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Publication numberUS20050188415 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/041,779
Publication dateAug 25, 2005
Filing dateJan 24, 2005
Priority dateJan 23, 2004
Also published asCA2554176A1, EP1705993A2, EP1705993A4, US20100306369, WO2005072320A2, WO2005072320A3
Publication number041779, 11041779, US 2005/0188415 A1, US 2005/188415 A1, US 20050188415 A1, US 20050188415A1, US 2005188415 A1, US 2005188415A1, US-A1-20050188415, US-A1-2005188415, US2005/0188415A1, US2005/188415A1, US20050188415 A1, US20050188415A1, US2005188415 A1, US2005188415A1
InventorsYusun Riley
Original AssigneeCamiant, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Video policy server
US 20050188415 A1
Abstract
A system for distributing digital content includes two or more digital content sources. Each source has a separate session manager that is distinct from other session managers associated with other digital content sources. The system further includes at least one set of network resources that receive digital content from the two or more digital content sources, modulate the digital content onto a carrier signal suitable for transmission over an access network, and transmit the carrier signal over the access network. The system also includes a receiving device for terminating the carrier signal. The receiving device generates a digital content stream corresponding to the digital content from the two or more digital content sources. The system further includes a policy server for allocating bandwidth of the network resources to the digital content sources, and for monitoring a utilization state of the network resources.
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Claims(24)
1. A system for distributing digital content, comprising:
two or more digital content sources, each having a separate session manager that is distinct from other session managers associated with other digital content sources;
at least one set of network resources for (i) receiving digital content from the two or more digital content sources, (ii) modulating the digital content onto a carrier signal suitable for transmission over an access network, and (iii) transmitting the carrier signal over the access network;
a receiving device for terminating the carrier signal and generating a digital content stream corresponding to the digital content from the two or more digital content sources;
a policy server for monitoring a utilization state of the network resources, and for allocating a set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to the two or more digital content sources.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the policy server allocates the bandwidth segments according to the utilization state of the at least one set of network resources.
3. The system of claim 1, wherein the policy server allocates the bandwidth segments according to a set of policy rules.
4. The system of claim 3, wherein the policy rules define resource allocation according to subscriber priority.
5. The system of claim 3, wherein the policy rules define resource allocation according to a category of the digital content.
6. The system of claim 1, wherein each of the two or more digital content sources includes a video-on-demand server for providing video content.
7. The system of claim 1, wherein the receiving device includes a set top box for generating an output signal suitable for one or more subscriber video equipment components.
8. The system of claim 1, wherein the policy server issues instructions to the session manager associated with a digital content source to send video content to the at least one set of network resources.
9. The system of claim 1, wherein the policy server is a video policy server for allocating the set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to two or more video content sources.
10. The system of claim 1, wherein the utilization state includes information about how much bandwidth of the at least one set of network resources is allocated and how much bandwidth of the at least one set of network resources is available.
11. A method of distributing digital content, comprising:
providing digital content from two or more digital content sources, each having a separate session manager that is distinct from other session managers associated with other digital content sources;
receiving, at one or more sets of network resources, digital content from the two or more digital content sources;
modulating the digital content onto a carrier signal suitable for transmission over an access network;
transmitting the carrier signal over the access network;
terminating the carrier signal and generating a digital content stream corresponding to the digital content from the two or more digital content sources;
allocating, with a policy server, a set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to the two or more digital content sources, and for monitoring a utilization state of the network resources.
12. The method of claim 11, further including allocating, using policy rules, the bandwidth segments according to the utilization state of the at least one set of network resources.
13. The method of claim 11, further including allocating, using policy rules, the bandwidth segments according to a set of policy rules.
14. The method of claim 13, further including defining resource allocation according to subscriber priority.
15. The method of claim 13, further including defining resource allocation according to a category of the digital content.
16. The method of claim 11, further including issuing instructions from the policy server to the session manager associated with a digital content source to send video content to the at least one set of network resources.
17. A method of distributing digital content from a content source to a receiving device over a network, comprising:
sending an initiating request for digital content, from the receiving device to a session manager associated with the content source;
sending a resource request for network resources, from the session manager to a policy server, as a result of the initiating request;
evaluating and executing one or more policy rules to determine whether or not the resource request should be granted;
sending an instruction from the policy server to the session manager instructing the session manager to send digital content to a specific set of network resources;
sending receiving information for receiving the digital content to the receiving device; and,
sending digital content from the session manager to the network resources.
18. The method of claim 17, further including sending a notification from the policy server to the network resources notifying the network resources of a transfer of digital content from the session manager to the network resources.
19. The method of claim 17, wherein the network resources include edge QAM interfacing devices.
20. The method of claim 17, wherein the digital content includes video content, and the content source includes one or more video-on-demand servers.
21. The method of claim 17, further including monitoring a utilization state of the network resources.
22. The method of claim 17, wherein the policy rules define resource allocation according to subscriber priority.
23. The method of claim 17, wherein the policy rules define resource allocation according to a category of the digital content.
24. The method of claim 17, furthering including evaluating and executing the one or more policy rules to determine how much bandwidth of the network resources should be allocated to the session manager.
Description
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims benefit of the following U.S. Provisional Patent Applications:

