One of Apple's existing data centers

One of Apple’s existing data centers

The WSJ reports that Apple has been quietly making major new investments in Internet infrastructure in a move which may simply be designed to boost the performance of its existing online services, but which could also be in readiness for its upcoming television product.

Bill Norton, chief strategy officer for International Internet Exchange, which helps companies line up Internet traffic agreements, estimates that Apple has in a short time bought enough bandwidth from Web carriers to move hundreds of gigabits of data each second.

“That’s the starting point for a very, very big network,” Mr. Norton said … 

Apple also made a couple of senior infrastructure hires in September: Lauren Provo from Comcast and Jean-François Mulé, a former technology VP at a TV R&D company.

Apple, of course, already shifts a great deal of data though iTunes, iCloud and the Mac App Store. Historically, it has out-sourced most of that to third-party Content Delivery Network (CDN) companies, with Akamai believed to be Apple’s key supplier, while StreamingMediaBlog, who reported the Apple CDN buildout yesterday, names Level 3 as another major supplier.

Apple building its own CDN would give the company greater control and would likely boost performance for streaming media in particular. This is the approach taken by Netflix, for example, which stores its video content in a number of data caches around the world to enable faster and more reliable delivery.

An iPhone user who subscribes to Sprint Corp., for instance, might download a song more quickly if Sprint’s network links directly to the Apple data center storing that song, rather than channeling the file through a series of middlemen.

So the move may mean nothing more than improving the delivery of Apple’s existing services, but the timing is at least interesting. 2014 is the year for which Tim Cook has said that Apple has “some big plans” and “really great stuff coming.” A new Apple TV is believed to be one of the new products on the way, and building a large content delivery network would certainly be a logical part of the preparations for such a product.