Best Video CDN Services for Live Streaming (Update)
It should come as no surprise at this point that live streaming has become a crucial component for many businesses, whether they use it simply for marketing and events or whether it is a core feature of their product or service. Naturally, many of these businesses are keen on finding ways to make their streaming efforts more accessible, reliable, secure, and cost-effective. Video content delivery networks (CDNs) have been answering the call. CDN services provide companies with access to server networks that they likely can’t afford to build themselves.
These networks often come hand in hand with a range of other features, like digital rights management and customization options. So now companies find themselves faced with a new challenge: figuring out which of the multitude of video CDN services best suits their needs (and their budget). In this article, we’ll explore the best and most popular options on the market, as well as dive into CDN enabled video streaming platforms and why these might be at once the easiest, most flexible, and most cost-effective options.
Table of Contents
- What To Look for In a Video CDN
- Top Video CDNs for Live Streaming
- CDN vs. CDN Enabled Streaming Solution
- Finding a CDN: FAQ
- Why Choose Wowza?
What To Look for In a Video CDN Service
First, let’s break down key considerations for any business or individual looking to invest in a CDN provider. At the end of the day, there is no one size fits all approach. The right CDN service for you (and how much you’ll need to invest) will depend on your answers to some of the following questions.
Does the CDN Service Support Live Streaming?
This question is twofold. First, does the service actually offer live streaming delivery? Second (and equally as important), does the CDN service adequately support live streaming so you can easily implement and support your live events?
Start by looking at the technical documentation for a given CDN, as well as that of your streaming server/transcoding engine. Ideally, either the CDN or your streaming provider have documented how the two systems can work together. If that’s the case, then you are walking on well-trodden ground and unlikely to run into any issues.
You should also ascertain the cost and hours of operation of any live support the CDN offers. Live events are, as a rule, mission critical, and you should therefore prioritize timely access to technical support above almost any other factor.
Does the CDN Service Support Your Adaptive Bitrate Format?
First of all, if you’re not using adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming, then you really should be. ABR allows you to smoothly adapt the bitrate of your media to the available bandwidth on the viewer’s side. This maximizes streaming quality while minimizing the risk of buffering.
Of course, not all video CDNs that ostensibly support live streaming can handle all relevant ABR protocols. Some only handle HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). If you’re streaming MPEG-DASH to Smart TVs or Smooth Streaming to Xboxes, make sure your chosen CDN supports these requirements.
Where Are You Storing Your Content?
Are you currently storing all of your content on Google? Then it might make sense to go with Google Cloud CDN for simplicity’s sake. We might have said the same for Amazon too before their recent announcement that Amazon Azure would be discontinued. However, if your content is stored in a proprietary system or one that doesn’t offer its own CDN service, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Look for a flexible CDN option that integrates well with your existing systems.
Of course, it’s also worth asking yourself if your current storage options are sufficient. No, we don’t mean if they have enough space, we mean if they offer the right security and functionality for your needs. Below, we’ll get into more detail about content management systems and how, when paired with a CDN, they can offer increased security, management options, and advanced analytics.
What Geographical Coverage Do You Need?
While many CDN services boast global coverage, they aren’t all equal in that endeavor. How effective they are at distributing content across a wide area depends on their physical presence in those areas. Your ideal CDN setup would have an ingest point geographically close to your streaming server/transcoding engine (also sometimes called the origin server) and points of presence (PoPs) close to the locations of your viewers.
The more expansive a CDN’s network, the more likely it is to have an established presence both where your media originates and where your audience lives. Granted, larger CDNs are costlier to maintain, and those expenses are likely to be passed on to you. Carefully consider your target audience to right size your CDN choice to your needs instead of overpaying.
Video CDN Service Pricing
It’s time to address the elephant in the room. We all want the best for our streaming solution, but resources are limited. Unfortunately, not all CDN service providers publish their prices online, which can be frustrating. Most that do publish pricing, provide the cost per gigabyte (GB) of video transferred, which ranges roughly from $0.04 per GB to $.12 per GB. (Note: All quoted prices are US prices. Worldwide prices vary significantly.)