    • “VIDEO POLICY SERVER,” U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/538,803; filed Jan. 23, 2004 and,
    • “POLICY BASED ADMISSION CONTROL,” U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/538,802, filed Jan. 23, 2004.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to content distribution over a network, and more particularly, to managing distribution resources for video-on-demand (VOD) and other content services on a cable network.

Video-on-demand, one of several services offered by cable multiple system operators (MSOs), enables a subscriber to customize cable content according to their preferences and/or schedules. A typical VOD distribution architecture 10, shown in FIG. 1, includes a VOD server 12 and a session manager 14, a number of edge quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) interfacing devices 16, a cable access network 18, and a set top box (STB) 20.

The VOD server 12 hosts a large volume of digital video content. Portions of this content may be selected via a request from the subscriber. (i.e., the end user). The session manager 14 is responsible for setting up a video session, i.e., processing requests from the subscriber and providing an interface between the VOD server 12 and the other components in the distribution architecture 10. The VOD server 12 and the session manager 13 are typically tightly coupled and sold as a set.

The edge QAM interfacing devices (edge QAM) 16 receive digital video content from the session manager 14, QAM-modulate and up-convert the content, then transmit resulting QAM signal onto the coaxial infrastructures within the access network 18.

The STB 20 terminates the QAM signals at the site of the subscriber and extracts the VOD content stream. The STB 20 then generates an output signal suitable for the subscriber's video equipment (e.g., televisions, recording devices, etc.).

In operation, the subscriber requests content (e.g., a movie, a nature documentary or a classic sporting event) via the STB 20. The STB 20 conveys the request to the session manager 14. The session manager 14 allocates suitable bandwidth resources in the edge QAM 16, and instructs the STB 20 to tune to the appropriate frequency spectrum for those resources. The session manager 14 then directs the VOD server 12 to begin streaming the appropriate digital content to the edge QAM 16, and the edge QAM 16 translates the digital content to the appropriate frequency spectrum.

One disadvantage of this architecture is that the edge QAM 16 is statically mapped to a particular session manager/VOD server combination, and cannot be shared with another session manager. The session manager 14 in FIG. 1 monitors and controls the resource allocation of the edge QAM 16 for VOD content to multiple subscribers. A second session manager/VOD server combination cannot share the edge QAM 16 because different session managers cannot communicate to coordinate the edge QAM resources.

For example, if a cable MSO desires to deploy a second VOD server 22 (and associated session manager 24) for hosting content different than what is on the first VOD server 12, the second VOD server 22 must deliver its content via different edge QAM 26 than that used by the first VOD server 12, as shown in FIG. 2. This arrangement represents a highly inefficient use of network resources.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect, a system for distributing digital content includes two or more digital content sources, each having a separate session manager that is distinct from other session managers associated with other digital content sources. The system further includes at least one set of network resources for receiving digital content from the two or more digital content sources, for modulating the digital content onto a carrier signal suitable for transmission over an access network, and for transmitting the carrier signal over the access network. The system also includes a receiving device for terminating the carrier signal and generating a digital content stream corresponding to the digital content from the two or more digital content sources. The system further includes a policy server for monitoring a utilization state of the network resources, and for allocating a set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to the two or more digital content sources.

The policy server allocates the bandwidth segments according to the utilization state of the at least one set of network resources. Alternatively, the policy server may allocate bandwidth according to a set of policy rules. Policy rules may define resource allocation according to subscriber priority, or they may define resource allocation according to a category of the digital content.

The receiving device includes a set top box for generating an output signal suitable for one or more subscriber video equipment components, and each of the two or more digital content sources includes a video-on-demand server for providing video content.

