Democratizing Content Across Brazil with a Cisco Open Caching CDN

CISCO

Many of us live constantly connected lives. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we can reach into a pocket and, through our mobile device, communicate with others and access content from around the world. But many places in the world don’t have mobile connectivity, including many parts of rural Brazil.


I have helped bring mobile connectivity to some of these remote places, and seeing residents' reactions in those moments are touching and powerful. Facilitating more of these connections, and in turn bringing new opportunities to rural communities, is one of the main goals of TIM Brasil


TIM Brasil, a subsidiary of Telecom Italia, is a mainly mobile operator with 50 million mobile customers across the country. Even though we offer the widest 4G coverage in Brazil, we want to do more. Brazil is a country with continental dimensions, and the only way to reduce distances in a country of this size is through digital connectivity. But of Brazil’s 5,500 cities, close to 4,800 have fewer than 30,000 residents, and these small towns face connectivity challenges.


Lack of connectivity means that people have unequal access to digital services, and that can present a hurdle for person-to-person communication and lead to wider information gaps. TIM Brasil’s goal is to provide 4G coverage to all of Brazil—remote areas included—by 2023. Laying a foundation of mobile connectivity will open the door for other services, and that was the catalyst for TIM’s new content delivery solution.

The Importance of Network Quality and Open Caching

I’m a telecommunication engineer by training. I worked with Telecom Italia for 18 years, with previous postings in Italy, France, and Indonesia. In December 2019, I joined TIM Brasil as Executive Manager of Transport Development. My challenge in my new role was to develop TIM Brasil’s transport network—no easy feat for such a large country, half of which is covered by forest. 


In the past decade, TIM Brasil has shifted away from having our core service platforms centralized in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, because that centralized model left us susceptible to outages. Instead, we’ve implemented a consistent and resilient network based on distributed data centers across the country, connected with multiple and diversified transmission paths.


Part of that network build consisted of our “Fiber to the Jungle” projects, such as the 2,000 km Amazonian link between Belém and Manaus in the far north of the country. Where a terrestrial network is not possible, we have developed a made-in-TIM Brazil solution called Sky Coverage: 4G mobile sites with a satellite connection powered by solar panel, which can be installed quickly in even the harshest environment. We get plenty of sun in Brazil, so this is a reliable source of power and with a reliable transport network, we rapidly extended our mobile coverage. 

In an effort to bring content, services, applications, and computation power closer to the user, open caching is a game changer.


Our main concern isn’t just to stretch our network across the country, but to provide a high-quality service to the customer. To do that, we started to study ways to bring the content itself closer to the consumer. That’s when we hit on the idea of an open caching content delivery network (CDN) platform.

 

As an open and distributed edge ecosystem, open caching brings content, services, applications, and computational power closer to the users. We knew this innovative, decentralized distribution model would be a game changer for Brazil. Because it’s an open environment, we can take content from many different sources and distribute it to our customers however we wish, all from a single platform. 

A Unique Alliance That Produced a New Business Model

To bring about such an innovative solution, we formed an alliance between TIM Brasil, software-based edge computing solution Qwilt, IT and networking giant Cisco, and Digital Alpha, a premier alternative asset manager with a unique collaboration agreement with Cisco. 


The process began in 2018, when Brazil hosted the Americas Football Cup. We worked with Qwilt to test open caching alongside a local content provider. Our tests lasted several months and yielded positive results, so we were confident in the technical configuration and performance of the platform. 


Then, in 2020, after months of negotiations, Cisco joined the partnership. They accelerated the project in two major ways. One, they provided the infrastructure. Two, they brought the other players to the table and introduced a unique business model that would allow us to complete the project that much faster. We signed the contract in October, we started the implementation in November 2020, and by March 2021, we had deployed to all 13 of our Points of Presence in Brazil.


Within this alliance, Cisco provides the infrastructure and computational platform, Qwilt provides the software and cloud services, and Digital Alpha supported us with the capital investment. Under the business model that Cisco proposed, we could employ this groundbreaking technology for the benefit of our customers with zero capital expenditure on our end. That was new for us, but it’s a sustainable model that allowed us to move quickly on such an important project. Now, the rest of our partners receive revenue to recover their investment and in the future, TIM Brasil will be receiving revenue as well. 

A Democratic Enabler That Offers New Business Opportunities for TIM Brasil

For us, adopting open caching was all about improving quality, performance, and reliability for our customers. In the case of a network failure, for example, our platform allows the user to continue accessing content, such as a video they’ve already started. The effects go beyond questions of performance, however. There is a strong social benefit to democratizing content across all parts of Brazil, in rural areas as well as urban ones. This solution bridges the digital divide in Brazil by giving customers in poorer, remote areas the same experience as our customers in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. 

One step to bridge the digital divide involves ensuring customers in poorer, remote areas have the same experience as customers in wealthier, urban areas.


We recognized the importance of connectivity long before the pandemic, but the pandemic has made connectivity a necessity. Whether the purpose is to work, study, manage finances, visit a doctor, or stay in touch with family and friends: being connected allows you to live when in-person communication is not possible. Providing everyone with the same access to services and opportunities is a democratic enabler.


This new CDN solution also provides TIM Brasil opportunities to grow our market share in areas such as gaming. Gaming is one of those services that requires low latency, and with our new solution we have reduced latency by 70 milliseconds in cities like Manaus, which are furthest from content interconnections. That doesn’t seem like much on paper, but it translates to a big impact on the overall gaming experience for our customers. The solution will also enable other services. 


Today, our focus is on the quality of video streaming, reducing interruptions or slow loading. In the near future, it will be about the new era of services that 5G will bring: massive IoT services, smart cities, and Industry 4.0 that promise to improve our economies and lifestyles.

Low Risk, High Rewards

Improved quality and connectivity for our customers was always our main goal with this project, but typically with these kinds of projects there’s also a lot of pressure to deliver high-quality results for the lowest upfront investment possible. 


Through our partnership with Cisco, Qwilt, and Digital Alpha, we introduced the platform we wanted with zero capital expenditure. And now we have a flexible platform that also opens up new opportunities for TIM Brasil. In fact, content distribution has become one of the main pillars of our business strategy. 


With the help of Cisco, we are third in the world to introduce open cache, and first in Latin America. We are proving ourselves to be industry leaders, all for the benefit of Brazilians.