SIP, SDP and Friends
Peter Dordal, Loyola University CS Department
In this section we look at the Session Initiation Protocol, SIP, and other
IP-based protocols (primarily) for VoIP.
SIP/SDP & H.323
These are all forms of session-setup protocols; the actual data transfer
would then be handled via RTP or the equivalent (below). SIP & SDP are
IETF protocols; H.323 is standardized by the International
Telecommunications Union. Within the TCP/IP world, this means that there
tends to be a bias in favor of SIP. H.323 may provide more
complete switching options, but nobody really cares; SIP provides everything
you need to place calls and is more widely supported.
One of the deepest differences between SIP and SS7 is that SS7 is
centralized and SIP is entirely between the endpoints. In SIP, there are no
reserved channels because there are no channels to reserve: SIP messages and
the voice data packets travel on the global internet.
Another is that we now have to negotiate the encoding used, eg µlaw (also
known as G.711). SIP doesn't actually do this itself; it leaves that up to
SDP. Strictly speaking, SS7 has to negotiate the encoding too, but the only
choices are usually µlaw or Alaw.
Another difference is that while SIP very happily serves to connect
voice-call endpoints (ie phone numbers), its endpoint-naming schema is in
fact much more general. SIP can also be used for multi-endpoint
teleconferencing. It can also be used for game setup, or for instant
SIP's message format is somewhat similar to HTTP. It is often used in
conjunction with the Session Description Protocol (SDP); the SDP data
defines the format of the proposed call and is typically encapsulated in the
SIP packet. SDP allows specification of IP addresses, names, and specific
formats for the data streams. SIP can interact with Signaling System 7,
though the two are structurally rather different.
SIP can be used to get two Asterisk servers to communicate, though it is
more common to use IAX for that.
Goals for SIP include:
Often the initial connection to a user is made to a SIP proxy;
the asterisk server acts as a proxy for the Cisco phones. If your phones are
behind a NAT firewall, you will need a proxy outside. Proxies forward SIP
packets, perhaps after editing them; proxies may negotiate (or allow the
endpoints to negotiate) a more direct route for the actual call path.
Proxies typically know the locations of the various local telephones; there
is a SIP registration mechanism for a phone to announce
itself to, say, its Asterisk server. A proxy may also fork
a call to multiple devices (eg to my desk phone and my cell phone); forking
may either be parallel (ring both simultaneously) or sequential (ring one
for 15 seconds, then the other).
- locating the correct remote endpoint (sometimes this amounts to a form
- determining whether the user is available
- coordinating the audio/video encoding mechanisms
- setting up the RTP session, including specification of port numbers
- managing the ongoing session, including teardown at the end
In Asterisk, sequential ringing is done by one Dial() call followed by
another; the first Dial() call must have a timeout. Parallel ringing is
handled by including both channels in a single Dial() call.
SIP endpoints are User Agents, or UAs. Other entities are
Connections start with a sip URI (uniform resource
identifier -- not locator!), eg
- Registrar Servers: databases containing information about all UAs that
have registered with that server. The Asterisk box was a registrar
- Proxy servers: these accept SIP connections from UAs or other proxies,
and using information from a Registrar Server they will forward the
connection to the destination UA or to another intermediate proxy. Proxy
servers can be stateful (meaning they retain call
information) or stateless (meaning they do not, though
they do remain in the initial setup path, unlike redirect servers).
- Redirect Servers: these are proxy servers that return messages such as
Moved Temporarily; the previous proxy then continues
building the proxy chain.
The part of a SIP URI to the right of the "@" represents a host to be
contacted, that is, the "remote proxy" (it might not be the final
remote proxy, however). The part to the left of the "@" is to be interpreted
by the remote proxy. In some cases it represents a telephone number; in
other cases, it represents some identifier that the remote
proxy knows how to find and page.
