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Internet shines in Beijing
Akamai may have been the first content delivery network to market back in 1998, but it finished out of medal contention in the 2008 Olympics. That's because Akamai is caching and serving up only the static content for NBCOlympics.com, not the more exciting video clips like replays of Michael Phelps' astonishing finish in the 100-meter butterfly race. While Akamai isn't delivering video content to US Web surfers, it is delivering video to several European Web sites including Eurosport and France Television.
Level 3 Communications makes our list of Olympic-caliber carriers because it is the backup service provider for NBCOlympics.com. Level 3 has been developing a content delivery network business since it acquired Savvis' CDN business nearly two years ago. Although Level 3 was a runner-up for the 2008 games, industry watchers say Level 3 is the carrier to watch in the CDN space because of its expansive global network and its ability to drive down prices.
Microsoft's Silverlight video player and the MSN Web site are two key technologies underpinning the live and on-demand video available at NBC's Olympics Web site. (Not that some didn't have complaints about the Silverlight download requirements.) With Silverlight, Internet users are able to watch up to four events at the same time on their PCs. Silverlight has proven extremely popular, resulting in more than 22 million video clips being viewed during the first week of the Olympics, according to NBC. The Summer 2008 Olympics have been the biggest test ever of video streaming on the Internet, and Microsoft's Silverlight technology has come out a winner. Thanks in part to Silverlight, we'd rather watch the Olympics on the Internet instead of on TV.
Verizon makes our list of leading Internet companies supporting the 2008 Olympics because of the deal that the carrier inked with NBC to provide coverage of the games on its FIOS TV service, broadband and wireless platforms in the US. The deal has given a significant boost to FIOS, which is showing on-demand and high-definition video from Beijing. It's also been a boon to Verizon Wireless customers, who can view the latest scores and the day's highlights through V CAST streaming video.
AT&T: the official US telecom carrier
Limelight Networks comes in first place on our list because this up-and-comer is handling all of the video streaming for NBC's Olympics Web site. Limelight Networks is carrying more than 2,200 hours of live event streaming as well as more than 3,600 hours of on-demand replays such as Usain Bolt's seemingly effortless win in the 100-meter sprint. In just the first four days of the Olympics, NBCOlympics.com drove 17.7 million video streams, and all of them went across Limelight's global content delivery network. In fact, Jeffries & Co. identified Limelight as a "buy" because of its Olympics deal, driving up the company's share price along with its revenues. The next challenge for Limelight: Figuring out how to cash in on its Olympics success after the closing ceremony.
ChinaCache is the leading content delivery network in China, so it's the behind-the-scenes provider of Internet content to millions of Web surfers in China watching such key moments such as native track superstar Liu Xiang bowing out of the hurdles. ChinaCache expects to carry 5,400 hours of online content delivery services for the Beijing games, including Web caching, acceleration, live video streaming and video on demand. ChinaCache is providing online video to an array of Web sites including Sohu, Xinhua, CCTV, QQ, Sina, China Online and People.com.
CDNetworks is providing live, high-definition quality video streaming of the Olympic Games for Korean broadcaster Seoul Broadcasting Service (SBS), the carrier best known for leaking footage of rehearsals for the opening ceremonies. Using a new service dubbed Hybrid Live Streaming, CDNetworks is delivering 2Mbps video service to PCs that the company claims is more vivid than viewing the action on television. Industry watchers say SBS is one of the first customers to try CDNetworks' hybrid, peer-to-peer streaming service. CDNetworks gets our nod for conducting its own Olympic trial.
Of all the record-breaking Olympic moments we've seen - Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals; 41-year-old Dara Torres snaring silver against rivals half her age; and Jamaica's Usain Bolt proving himself the world's fastest man - none has amazed us more than the flawless performance of the Internet. From instantaneous headlines on our mobile phones to live video on our PCs, the Internet made it possible for us to experience the excitement of the Olympics in real-time and in high-definition from halfway around the world. A handful of Internet companies stand out as having done the most to support the first truly online Olympic Games. Here's our list of winners, counting down to number one.