The policy server issues instructions to the session manager associated with a digital content source to send video content to the at least one set of network resources. In one embodiment, the policy server is a video policy server for allocating the set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to two or more video content sources.

The utilization state includes information about how much bandwidth of the at least one set of network resources is allocated and how much bandwidth of the at least one set of network resources is available.

In another aspect, a method of distributing digital content includes providing digital content from two or more digital content sources, each having a separate session manager that is distinct from other session managers associated with other digital content sources. The method further includes receiving, at one or more sets of network resources, digital content from the two or more digital content sources. The method also includes modulating the digital content onto a carrier signal suitable for transmission over an access network, transmitting the carrier signal over the access network, and terminating the carrier signal and generating a digital content stream corresponding to the digital content from the two or more digital content sources. The method further includes allocating, with a policy server, a set of bandwidth segments of the at least one set of network resources to the two or more digital content sources, and for monitoring a utilization state of the network resources.

In another aspect, a method of distributing digital content from a content source to a receiving device over a network includes

    • sending an initiating request for digital content, from the receiving device to a session manager associated with the content source;
    • sending a resource request for network resources, from the session manager to a policy server, as a result of the initiating request;
    • evaluating and executing one or more policy rules to determine whether or not the resource request should be granted;
    • sending an instruction from the policy server to the session manager instructing the session manager to send digital content to a specific set of network resources;
    • sending receiving information for receiving the digital content to the receiving device; and,
    • sending digital content from the session manager to the network resources.

The method further includes sending a notification from the policy server to the network resources notifying the network resources of a transfer of digital content from the session manager to the network resources. The network resources may include edge QAM interfacing devices. The digital content may include video content, and the content source may include one or more video-on-demand servers.

The method further includes evaluating and executing the one or more policy rules to determine how much bandwidth of the network resources should be allocated to the session manager.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

The foregoing and other objects of this invention, the various features thereof, as well as the invention itself, may be more fully understood from the following description, when read together with the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 shows a prior art video-on-demand content distribution architecture.

FIG. 2 shows another view of the distribution architecture in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 shows the content distribution architecture of the described embodiment.

FIG. 4 shows a series of steps for setting up a video session using the architecture in FIG. 3.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The described embodiment is a cable network architecture in which a video policy server (VPS) coordinates allocation of network resources among two or more video-on-demand (VOD) servers each coupled to session managers (also referred to herein more generally as video content sources). As used herein, the term “network resources” specifically refer to edge QAM resources, but in general, the network resources may include any network components in the cable network architecture from the data source to the ultimate subscriber destination.

Although the described embodiment distributes video content across a cable network, the concepts described herein also apply to the distribution of more general digital content, such as video gaming content and other application data from two or more digital content sources. Central to this distribution of digital content is a policy server that allocates network resources to two or more digital content sources based on various considerations such as the utilization state of the network resources and a set of policy rules governing the digital content and the end consumers of the digital content (i.e., the subscribers). This general architecture allows digital content sources to share network resources, where without this architecture, each of those digital content sources would be bound to a single set of network resources.

In the described embodiment, the VPS takes on the resource allocation functionality that, for prior art architectures, typically resides in the session managers associated with VOD servers. By abstracting the allocation functionality from the session managers and centralizing it in the VPS, the described embodiment allows multiple video data sources to utilize the same set of edge QAM interface devices.

FIG. 3 shows the described embodiment of a policy-based admission control scheme for use in a cable network architecture. A first VOD server 102, a second VOD server 104 and a third VOD server 106, each accompanied by an associated session manager (108, 110 and 112, respectively), host digital video content.

Each VOD server 102, 104 and 106 hosts a large amount of a particular category of video content. For example, the first VOD 102 server may host full length movie content, the second VOD server 106 may host classic sports content, and the third VOD server 106 may host nature/wildlife content. Each VOD server merely streams selected video content when instructed by its associated session manager.

A session manager associated with each VOD server includes all of the functionality necessary for setting up and tearing down a video session. As used herein, a “video session” is transmission of video content from one of the VOD servers, through the cable network, with the video content terminating at the location of the subscriber. The session manager may be integrated into the VOD server, or it may be a separate component either attached to, in close proximity to, or networked with, the VOD server.

Each VOD server/session manager can provide digital video content to a set of edge QAM interfacing devices 114 (referred to herein as “edge QAM”). The edge QAM 114 modulates and up-converts the digital content from the VOD servers, then transmits the resulting QAM signal onto the coaxial infrastructures within an access network 116.