- SIP:firstname.lastname@example.org (somebody has to know how to locate
- SIP:email@example.com (flowroute uses this for inbound calls
- SIP:firstname.lastname@example.org (my cisco phone sends this to asterisk
when trying to dial my office phone)
- SIP:email@example.com (what Asterisk sends
on; note the added 1 prefix)
The most common SIP messages are
SIP packet bodies contain ASCII text spelling out all the fields. This
allows flexible addition of new fields; for example, SIP INVITEs from
flowroute for inbound calls often contain the P-Asserted-Identity field
- REGISTER: a phone registers itself to an asterisk server
- INVITE: start a call
- ACK: internal acknowledgement
- PRACK: Provisional ACK
- CANCEL: end an attempt to create a connection
- BYE: ordinary hangup
Someone calling me would start with an INVITE message, sent by their proxy
(the User Agent Client, or UAC) to mine. My proxy may not be the final
stage, however. As the INVITE message is passed along, each proxy returns
the message 100 Trying. Eventually the INVITE reaches the
end of the path (or fails), and the phone rings. It also sends back 180
Ringing, and sometimes also 183 Session in Progress.
When the phone is answered, it sends back 200 OK along the
proxy chain. Sometimes there are SIP proxies ("stateless" proxies) that lie
between proxyA and proxyB on the path, but which "edit themselves out" of
the final signaling path.
One of the purposes of the proxies is to allow connection to
sip:firstname.lastname@example.org through any of several phones, thus supporting forwarding:
my office phone first, but my cell phone if I have pressed a button on my
office phone to forward calls.
The actual data (the RTP packets) do not traverse the proxy path; they take
the most direct route they can. Note, however, that endpoints behind NAT
firewalls will need some kind of proxy.
In the above picture (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SIP_signaling.png),
the following has happened:
- user1 sent INVITE(1) to Proxy1
- Proxy1 sent INVITE(1) to the Redirect Server, which responds with
- Proxy1 then sent a new INVITE, INVITE(2), to the Stateless Proxy
- INVITE(2) is forwarded to Proxy2
- Proxy2 forwards it to user2
- User2 sends back 200 OK, which traverses Proxy 2,
Stateless Proxy, and Proxy 1
- User1 then sends ACK(2), which bypasses the
Stateless Proxy (no longer in the "path")
user1------- media path
This arrangement is sometimes called the SIP trapezoid.
Note that, when flowroute.com (in California or Nevada) is proxy2, then
user2 is likely to be a SIP-to-SS7 transfer point ideally in the LATA of the
PSTN side of the call. That is, if I'm calling someone in Pennsylvania,
proxy2 is in California but hopefully user2 is in Pennsylvania.
One important field in the SIP header is the Call-ID, which is a unique
identifier for referring to this call in subsequent packets. In the To:
field there is usually a "tag" field with another unique identifier. This
tag can be chosen independently by each side, and may be chosen uniquely for
each transaction (related set of packets). From RFC 3261:
Call-ID contains a globally unique
identifier for this call, generated by the combination of a random string
and the softphone's host name or IP address. The combination of the
To tag, From tag, and Call-ID completely defines a peer-to-peer SIP
relationship between Alice and Bob and is referred to as a dialog.
UDP v TCP
SIP can run on UDP or TCP. For most VoIP applications, UDP is the transport
layer of choice. Just why this is so, however, is not as clear as it might
be. The actual RTP data, of course, needs to use UDP so that a lost data
packet can be ignored. TCP forces a wait until any lost packet is
retransmitted. Would the delay for a lost INVITE packet be unacceptable? SIP
over UDP has to have its own timeout mechanisms.
One advantage of having SIP use UDP, aside from the real-time aspect, is
that the transition from including the proxies in the communication path to
omitting them can be made seamlessly. At any point, either endpoint can
start sending to another entity (eg the other proxy or the other endpoint).
