Robi Axiata: Building an OTT service from scratch
February 23, 2021
Robi Axiata is the second largest Mobile Network operator in Bangladesh. With a population of 161 million people, Bangladesh houses as many people as roughly 1/4 of the European population. Robi Axiata has almost 50 million subscriptions, which is more than the population of Spain. It is an understatement when we say this is a project at scale.
Robi Axiata had decided to use Wowza’s Streaming Engine before they contacted us but they wanted to know how to design a similar streaming platform, the components that can work with the Streaming Engine, and how they could be configured for best performance. After drawing a setup that was 100% sure to meet their requirements, we were honoured when they asked us to build the complete OTT streaming platform. The streaming platform launched a few months ago and it goes by the name Binge.
>50 million subscribers, >165 Channels, >3.000 VOD Assets
Robi Axiata assumes that Bangladesh, and in general, the South-East Asia region is ready for streaming now more than ever. Most offered services in the region (if existing) are rather young and immature. With access to more than 50 million subscribers, Robi Axiata has an acceptably large audience to start building an OTT offering, sufficiently appealing to at least a part of their audience.
The offering is pretty big! They’re offering over 165 national and international channels (including BBC and National Geographic). Also, they have more than 3000 VOD assets including movies and television shows.
So far, the launch has been a success. Barely after a few months, they were able to attract more than 450.000 installs over their three main platforms (Android Mobile, Android TV, iOS).
Video Streaming on all channels + STB integration
With such a large audience, Robi Axiata decided they should support a wide set of devices. At launch, they made their service not only available on iOS and Android, but also on their set-top boxes using their middleware.
The infrastructure challenge
Management of infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges that is faced when running a project in South-East Asia. Since none of the renowned cloud providers has a presence in Bangladesh and connectivity beyond the country borders is singular, the platform is deployed to machines in Robi’s data centers. One might think that is a problem solved because they own and control their infrastructure.
Well, not really. The challenge is not only to manage your infrastructure, but you also need to get the content (often coming from large American production houses) onto your systems. The solution was to transcode the files in the cloud and transfer the transcoded assets to RobiAxiata’s infrastructure. For the acquisition of Live TV channels, Robi Axiata has partnered with two different providers who obtain the signals from both landlines and satellites.
VUALTO’s VUDRM plugin for Wowza
Protecting content from being pirated is a strict studio requirement if you want to offer VOD assets to international television shows and movies. Raskenlund looked for a partner that was both knowledgeable and capable to support the requirements in this particular case.
Raskenlund acknowledged that the technical support of the VUALTO team as well as their agility and way of working would be quite beneficial to the success of this project. As a result, time was optimally used, making the implementation meet deadlines and keeping the project within budget.
Furthermore, VUALTO’s DRM product, VUDRM, was also necessary for this project as it offers some great benefits over other solutions. VUDRM allows you to request DRM encryption keys on the fly where most DRM solutions require you to upload a list of your assets, forcing you to build a synchronization between your CMS and your DRM provider. This is particularly useful in this case because there are over 3.000 assets to protect.
The whole integration was built with productization in mind. Today, we are happy to announce that VUALTO’s VUDRM is available for Wowza using Raskenlund’s plugin which is now proven in production with the Robi Axiata case.
Budget optimization through early involvement.
To their advantage, Robi Axiata involved us early enough in the design process. Although they had already decided to use Wowza’s Streaming Engine, we were able to present them with the best performing and most compatible components to work together with their setup and meet their requirements. Quite often than not for a consultancy business, we get consulted once things start to get tricky. When the components are already selected, especially without prior integration experience, making it all fit together could be challenging.
Therefore, we were very happy that Robi Axiata involved us in the early stages of the project, and we sincerely advise every company that is looking to build its streaming service, to get an expert involved as early as possible.
Working as an intercontinental team
What we have liked most about this project, which also is an important part of both Raskenlund’s and VUALTO’s DNA, is working cross-country and cross-continent with people with a different background and culture. Taking workdays as an example, the IT-sector in Europe typically works from Monday to Friday while large parts of the Middle-East and South-East Asia have their workweek from Sunday through Thursday. Besides workdays and time zone, working hours and employee expectations are different too. These differences may appear inconsequential but if not handled with best practices, they might have huge negative impacts like causing miscommunication which leads to frustration. These are only the obvious ones. There are a few more because the most important differences are probably not easily noticeable because they are hidden in human behaviour. At Raskenlund, having worked with almost all countries and cultures over the past two decades, we are convinced that a multicultural collaboration is an enrichment, and we are proud to say that we do have this experience and take it into account in our overall project management.