The edge QAM 114 is capable of providing a finite amount of throughput bandwidth for the digital content. In the described embodiment, the first VOD server 102, the second VOD server 104 and the third VOD server 106 can share the throughput capacity of the edge QAM 114, so that each VOD server can utilize one or more bandwidth segments of the overall edge QAM 114 throughput capacity. Each of the bandwidth segments can be any frequency width up to the total bandwidth of the edge QAM 114.

The STB 120 is a receiving device that terminates the QAM signals at the site of the subscriber and extracts the VOD content stream from the QAM signals. The STB 120 generates an output signal from the extracted VOD content stream suitable for subscriber video equipment such as televisions, video recorders and the like.

A video policy server (VPS) 118 controls how much throughput bandwidth of the edge QAM 114 each VOD/session manager uses. The VPS 118 monitors the utilization state of the edge QAM 114, i.e., how much bandwidth of the edge QAM 114 is currently being utilized, and how much of the edge QAM 114 is available.

In order for a VOD server/session manager to transmit digital video content through the edge QAM 114, the session manager must request edge QAM 114 resources from the VPS 118. The session manager specifies a particular amount of edge QAM 114 resources depending upon the nature of the digital video content to be transmitted (e.g., high definition content requires more bandwidth than ordinary video). The VPS 118 evaluates the state of the edge QAM 114 to determine if the requested resources are available. If those resources are available, and certain policy criteria are met, the VPS 118 admits the VOD server/session manager to the requested edge QAM bandwidth. Once admitted, the VOD server/session manager begins streaming the digital video to the edge QAM 114.

Once the VPS 118 allocates edge QAM bandwidth to a VOD server (for example, the first VOD server 102), the VPS 118 removes that bandwidth from consideration for allocation to other sources. The VPS 118 thus interprets the state of the edge QAM 118 as having its availability reduced by the amount of bandwidth allocated to the first VOD server 102.

The allocated bandwidth remains unavailable until relinquished by the sourcing VOD server. The allocated bandwidth may be relinquished by, for example, the expiration of a purchase period during which the subscriber can access the video, or a command from the session manager that the video data stream is complete. Once the bandwidth is relinquished, the VPS 118 considers that bandwidth available for allocation. As a result, the VPS interprets the state of the edge QAM 116 as having its availability increased by the amount of bandwidth relinquished.

As described above, the VPS 118 evaluates certain policy rules in addition to resource availability before allocating resources to a video source. Such policy rules allow for smooth integration of VOD with other data types within the network (e.g., high speed internet access, voice-over-IP, video conferencing, etc.). One type of policy may give priority to certain data types. For example, policy rules may give resource requests from certain data sources preferential treatment by giving them higher priority access to the available resources. Further, policy rules can allow certain high priority data sources to preempt a lower priority data stream that is currently using allocated resources.

Another type of policy may give priority to particular subscribers, creating a kind of “tier” system. For example, consider a three-tier system where the highest-priority tier is the ‘gold’ tier, the next highest priority tier is the ‘silver’ tier, and the lowest tier is the ‘bronze’ tier. Policy rules involving subscriber tiers give preferential treatment to higher tiers, for which subscribers in those tiers pay a premium price. One exemplary tier-based rule may be:

    • if ((subscriber_tier==bronze)&&(current_network_utilization>80%)) then reject

With this rule, an allocation request for a bronze-tier subscriber will be rejected if the current resource allocation is greater than 80 percent. This and other tier-based policy rules thus function to bias network availability towards the higher paying subscribers.

FIG. 4 illustrates a series of steps for setting up a video session and the corresponding allocation of resources at the edge QAM 116. In this example, a subscriber requests, via the set top box (STB) 120, digital video data from the second VOD server 104 and the associated session manager 110. Although this example shows the steps for setting up a session from one particular VOD server and session manager, these steps apply for a session with respect to any of the other VOD sources.

In the first step 130, the STB 120 requests particular VOD content from the session manager 110 associated with the relevant VOD server 104. The STB 120 determines which of the three is the relevant VOD server and session manager based upon (i) configuration data within the STB 120 and (ii) the nature of the requested VOD content. In this exemplary case, the STB 120 sends the request to the second session manager 110 because its associated VOD server 104 hosts the particular type of VOD content the subscriber desires (e.g., a recently released movie).