Note that in the diagram above, the INVITE, 200 OK and ACK(2) packets form a
When SIP is sent over UDP, the following simple timeout/retransmission
mechanism is used [RFC 3261]
the client transaction retransmits requests
at an interval that starts at T1 seconds and doubles after every
retransmission. T1 is an estimate of the round-trip time (RTT), and
it defaults to 500 ms.
ACKS are, as with TCP, not themselves acknowledged.
This is actually somewhat easier for TCP, at least in terms of having a
phone behind a NAT firewall register itself to an Asterisk server. However,
the problem then becomes what to do when the proxies drop out (in some
cases, the proxies simply cannot drop out).
------------------------ NAT firewall --------------------- phone
SIP usually uses port 5060. Generally, if there is only one device behind a
NAT firewall trying to reach a proxy on the outside, and it uses source port
5060, then port 5060 will be passed through unchanged. That is, packets will
arrive at the proxy from port 5060 of the NAT firewall;
the source port number will not be remapped. (However, if there are
two hosts inside trying to reach the outside from port 5059, one would be
remapped, possibly to 5060, leading to a need to remap the phone's use of
port 5060). Alternatively, some NAT firewalls allow punching through certain
"holes" for designated ⟨host,port⟩ combinations on the inside.
Finally, it is possible that the packets from the inside phone will be
remapped. The packets will arrive at the outside proxy's port 5060, but
appear to be coming from another port on the NAT firewall, perhaps 5067. In
this case, as long as the proxy remembers this source port, it can always
SIP registration packets are sent at periodic intervals; one consequence of
this is that the firewall is kept "open". At any time, the proxy can reply
to the phone by sending to the firewall with the port that the phone appears
outside the firewall to be using as its source port.
When the SIP end users leave the proxies out of the path and begin direct
communication, they get each other's IP address from the SIP packets so far.
That IP address will be wrong if one endpoint is behind a
NAT firewall. Furthermore, if the other phone tries to send to the phone
shown above through the NAT firewall, the firewall will not be open for
packets coming from other-phone's IP address. The bottom line is that if one
phone/user is behind a NAT firewall, its proxy probably cannot drop out of
the media path.
In asterisk, the media path is initially set up through the asterisk proxy.
The asterisk proxy can then issue a SIP RE-INVITE request to modify this to
allow direct communication between the endpoints. The "reinvite=no" option
disables this, and thus is generally required when an endpoint is behind a
When you first set up a SIP phone, it needs to register
with your proxy (eg your VoIP provider or Asterisk box). This is roughly
equivalent by having the phone "log in" to the registry server (which can be
different from your actual SIP proxy).
The cisco phone uses the information in the Subscriber Information section
(admin/advanced/Ext1). Normally registration is based on the userid (eg
cisco55311eline1) and the password. Compare that information with what is in
ulam2's sip.conf file.
When the phone registers, one (no longer supported) option is for it to send
its ID and password; this is known as the SIP "basic authentication"
protocol. But it is now officially forbidden, as it exposes the password to
eavesdroppers. The SPA (cisphone) does not use basic
authentication; instead it attempts to use digest
authentication. In registration.pcap, I did a packet trace just after
rebooting the phone (forcing it to re-register). In packet 1 the cisphone
sends a request containing
The response is an MD5 hash of the username, password, nonce, and URI. A
"nonce" is a short-term string used in the challenge-response protocol; it
is generated by the asterisk server and likely encodes a private per-server
key, the identity of the remote phone (cisphone), and a timestamp. Because
the password is included in the string hashed to create the response,
presumably only an endpoint in possession of the password could have created
the response. The phone server can verify the response because it too knows
the password, and everything else is public.
The purpose of including the nonce is to prevent replay attacks; after the
registration has expired (typically after 3600 seconds), a given response
string can no longer be used.
