CDN sector set to double, helped by metaverse mania

Content delivery networks are for more than just content, we’re being led to believe.

The market is evolving to accommodate new use cases, according to ABI Research, which is good news from a financial point of view because it expects the value of the sector to more than double by 2030 to $23.9 billion.

Some of these new opportunities have arisen due to the overlap between CDN, multi-access edge computing (MEC) and cloud (CDN specialist Akamai paying $900 million for alternative public cloud provider Linode is a great example of this overlap). Hence ABI Research expects CDNs to be increasingly used for services like security for networks, content and enterprise data, as well as hosting edge compute applications.

“In some regards calling the collection of companies covered in this report, CDN companies, is a misnomer,” said Michael Inouye, principal analyst, metaverse markets and technologies, at ABI Research. “Companies that offer CDN services represent a diverse group, with large incumbents with extensive product portfolios like Akamai, to smaller companies focused on agility and innovation like Cloudflare, who have already brushed off the CDN moniker and are already offering some services more akin to the cloud platforms like AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure, Tencent, Alibaba, Huawei Cloud, etc. who also offer CDN services.”

Then there’s the metaverse. The much-hyped alternate reality – where we do everything we do already but in lower fidelity – is also expected to offer new growth opportunities for the CDN market.

“The metaverse has received quite a lot of attention recently, and while this longer-term vision is certainly exciting, even with the uncertainties, more attention needs to be devoted to the build-up towards this future,” said Inouye. “One critical milestone in the build-up to the metaverse will be the arrival of consumer-friendly smart glasses, which will push more user applications and content closer to the edge, fuelling growth opportunities for CDN providers.”

Indeed, shifting the bulk of the compute and storage capacity from the device and putting it into the cloud is one way of making smart glasses – and VR headsets too for that matter – more affordable. In addition, untethered devices would see an improvement in battery life, and one would assume in general terms that they would become more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear. The trade off is that it places a greater burden on connectivity, which needs to be fast and responsive enough to deliver a decent experience. That’s where CDN providers, with their expertise in delivering services and applications from locations closer to the edge, can play an important role.

Having the hardware in place solves only half the problem though. The other half of the problem concerns extended reality (XR) experiences. When it comes to the metaverse, from what’s been shown off so far, it looks like someone found a copy of Second Life and cobbled together a VR version. In a weekend. When they were hung over.

Qualcomm is on the case though. Earlier this week the chip maker launched a $100 million fund that will invest in developers and companies working on unique, immersive XR experiences, as well as related fields like AI. Called the Snapdragon Metaverse Fund, its ultimate aim is to stimulate the content ecosystem so that consumers will fall over themselves to acquire the (Qualcomm-powered) hardware they need to access it.

“We deliver the groundbreaking platform technology and experiences that will enable both the consumer and the enterprise to build and engage in the metaverse and allow the physical and digital worlds to be connected. Qualcomm is the ticket to the metaverse,” said Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon. “Through the Snapdragon Metaverse Fund, we look forward to empowering developers and companies of all sizes as they push boundaries of what’s possible as we enter into this new generation of spatial computing.”

They’d better get a move on though, because Googling ‘metaverse sucks’ already yields more than half a million results. If the industry isn’t careful, this new reality will be dead on arrival.

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