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Update: Live streaming video during inaugural will tax Internet

But experts don't expect major disruptions

January 16, 2009 12:00 PM ET

As Barack Obama raises his hand to be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president on Tuesday, could the millions worldwide watching the historic event on the Internet be left out?

The answer: Maybe, depending on where you are. While there may be moments of jittery video performance, experts interviewed by Computerworld say no one is predicting a widespread Internet outage or even major regional network outages on Inauguration Day.

This prediction holds even as many major Internet news sites and social networks are gearing up for an unprecedented amount of live Internet video coverage. Some sites are urging Internet viewers to share their video clips from Washington and from neighborhood parties around the nation that will further tax segments of the Internet.

In one example of the extraordinary amount of video traffic that will be generated, CNN.com is cooperating with Facebook.com to provide multiple video camera angles at the Washington events and elsewhere with a field on the right of a user's screen to send text comments to Facebook friends.

Obama inaugural organizers have encouraged supporters everywhere to provide video feedback on YouTube and other sites of their local celebrations. With millions of handheld devices that can record video, there is likely to be a lot of video blazing across the Internet on Tuesday. In addition, more wired and wireless devices will be connecting to the Internet than ever during the approximately one-hour window when the new president takes the oath of office and then delivers his inaugural address.

Tuesday's inaugural event is unique for the Internet because so many eyeballs will be glued to desktops, laptops and handhelds, many of them using wireless links for a portion of the Internet connection during that short period just after noon Eastern time.

This compressed time period will be more challenging to Internet subnets than the many hours of video streamed from the Olympic games in China over two weeks last summer, or even the recent Christmas buying season, the experts said.

"This will definitely be an unprecedented video-streaming event," said Shawn White, director of operations at Keynote Systems Inc. in San Mateo, Calif. Keynote provides mobile and Internet testing and measurement for 2,800 corporations, including many of the Internet news companies offering video content on Tuesday.

Bottom line, White said, is that "we expect to see some [Internet performance] issues, but it won't slow down the Internet in a massive way. The Internet was built to be resistent in these scenarios and engineered so you might get performance (degradation) as opposed to outages."

He said performance might degrade in highly populated areas, such as New York City or Silicon Valley, where there are many Internet users hitting video caching servers in their cities, resulting in gaps or stuttering in video streams or video pixilating. Sometimes video streaming services will only let in as many viewers as can be supported reliably, shutting off entry to others.

In neighborhoods, if many users connect to a video stream at once, performance could degrade over the cable's last-mile connection since that is a shared medium, White said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are Internet bottlenecks during that time period," agreed Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez Inc. in Lexington, Mass., which monitors Web performance and provides Web experience management software to 1,000 companies.

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