The reply to the above registration attempt is packet 2, 401
Unauthorized; registration fails because the cisphone was using
an old nonce value. The reply packet also includes a new nonce word of
"5c4841da". The other lines of the cisphone also try to register with the
old nonce, and fail; the phone is a four-line phone and each line can
register independently of the others. Often I have some of the other lines
register with other SIP servers.
In packet 9, the cisphone tries again to register, this time using the new
nonce. The new response computed by the cisphone is
"f7372e4bd340c82ea0a275d9a6ec76a7". The server reply indicating success is
It is also possible to register multiple phones with the same
username. In this case, all ring when a call comes in. This is a simple way
of setting up a "call group", but is generally intended when all phones
represent the "same" user. (Another application of call groups is having
calls to the sales number ring the phones of every salesperson.)
Finally, there is a certificate option for registration authentication,
which uses public-key encryption. As long as there is not a problem
provisioning the phone and server with the same password string, however,
public-key authentication is not needed and provides no additional security.
This is rather like SIP, except everything has a different name. (To be
fair, there are also additional features). Proxy servers are known as Gatekeepers
or Peer Elements or Border Elements.
H.323 has more features for admission control and authentication.
Where SIP connections begin with an INVITE message, H.323 may (this is what
the telecom world is like) begin with a Request for Permission To Call.
One advantage of SIP, as a protocol, is its greater flexibility. New data
formats can be added to SDP very quickly; getting revisions to H.323 usually
takes years and can take decades.
The Session Description Protocol has to negotiate the connection. At the SIP
level, this could be point-to-point audio, multicast audio, video, or even
For VoIP purposes, the main role of SDP is to negotiate the codec,
or voice-data-encoding algorithm, used by the connection, and also the media path. Here are some options, from
the O'Reilly Asterisk-The
Definitive Guide book, Appendix B: Protocols for VoIP:
|| Data bitrate (Kbps)
|| License required?
|| 64 Kbps
|| 16, 24, 32, or 40 Kbps
|| 8 Kbps
|| Yes (no for pass-through)
|| 13 Kbps
|| 13.3 Kbps (30-ms frames) or 15.2 Kbps (20-ms frames)
|| Variable (between 2.15 and 22.4 Kbps)
|| 64 Kbps
G.711 is, of course, µlaw. There is no compression beyond companding.
G.729 is a remarkably efficient form of compression, though it is
CPU-intensive. The latter matters only if you're doing the
compression/decompression on a shared switch; if your phone can do G.729
itself then this is not an issue.
The compression algorithms used by G.729A are tuned to voice; so much so, in
fact, that DTMF (touch-tone) tones are not properly carried! The process
starts with a 10 ms block of 16-bit samples (80 samples). The patented
algorithm is known as Algebraic Code-Excited Linear Prediction (ACELP). Each
block is run through two digital filters, one to create an average
pitch for the block and one called the "stochastic"
contribution. The latter is encoded as an entry in a large "codebook" that
is built into the algorithm. The codebook (and the average-pitch phase)
attempts to use a model of how human-speech sounds are produced.
Speex also uses generic CELP.
Demo of G.729
- Cisco phone: enable G.729 as the only codec (for the line or lines
that should use G.729)
- eliminate global "allow=ulaw" setting
- put channel-specific "allow=ulaw" for channels where it is still
- on the channel to the cisco phone line where we want to use G.729,
use only "allow=g729".
- for the flowroute channel definition, put "allow=g729" before
VoIP and Jitter Buffer
VoIP calls have to deal with a much larger round-trip time than PSTN calls,
easily 100-200 ms versus the PSTN's delay of 1-2 ms on a DS-0 line.
However, the delay is often chosen to be larger than the initially measured
RTT. This is to have a hedge against increases in the RTT; the "voice RTT"
should be larger than the worst-case "packet RTT".
Sometimes, if we realize the voice-RTT estimate was chosen too large, we can
reduce it, either by paring away a few voice samples at a time, or by
reducing times when the line is silent (we need some form of "silence
detection" for this).