To put this in perspective, if you stream an hour of video at about 2.2 megabytes per second (Mbps), you’ll end up streaming about one GB in that hour. Now say you have 10k viewers for this hour-long event and are paying a higher-tier price ($.12/GB). Your CDN bill will come to about $1,200.
Delivery pricing should be the largest component of your total streaming costs – but check for internal data transfer charges, charges for HTTP and HTTPS requests, and similar add ons.
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Top Video CDN Services for Live Streaming
In compiling this list, we considered a variety of factors, including those addressed above. We looked at size, protocol support, adaptive bitrate capabilities, technical support, documentation, security, and, of course, cost. Here’s a quick overview of the CDNs that made the cut.
Fastly’s Video CDN can deliver HLS, Microsoft Smooth Streaming (MSS), HDS, and DASH and has excellent documentation for integration with a range of encoders, including our own Wowza Video. Fastly offers a distributed network of over 60 PoPs in 30 countries and offers multiple support plans, some of which include 24/7 phone, email, and Slack support.
Fastly and Wowza
You can access the Fastly CDN is the Wowza CDN for Wowza Video. Some plans include a fixed amount of CDN usage in their monthly fee, so additional charges are incurred only when the included usage has been consumed. You can read about the features offered through the Wowza CDN on Fastly here. Wowza has additional documentation here.
Fastly is also partnering with Wowza to deliver advanced stream analytics, including near real-time visibility into bandwidth consumption, the number of viewers, and regional metrics. Read more about this integration.
Akamai is one of the largest CDNs in operation with servers located in over 130 countries and extensive coverage in the United States alone, making it easy to access servers close to your ingest point. Akamai also offers 24/7 technical support by phone or email and can deliver HLS, HDS, or DASH streams.
Akamai and Wowza
Akamai can deliver a variety of protocols from Wowza Streaming Engine, as documented here.
Amazon CloudFront (or AWS CloudFront) is a full-service CDN with storage that delivers HLS, DASH, HDS, and MSS streams. This CDN has 216 PoPs in 42 countries, making is a reasonably expansive option. Amazon Cloudfront also offers multiple support plans for technical support balanced with your budget.
Amazon CloudFront and Wowza
Amazon CloudFront works with Wowza Streaming Engine hosting as documented here.
KeyCDN appears to delivery HLS only via its network of 34 PoPs in 23 countries. While their documentation is sparse, it should be sufficient to get you up and running. That said, the only support option on their site seems to be logging in and sending a support request. So what makes KeyCDN so appealing? This is a less expensive option than others on this list with a lower average cost per GB.
KeyCDN and Wowza
Key CDN specifically recognizes cross-functionality with Wowza in their documentation.
Formerly Limelight Networks, Edgio has over 130 PoPs in 70 countries, providing a good base for worldwide delivery. They also offer free, unrestricted 24/7 live customer support by phont or email. All that said, they don’t publish their pricing, so you’ll have to talk with their sales team to find out what this will cost you.
Edgio and Wowza
Wowza details how to connect to the Edgio (Limelight) CDN here. This connection technique is both less functional and more complicated than with most CDNs, so check this out first if you’re considering Edgio.
Cloudflare has PoPs in over 300 cities across 100 countries. Their hosting service comes equipped with numerous features, including encoding, HTML5 players, and mobile optimization. While this CDN does offer a free plan, the free plan does not support video hosting, so it would be ineffective for a live streaming solution.
Pricing is based on subscription as opposed to GB transferred, which can make it more economical for those with greater streaming needs. The latest Pro plan goes for $20 a month while a business plan is $200 a month per domain. Their highest tier plan, Enterprise, is customizable for those with complex needs.
