothing is being executed on their local device. The Cloud Browser instance also performs media adaptation and DRM bridging by conversion and re-encryption of the media to the streaming format and content protection systems supported by the devices.

Cloud Browser Platform [2]

In this approach the middleware is decoupled from the hardware due to the shift of the browser into the Cloud which resolves hardware dependencies and makes the system highly adaptive and flexible, providing a variety of the application environments. This approach also solves the STB capability limitations and thus enables the operator to deliver new rich multimedia services to legacy STBs and in general to any device owned by the end user.

The benefits of shifting most of the STB processing functionality to a virtualised Cloud environment with the Cloud Browser solution can be explained from two perspectives. First, from the operator’s perspective, device fragmentation issues can be solved, pursue a better manageability of the customer devices and simplification of the service and application delivery. Second, the consumption of content, services and applications through potentially less complex hardware at the end user’s domain is a good attraction for customers as it enables energy savings.

However, both the network load and degree of service composition complexity in the Cloud increase when moving to the Cloud Browser solution. Taking this into account, the Cloud Browser solution can be divided into two different approaches with respect to the UI and video delivery to the client.

Single stream approach 
In this approach only one media stream representing the whole user experience is provided to the end-device. The Cloud Browser depends on the capabilities of the infrastructure to alter or reshape the content to meet mandates such as a certain bandwidth, playback format or other constraints. Single stream approach enables markets which otherwise are not reachable for the Application Provider [1].

Single Stream Approach

Double stream approach
In the double stream approach the Cloud Browser renders the UI with applications only, while the media is delivered from another server. Thus, the UI/Apps and media streams are delivered separately to the client, which then has to combine both of these streams and present them to the end user in a unified form. The double stream approach of a Cloud Browser implements a separate delivery of the video stream and the UI stream to the client STB. This approach therefore enables reuse of the legacy video delivery infrastructures, e.g. multicast or cable networks [1].

Double stream approach

Use Cases
Cloud browser is the suitable solution to quickly deploy browser-based applications and offer to large footprint. Applications can run on nearly every set-top box or TV set independent of its hardware resources or middleware. A cost-intensive native implementation for different device set-ups is not necessary. Cloud browser technology can cover many different use cases such as:

· Video format adaptation in the cloud

· DRM bridging (adapting the application security to the device capability)

· Streaming of casual games to TV sets and set-top boxes

· Interactive TV adverts

· TV app stores on managed devices

· Virtual reality streaming

Business Benefits

There are several benefits of Cloud Browser for pay TV operators:

1. Enriched consumer experience. With Cloud Browser technology pay TV operators have full control of service execution environment and can provide a superior end-user experience with uniform UI providing constant and performant UI/application experience on all devices.

2. Removing technical constraints. With Cloud Browser operators can develop device independent user interfaces and applications because any device and platform constraints are eliminated. This significantly speeds up the overall process of UI/UX development.

3. Browser isolation enables high security. Running the browser and applications in the cloud is the only solution to date to provide a high security standard on TV centric devices. The device of the customer is only rendering safe video or image content [3].

4. Open up new business opportunities. Operators can concentrate on their customers to develop new, compelling services and user interfaces without any hardware restrictions. Fast and dynamic adaptations and updates of UI and applications become feasible, which leads to faster time-to-market and helps to keep up with the innovation pace of the web industry.

5. Significant CAPEX/OPEX savings. The deployment of Cloud Browser technology leads to lower costs for development, deployment, maintenance and troubleshooting with respect to services, UIs and hardware.

Deployments
Cloud Browser technology has been deployed in US, Europe and Korea on more than 20M devices from multiple pay TV operators. Many pay TV operators have reported significant Opex/Capex savings by deploying cloud browser applications. The biggest reduction is caused by extending the life span of STBs and by faster development and deployment of applications. The launch of cloud browser technology has resulted not only in cost savings but also in additional opportunities to increase the revenue. It enables the fast launch of new services that has not been feasible on legacy STBs, for example 360º video, ad insertion and overlay and gaming. Some operators also identified service improvements to upsell premium content subscriptions through apps. Following table shows an overview about some of these services deployments.

List of main Cloud Browser deployments

Conclusion
Application streaming over Cloud Browser enables a shared business model that benefits both the online application provider and the pay TV operator. The application provider can expand the distribution of their services to managed STBs while the pay TV operator can satisfy its consumers with a richer service offering.
Cloud Browser application streaming has a strong value proposition to pay TV operators. It enriches the user experience by enabling the execution of high performance services. This results in increased unique visitors and page views and contributes to the increase in revenue generated from paid users. Cloud development of applications leads to a significant reduction of time-to-market and saves costs. Pay TV operators can flexibly react to market conditions and customer demands with minimal expenses. 
Cloud Browser application streaming enables excellent content experiences independent of network functions or device hardware. It provides the full web feature set to any device and supports premium content delivery.

[1] https://www.w3.org/TR/cloud-browser-arch/

[2] https://www.gsma.com/newsroom/wp-content/uploads/WWG.13-v1.0.pdf

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomgillis/2016/02/02/the-future-of-security-isolation/#b030a429f5f8

[4] GSMA: IG.07 Cloud Browser Technology

written by Peter Pogrzeba, Telekom Innovation Laboratories, Experiences Team