RTP & RTCP
RTP is Realtime Transport Protocol, a generic UDP-based way of sending
"realtime" (audio and video) data. The RTP header contains:
Examples of CSRCs might be synchronized video feeds from multiple locations
or cameras, or synchronized feeds from multiple microphones. Synchronized
audio and video is also possible, but deprecated; the preferred strategy is
to send audio and video as two separate flows. That way, if one wants to
renegotiate the encoding, it is free to do so.
- 9 bits of general identification information
- 7-bit payload type
- 16-bit sequence number (for
- 32-bit timestamp
- one 32-bit SSRC (Synchronization Source) identifier (identifying the
- a variable number of CSRC (Contributing Source) identifiers
(identifying logically significant substreams of the SSRC).
RTP does not use a designated port. (Nor is there an evident "signature" for
RTP packets, making them sometimes hard to identify in packet traces). In
the SIP/SDH packets immediately before the RTP exchange, the port(s) to be
used by the RTP packets are identified.
In the Asterisk rtp.conf file, I specified the RTP port range as
19000-20000. These are the local ports used by ulam2; the other end of
course chooses its local port.
In my wireshark file g729.outbound.frontier.pcap
(ie to Frontier Telecommunications, my home landline provider), I placed a
call from a cisphone directly connected to ulam2 via a private network
tunnel. Ulam2 chooses port 19522 and the remote RTP end, 18.104.22.168 (an
IP address reasonably near my home), chooses port 50836. Ulam2 specifieds
this port 19522 in both SIP/SDP packets it sends (1 and 5). Packet 7 is the
one SIP/SDH packet from flowroute (22.214.171.124), and the SDH body
identifies its RTP host (126.96.36.199, in "Connection Information =>
Connection Address") and port (50836, in "Media Description => Media
Port"; Media Format of G.729 is also identified here). The very next packet
(the first RTP packet) is sent by ulam2 to 188.8.131.52 / 50836.
Note that ulam2 does not specify a different host; that is, there is no
"reinvite" at its end. That's because I told it not to ("reinvite=no"),
which in turn is because the actual phone is behind a NAT firewall; ulam2
continues to forward RTP packets between the cisphone and 184.108.40.206. IP
addresses and ports embedded in the communications stream are particularly
difficult for NAT firewalls to handle, as the behind-NAT sender's idea of
what its IP address and port are will have almost no relation to the actual
IP address and port. (For SIP, we might actually get the same port, 5060, as
long as we're the first to ask for it.) It is actually the SDP packets,
carried within SIP packets, that hold the media-stream contact information.
In Asterisk, the sip.conf option "nat=yes" causes any new IP address or port
in the SDP packets to be ignored; the media stream is sent to the same host
as the SIP packets.
In my wireshark file g729.outbound.loyola.pcap,
I called my Loyola office phone from my office cisphone, which reaches ulam2
through a NAT firewall (10.38.2.42). I traced not only the RTP packets
between ulam2 and the other end, but also the RTP packets to the cisphone.
We see the following:
packet 1: SIP/SDP INVITE from firewall to
ulam2, containing a Connection Address of 10.213.119.31. This is a
behind-the-NAT address; ulam2 can not
reach it. There is also a port specified (16472
and multiple media formats (G.729, G.711, G.721, G.722, ....).
packet 4: Pretty much the same, after some authentication
packet 6: SIP INVITE from ulam2 to sip.flowroute.com (220.127.116.11),
specifying Connection Address = ulam2 (ie not
10.213.119.31 or 10.38.2.42), and port 19116
G.729 is the only codec offered
packet 10: Again, pretty much the same, but after authentication
packets 13-15: These look like early RTP packets from the far end. At this
point ulam2 has no idea who they are from!
packet 16: This is the first SIP/SDP packet from sip.flowroute.com to
ulam2, identifying the remote end as 18.104.22.168 / 9998
identified by ip2location.com
as being in Morgantown, WV.
packet 17: SIP/SDP from ulam2 to the firewall, specifying the connection
as 22.214.171.124 / 19098
is, ulam2 again.