In the second step 132, the session manager 110 sends a request to the VPS 118 for resource allocation (in this case, edge QAM 114 resources). This request includes information such as subscriber ID, subscriber service tier, priority of the content, and streaming characteristics (e.g., constant bit rate/variable bit rate, bandwidth requirements, etc.).

In the third step 134, the VPS 118 evaluates and executes the policy rules defined by the MSO, while considering various factors, in order to decide whether to allocate network resources to the session manager 110. Such factors include the current utilization state of the network resources, the service tier of the requesting subscriber, the nature of the content being requested, among others.

In the fourth step 136, the VPS 118 instructs the service manager 110 to send the requested video content to a particular IP address and UDP port. This occurs only if the results of executing the policy rules indicate such instruction is an appropriate action, and if sufficient network resources are available. If the result of executing the policy rules indicate such instruction is an inappropriate action, the VPS 118 does not respond to the service manager. Alternatively, the VPS 118 may respond to the session manager 110 with a message indicating the request for resource allocation has been denied.

In some cases, the network resources needed to fulfill the request from the subscriber will not be available, or the policy rules will not allow use of the resources. In these cases the VPS 118 will not allocate network resources to the session manager 110. Alternatively, the VPS 118 may provide the service manager with alternatives such as using a lower bit-rate stream or sending a request to another VOD server hosting similar content.

In the fifth step 138, the VPS 118 notifies the relevant edge QAM 114 to expect the video data stream from the session manager 110 and to take any necessary actions. Such actions may include converting the video data to a lower bit rate, changing from constant bit rate to variable bit rate, or other processing actions unique to the incoming VOD content.

In the sixth step 140, the session manager 110 communicates tuning and other information to the STB 120 necessary for receiving the requested VOD content. Such information includes which frequency channel will carry the video content, which MPEG program to monitor for a particular video stream, etc.

In the seventh step 142, the session manager 110 begins to stream the requested VOD content to the edge QAM 114, which converts the VOD content stream to the appropriate format for viewing via the STB. The QAM 114 modulates and up-converts the VOD content stream, then transmits the resulting QAM signal onto the coaxial infrastructures within an access network 116.

In some cases, the subscriber may choose to “pause” the video session described above once the session is established, and the VPS 118 may take different actions as a result depending on policy rules. For example, a subscriber may purchase a time slot (e.g., 24 hours) during which the subscriber can watch the content as many times as he or she desires. During this time slot, the subscriber may stop watching the content before it ends, assuming he or she will return later to watch the remainder of the content. In this case, the service manager 110 informs the VPS 118 of the interruption, and the VPS 118 may release the reserved resources until the subscriber resumes watching the content. Policy rules may, for example, dictate that those resources will not be released for higher-level subscriber tiers, so that the resources are guaranteed to be available for the entire time slot.

The above examples do not specify particular communication protocols among the various components. In general, any protocol appropriate for the particular media and content may be used for the communication described above. Specific examples of communication protocols for the above communications are listed below.

I) Communication Between the STB 120 and the Session Manager 110:

1. DSMCC—(Digital Storage Media—Command and Control): See ISO/IEC JTC1/SC29/WG11.

2. RTSP—(Real Time Streaming Protocol): See RFC-2326 (April 1998).

II) Communication Between the Session Manager 110 and the VPS 118:

1. RTSP.

2. XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

3. HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol).

4. RSVP—(Resource reSerVation Protocol): See RFC-2205 (September 1997).

III) Communication Between the VPS 118 and the Edge QAM 116:

1. SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) See RFCs 1155, 1157, and 1212 for SNMPv1 and RFCs 1441 through 1452 for SNMPv2.

2. XML.

3. HTTP.

Other aspects, modifications and embodiments are within the scope of the claims.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification725/116, 348/E05.008, 725/114, 725/144, 725/145, 348/E07.073, 725/146, 725/115
International ClassificationH04N7/173
Cooperative ClassificationH04N21/2381, H04N21/2402, H04N21/2385, H04L47/10, H04L47/724, H04N21/2225, H04L47/781, H04L12/5695, H04N21/47202, H04N7/17336, H04L47/821
European ClassificationH04L12/56R, H04N21/2381, H04N21/472D, H04N21/24D, H04N21/2385, H04N21/2225, H04L47/10, H04L47/72B, H04L47/82A, H04L47/78A, H04N7/173B4
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
May 2, 2005ASAssignment
Owner name: CAMIANT, INC., MASSACHUSETTS
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:RILEY, YUSUN KIM;REEL/FRAME:016186/0630
Effective date: 20050411