CDN Service vs. CDN Enabled Streaming Solution
Are we splitting hairs when we talk about the difference between a CDN service and a CDN enabled streaming solution? Not really. CDNs are networks of servers distributed across a wide area to help facilitate more reliable and secure streaming to a greater (and/or farther reaching) audience. CDN enabled video streaming platforms are more comprehensive in what they provide, often offering everything from ingest through content management and beyond, CDN service included.
You might be tempted to say at this point that you already have a streaming platform in place. You just need to find a CDN to expand your reach. But it’s worth considering the added cost of cobbled together solutions as well as the risk of technical issues. Consider what a comprehensive platform that is already CDN enabled could do for you when it comes to ease, holistic technical support, and budget.
But maybe one of these other CDNs specifically appeals to you? You’ll noticed we talked about Wowza in conjunction with these other providers. You can access many CDNs, including many of those discussed above, through the Wowza CDN. CDN enabled video streaming platforms often therefore have more reach tightly packaged with one service.
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Finding a CDN Service: FAQ
Still not sure where to go from here? These frequently asked CDN questions pertain directly to finding and assessing the best CDN for your needs.
Which CDN Service Is Best for Video Streaming?
It’s worth noting that speed, size, and security only matter so much for your chosen CDN. Not every CDN is well equipped to handle every type of data or media. Look to CDNs with a proven track record in video streaming like those listed above.
Which CDN Service Is Best for Live Streaming?
The same can be said for this question with one additional note: latency. Live streaming demands low latency. Interactive streaming, in particular, may require a real-time experience, spending on the nature of the interactivity. Therefore, your first priority in choosing a CDN for your live streaming needs should be speed. Can the CDN work with ultra-low latency technologies like WebRTC? Is the CDN capable of adaptive bitrate streaming?
Which CDN Service Is the Most Secure?
There is no one video CDN that stands out above the rest where security is concerned. That said, some CDNs, like those listed above, provide more options, allowing you to tailor a security solution that best suits your needs. But what does it mean to need specific security features? That depends on the nature of your content. Are you streaming live or on-demand? How large is your audience? You may find that protecting against DDoS attacks on your hosted live stream is more important to you than Geo-blocking certain regions.
How Much Should I Pay for a CDN Service?
Let’s be honest, the truest answer is that something is worth what you’re willing to pay for it. In that way we could ask “how much is a CDN worth to you?” That said, look to the ROI you expect from a CDN. Why are you looking to access one and how will that benefit your bottom line? For example, if you earn revenue through viewership, a CDN can make it easier to serve a wider audience. It can also help you prevent unauthorized access to your streams.
How Can I Find Out the Regions a CDN Serves?
Most CDNs make their reach fairly apparent. Look to their websites or related documentation about edge server locations and other points of presence (PoPs). If you can’t find this information, contact their sales team to find out if they can serve your target audience and have an ingest point geographically close to your media servers.
Why Choose Wowza?
Is your head still spinning with questions? That’s probably because there is no easy answer to the question of which CDN is best for live streaming. You need to know your audience, your goals, your budget, and the nature of your live content. And even if you know all of that, you need to consider the future.
How will your audience grow? Where and how quickly? Will the nature of your content evolve, as in the case of live to video-on-demand (VOD)? Do you have a robust in-house team of developers that can help you balance these changing needs or do you need well-rounded and responsive support from your providers?
Flexibility is the name of the game. Choose a solution that can work with a range of CDNs and provide additional features from security and content management through analytics. Wowza offers both on-premises and cloud-based options, both of which can access our expansive global CDN. Find out for yourself how easy it is to stream with Wowza or contact sales to discuss a solution tailored to your needs. Happy streaming!
*This blog was originally written by Jan Ozer in 2020 and rewritten by Wowza in 2023.
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About Sydney Roy (Whalen)
Sydney works for Wowza as a content writer and Marketing Communications Specialist, leveraging roughly a decade of experience in copywriting, technical writing, and content development. When observed in the wild, she can be found gaming, reading, hiking, parenting, overspending at the Renaissance Festival, and leaving coffee cups around the house.