Winning the tender for the live broadcast of the Serie A soccer championship for the 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2024/24 seasons, DAZN has started a revolution in Italy: that of mass streaming of sports content. A revolution that started with some hiccups, as demonstrated by the problems on the first day of the championship, during Inter-Genoa, and on September 23, when many users were unable to see the matches. Two episodes that are technically distinct, but that demonstrate the complexity of transmitting streaming content to millions of users at the same time. Something never seen before in our country, as evidenced by the traffic records now consistently recorded during the weekends of the championship on the Italian network: never was generated and sorted so much data traffic at the same time.
After a physiological period of adjustment, today DAZN streaming is stable and any malfunctions are almost always due to specific problems with the devices used by some users to watch the matches: smartphones or Smart TVs particularly dated, insufficient home Internet connection, saturated home WiFi, old generation routers that throttle the connection. Many blame DAZN for taking too long to solve its problems: it should have been ready for the first day. The reasoning is not wrong, but we must also consider the fact that no one in Italy had ever transmitted such a large amount of data to 2 million users at the same time, and that it was necessary to fine-tune the engine before running. The DAZN case, for this reason, is an excellent model to study to try to look to the future, to when all content of all genres and for all types of users will travel only on the Internet. Is the Italian network ready to withstand the impact?
Why DAZN had problems
Let's start from what didn't work initially, to understand where streaming can go and how. The problems during the first day of the championship, which lasted a few minutes, were caused by an overload due to peak accesses in conjunction with the start of the games that caused a momentary overload of a CDN, quickly resolved.
The second episode, the one of September 23, took longer and did not affect a particular game, but the entire platform. The cause was not in any way due to the network but to a problem with the release of an update of the app with repercussions not only in Italy, but in other countries where the Dazn service is present.
A new technology introduced by DAZN that needed a phase of fine tuning. The technical effort made by DAZN after these two episodes has, in fact, translated into the subsequent absence of problems during the other days of the championship.
A technology in continuous improvement
But let's get into the details of the DAZN case, going to see what the platform has done to shore up as soon as possible its infrastructure. The moves have been different and contemporary, in order to improve the service on several fronts and make the infrastructure more "resilient", to use a fashionable term. More resilient and fault-tolerant, to use terms less impressive but more of substance.
DAZN, over the summer, provided network operators with technology to optimize data transmission and negate congestion risk. One of these technologies is the famous "DAZN Edge", which is a Content Delivery Network, i.e. a network of servers scattered in a strategic position on the Italian territory to "bring closer" the content to the end users.
It seems a paradox, but it is so: by adding a step in the middle, between the content source and the end user, the performance improves because the transmission becomes more granular. Basically, there are no longer 2 million users all knocking on the same central group of servers, but a central group of servers that distributes content to other local servers, which in turn deliver it to users.
This system greatly reduces the risk of network and central server congestion: data has to travel less distance to get to users, and fewer users are simultaneously requesting data from the same source.
DAZN Edge consists of about forty nodes, physically located at network operators' facilities and dedicated exclusively to DAZN content delivery.
Another strategy used by DAZN to improve the service has been the use of "multicast", which is a middle ground between "unicast" and "broadcast".
Unicast means that each data packet is sent to each individual recipient. Broadcast means that each data packet is sent to all recipients. Multicast means that each data packet is sent to a specific group of recipients, to optimize the flows especially in the days with several matches that are broadcasted at the same time (when, that is, you need to optimize the maximum network resources available).
The future of streaming in Italy
The most interesting thing we can learn from these first eight days of Serie A on DAZN is that the Italian Internet network, both fixed and mobile, has held up and even well. It could have been very bad, but it went very well thanks to the close collaboration between DAZN and network operators that led to the construction of a flexible infrastructure and scalable to the need.
But it could go even better, since at present the ultrafast network of our country is underutilized: reading the data of AGCOM, the Authority for the guarantees in communications, it turns out that about 4 million Italian ADSL users could be, already today, converted to fiber optics. The fast network is there, but users do not choose it because they consider ADSL sufficient for their current needs. Even if, looking at the offers of the operators, almost always the fiber does not cost more than the ADSL.
The fruition of live streaming contents, such as soccer matches, can therefore act as a flywheel for the adoption of the latest available technologies by the Italians.
With the contribution of DAZN