The rest is the RTP stream, including both the local
stream between ulam2 and the cisphone/firewall and the longhaul
stream from ulam2 to West Virginia.
Note packets 19, 21, 23 and 25, which ulam2 attempted to send directly to
the cisphone at hidden address 10.213.119.31. They never got there. After
that, we see each packet twice, once between ulam2 and 126.96.36.199 and once
between ulam2 and 10.38.2.42. The packets to 10.213.119.31 stop as soon as
the first RTP packet from the
cisphone, via the firewall, arrives at ulam2 as packet 26. At this point
ulam2 recognizes the packet as part of the RTP flow it is expecting from
cisphone, and uses the packet's source address (the firewall) as the address
to send future RTP packets to, rather than the IP address of 10.213.119.31
announced in packets 1 and 4.
- local: between firewall 10.38.2.42 / 16472
(the actual cisphone port!) to ulam2 / 19098
- longhaul: between 188.8.131.52 / 9998
and ulam2 / 19116
To summarize: the SIP protocol as such uses port 5060, and gets through a
RTP relies either on (a) not trying to get through NAT firewalls at
all, or noticing that the real
address/port from which RTP packets are arriving from behind the firewall is
not the "advertised" address/port, and using the real address/port instead.
There is also a manual configuration option for NAT exceptions, and there
are also "NAT-traversal" protocols such as SOCKS or NAT-T that allow certain
ports behind a NAT firewall to be "opened up".
- using the same port (5060) both ways
- hoping nobody else is trying to use that port
- sending packets regularly ("keepalives") to hold the NAT-table entry
The switch to this new IP address / port is in Asterisk called a "reinvite";
the SIP protocol uses this term for modifications of an existing negotiated
With cisphone behind a NAT firewall, ulam2 can reach it by replying back.
What if ulam2 itself were behind a firewall? Then it would REGISTER itself
to sip.flowroute.com and continue sending keepalives to sip.flowroute.com to
stay in touch. Then flowroute could reply to ulam2, at least to port 5060.
There is a mechanism for manual configuration (and again keepalives) of a
handful of ports for the RTP traffic, but I'm not very familiar with it.
We earlier looked at some of the RTP packets from a call placed by the cisco
VoIP phone using G.711. These packets were 214 bytes, consisting of
Because the RTP header was only 12 bytes, there were no CSRCs, which is what
we would expect for a single voice channel. The RTP payload type was 0x00,
which is desigated as ITU-T
G.711 PCMU, which is µ-law/A-law logarithmic companding of 8-bit PCM
audio with a sampling rate of 8000.
- 14-byte Ethernet header
- 20-byte IP header
- 8-byte UDP header
- 12-byte RTP header
- 160 bytes of µlaw data (20 ms at 64kbps)
Other payload-type codes may be found in RFC
3551, page 33 (RTP A/V Profile).
Compare the RTP packets for a G.729 connection. The packets still have the
14-byte Ethernet header, 20-byte IP header, 8-byte UDP header and 12-byte
RTP header. However, the data for 20 ms now takes only 20 bytes, for a total
packet size of 74. Note that, for these packets, these headers now take up
73% of the total!
RTP timestamps are provided by the sending application,
and are application-specific. Their primary purpose is to synchronize
playback. For the cisco phone, the timestamps were in multiples of 160,
starting at 160; these would represent the number of "sampling ticks" (at
the rate of 8000/sec) up to the end of the current data.
