Breaking 25 trillion notifications for the BBC

In 2012, BBC needed to add a push notification service to its portfolio of mobile applications, with main focus on BBC News and BBC Sports. At the scale of the BBC, there was several key requirements that made it difficult to use an off-the-shelf application:

  1. A large number of deployed applications, in tens of millions. By adding push notification support to their new app, they would expect all updated apps to immediately contact the push notification backend. They needed to be 100% sure that the push backend would handle that massive load from day one.

  2. Ability to send as many pushes as the News would require. Most platforms pricing is based on the number of push delivered. It means that if you want to control your budget, you have to micro manage the push notifications you would send. This was not acceptable for the BBC.

  3. Pushes should be delivered quickly and faster than the competition. When sending breaking news, the news outlet having the most impact is the one getting its notifications first on user devices. The push platform needed to be able to send at least 2.5 million notifications per minute. This is a non trivial problem. If you think about the fact you need to select and read the information for each mobile device you would like to reach, that scale is demanding even if you only consider the database part, let alone the fact that we needed to reach that speed end-to-end.

  4. A need for a sophisticated topic subscription mechanism for push notifications and detailed analytics. On BBC Sports, for example, for football you need to be able to subscribe to very fine grained notifications: users select the team of interest and for each team, the type of notifications they are interested in (line up, kick-off, goals, final score). You also need to ensure that delivery of the push will only arrive once for a given device, no matter what topic combination they are subscribed to.

ProcessOne fully developed this system within three months. It included a highly scalable backend with configurable delivery speed, able to handle several millions of push notifications per minute. To operate the platform at the BBC level, ProcessOne created a management web interface, with application administration, push credentials management, user rights and detailed analytics.

Since the push notification platform ought to deliver breaking news without delay, ProcessOne implemented a fully-featured push API for communication with BBC editorial tooling. Finally, to help the BBC tech team with mobile application integration, ProcessOne prepared a set of mobile SDK for iOS and Android, and later for Amazon Push notification service and Cordova.

ProcessOne also fully managed the platform for the BBC, handling its operations and maintenance. The project launch for the BBC News was a success. It then expanded to BBC Sports. The platform covered many events, from the FIFA World Cup to the Olympics Games in London, as well as the UK Elections.

Over the first five years of the project, ProcessOne delivered a 100% uptime. The platform delivered more than 25 trillion notifications. It handled up to 150 million push notifications on a single day. This platform led to ProcessOne releasing its push notification service as a SaaS platform, under the Boxcar name.

Areas of expertise:

  • Realtime messaging
  • Push notifications
  • Mobile development
  • Platform management and hosting


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