Microsoft integrates Israeli tech to upgrade video streaming quality

Launch comes a year after the tech giant acquired Israeli streaming firm Peer5; new capabilities feature on business communications platform Teams

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

Microsoft development center in Herzliya Pituah, October 30, 2020. (Gili Yaari/ Flash90/ File)
Microsoft development center in Herzliya Pituah, October 30, 2020. (Gili Yaari/ Flash90/ File)

A year after acquiring Israeli streaming firm Peer5, Microsoft has launched new technology based on the company’s developments to roll out high-quality video streaming in large-scale live broadcasts.

The tech, developed at Microsoft’s main R&D center in the coastal city of Herzliya, will be integrated into Teams, the tech giant’s business communications platform and its answer to Zoom and Slack, both of which soared in popularity at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when work-from-home and hybrid work environments started taking shape.

Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 but it never took off as a business tool, and Skype for Business was finally discontinued last summer. Meanwhile, Microsoft worked on Teams to build on its strength as a leading OS (operating system) and software provider, with an over 70 percent market share of desktop OS (Windows), and offer business communications — chat, meetings, conferences, collaboration — to organizations as a free add-on to Microsoft 365 Business.

In January, Microsoft officials said Teams had surpassed 270 million monthly active users. Before the pandemic, the software had about 32 million users.

Microsoft Israel said in a statement that Peer5’s tech will help to significantly improve the quality of video streaming in large-scale live broadcasts without overloading networks and “allow organizations to hold streaming events for millions of users simultaneously,” like company-wide training programs and virtual town halls.

Peer5 was founded in 2012 by Israeli entrepreneurs Hadar Weiss, Guy Paskar, and Shachar Zohar, and went on to offer an enterprise content delivery network (eCDN) that runs in-browser to optimize bandwidth usage with mesh networking technology. The company said it had powered live online events with up to two million concurrent users, and its products have been used by over 1 billion people worldwide.

Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk (right), corporate VP at Microsoft Corporation, general manager of Microsoft Israel Research & Development Center, and chief technology officer of Microsoft Security, with Hadar Weiss, product manager at Microsoft Israel Research & Development Center. (Netanel Tobias)

“When many employees stream at the same time, the network gets congested, Weiss explained in a post last year announcing the Microsoft acquisition. “This can happen during an all-hands meeting, a large training session or when everybody opens a link to a video that was just sent over email. Our technology solves this problem in the most efficient way possible, without changing the existing network infrastructure.”

Weiss, who currently serves as product manager at the Microsoft Israel Research & Development Center, said in a comment shared with The Times of Israel: “Our new technology reduces network saturation and delivers secure, high-quality, large-scale live video streaming with optimized network performance.

“It’s designed to enable organizations to seamlessly and securely live stream global meetings, townhalls, and distribute company-wide training, to help people and organizations stay connected and engage with employees from virtually anywhere,” added Weiss.

“Ever since remote work has become broadly accepted in the labor market, the ability to connect internally in organizations has become vital, as these meetings improve communication with the organization’s employees and preserve their involvement in the company,” Microsoft Israel said.

Separately, Microsoft plans to expand its footprint in Israel over the coming years, with five additional sites in the country and a doubled R&D workforce by 2025.

Microsoft’s new campus in Herzliya .(Amit-Geron)

Microsoft currently operates development centers in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Nazareth, and inaugurated a 46,000-square-meter campus for its R&D Israel headquarters two years ago. As of the end of 2020, Microsoft employed an estimated 2,300 people in Israel — 2,000 of them in R&D, working on projects including cybersecurity, AI technologies, big data and healthcare. Some 300 people work in sales and marketing.

The company said it has seen substantial growth in 2020 and 2021 across its development centers and hopes to add more than 2,500 engineers and other roles in the coming years to make up a local workforce of over 4,500 people.

The five planned sites include a second location in Tel Aviv that will house over 1,000 employees on 25,000-square-meter grounds, an additional space of about 17,000 square meters adjacent to the Herzliya site for 1,000 more employees, and two new development sites set to open next year in Beersheba and Jerusalem to tap into the talents of “under-represented sectors, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs,” the company said.

The location of the fifth site is still under consideration and will take into account key factors such as workforce diversity, commute, and work-life balance concerns, Microsoft said.

Microsoft opened a local branch in Israel in 1989, and established its first R&D center in Israel, its first outside the US, in 1991.

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