RTP packets are generated only by the sender; the flow is one-way. The RTP
protocol does not include any form of acknowledgement. However, associated
with RTP is the Realtime Transport Control Protocol (sometimes called RTP
Control Protocol), or RTCP. This
has several goals, in each direction; one goal is to support tagging of RTP
streams, and to support coordination and mixing of RTP streams that have not
been mixed at the SSRC/CSRC level. However, for our purposes the primary
goal of RTCP is to provide acknowledgment-like feedback from receiver to
sender, indicating the packet loss rate. Here is that portion of the data
from one of the cisco RTCP Receiver Report
(RR) packets (packet 3013) from g729.outbound.loyola.pcap (Real-time
Transport Control Protocol (Receiver Report) â Stream setup by SDP â Source
1 â SSRC contents):
RTCP packets are not sent often; in the g729.outbound.loyola.pcap file there
is a pair at positions 1006 and 1007, a pair at 2010/2011 and the final pair
- SSRC contents
- Cumulative number of packets lost:
- Extended highest sequence number received: 11009
- Sequence number cycles count: 0
- Highest sequence number received: 11009
- Interarrival jitter: 25
- Last SR timestamp: 0 (0x00000000)
- Delay since last SR timestamp: 960233 (14651 milliseconds)
RTP applications can elect to
receive this information (in particular, the fraction lost), and adjust
their sending rates (eg by choosing a different encoding) appropriately. But
if the RTCP reports are unsatisfactory, and the RTP data stream cannot adapt
to a lower bandwidth, there is not much point bothering to receive the
report. The jitter portion of the RTCP message is always potentially usable,
because if jitter is higher than it was any RTP receiver can adapt simply by
increasing the size of its playback buffer (that is, increasing the delay
between average arrival time and actual playback). But the jitter is seldom
an important issue.
In fact, when the cisphone is using µlaw encoding, it does not seem to send
RTCP packets under any circumstances! A possible reason for this is that
there is no possibility of making use of the data within them; g.711 is
completely nonadaptive. (g.729a is also nonadaptive, in
practice, but the phone seems to send the reports anyway.)
Also, when the asterisk server remains in the path, it too does not initiate
any RTCP packets. In this case, however, that is because it is not an
endpoint to the exchange.
There is a Java interface to RTP, java.net.rtp (not
part of the standard Oracle/Sun library). In this package, an application
that wishes to receive RTCP information can create an RTCP_actionListener,
which is invoked asynchronously whenever RTCP packets arrive, much like a
mouse Listener. A standard GUI interface, however, may consist of
essentially nothing but various asynchronous Listeners. A typical RTP
program, on the other hand, will have at least one main thread involved in
the transfer of data, and which will receive some form of messages or
notification (perhaps by setting shared variables) from the RTCP_actionListener.
If you watch a movie on Netflix or Hulu, the video encoding is highly
adaptive: if bandwidth is reduced, the video encoder is changed to a lower
rate. Originally, Netflix transmitted at one of 2200 kbps, 1600 kbps, 1000
kbps and 500 kbps (with progressively poorer resolution as the rate
decreased); your rate might change mid-session as less (or more) bandwidth
I doubt Netflix uses RTP, but, if it did, then it is the returning RTCP
packets that provide input to the video transmitter at the Netflix end as to
what encoding rate to use.
If, as is more likely, Netflix uses TCP to send the video data, then it is
the rate of returning conventional ACKs that determines the effective
bandwidth. This can be measured from "userland" (non-kernel land) at the
sending side by recording the time for every send()/write() operation; after
some startup buffering, these operations block until the TCP window is able
to transmit more data. Another strategy is to use user-level
acknowledgments; that is, to have the transport channel receiving
end send back regular reports. In the file ouat2.pcap, the video seems to be
from 184.108.40.206; we can focus on these packets with tcp and ip.host ==
220.127.116.11. Some of the acknowledgements also contain data. In addition,
there are various RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) packets; this is a
semi-proprietary Macromedia protocol used for supporting flash video.
Netflix has now [2012?] licensed the eyeIO
technology for variable-rate video encoding.
I have some packet traces of watching something on hulu.com; hulu most
definitely does not use RTP.