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|IPTV’s peta, exa, zetta and yotta tasty byte-sized services
||25th May 2011|
IPTV - TV content transmitted using Internet Protocol - it’s simple, but not quite as simple as most would imagine.
IPTV can, in principle, run over any sort of wired or wireless network that can handle IP data, to any device that can receive it including PCs, tablets, televisions, games consoles, set-top boxes and smartphones. IPTV is growing rapidly.
IPTV has a great many other names including Telco TV. The term IPTV is often used, incorrectly, to include any sort of TV-like content transmitted over the Internet - this would be better described as Internet TV.
The difference between Internet TV and IPTV is that IPTV does not use the public Internet - it travels as IP packets over the well tended, managed and closed networks of the telcos and other network operators. LANs would also work for IPTV in, say, a university campus or company environment.
IPTV can offer the same sort of programming as the cablecos, it can also offer video-on-demand, live broadcasts from virtually anywhere, time-shifted content, and the like, in a high quality uni-cast personalised digital entertainment format. IPTV is also referred to as interactive TV; it can be interactive, but is not necessarily so. Within the managed network environment, operators can provide much higher quality of service and a superior viewer experience including fast channel changes, high definition and even 3D. With IPTV, only the channels a user selects are delivered. Cable system channels are normally broadcast; everything is sent to the user who then selects what to watch.
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Lately, I have been looking at the estimates regarding the growth of video traffic on the world’s broadband networks the same dumbfounded way I look at estimates of the number of stars in the universe, the weight of Mount Everest, the litres of water in the Mediterranean. When I hear of petabytes, exabytes or even of a more distant future with zetta or yotta bytes of traffic I boggle. I know we are speaking of quadrillions, quintillions, sextillions and septillions of bytes of data, but try as I will to understand what the numbers mean, I can’t visualise a ‘peta’ let alone a ‘yotta’; these, though, are the numbers we must deal with as video traffic grows.
"Managed IP Video" traffic - essentially what we have defined as IPTV, growing at a 33 per cent compound annual growth rate, should reach 10,875 petabytes monthly by 2014.
The market seems to be heading for a free-for-all. On one side, telcos the world over are betting part of their future on their ability to sell entertainment and services to their voice subscribers. The potential is great and the telcos - if they have the money to invest in network upgrades - can deliver top-notch content and a truly high quality experience that will captivate a great many paying viewers. At the other end there is OTT or over-the-top television delivered directly over the public Internet without the carrier participating in the programming or the revenues. The quality might not be as good, but content - at prices ranging from free to reasonable - is available from a vast number of Net sources including from such well-known names as Amazon, Apple iTunes, Best Buy, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Microsoft Marketplace, Netflix, Sony, Vudu, YouTube, and even some telcos.
YouTube - owned by Google - is working hard to obtain distribution rights from major studios. They already have agreements with NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers. Over and above the short clips that are its mainstay, YouTube has many free movies from independent producers and others that cost $2.99, to $3.99, 24-hour rentals - much the same as the pricing of iTunes and Amazon.
Nevertheless, the public Internet is still very much a best effort affair, so OTT quality, consistency and download times will suffer at times. Still, if and when operators are free to offer tiered Internet services - and Internet video software, platforms and equipment continue to improve as expected - one can reasonably expect IPTV and Internet TV to offer equivalent quality not too many years from now. The main difference might well become the ability to access operator provided exclusive content via IPTV.
IPTV is one of the operators’ best hopes to escape the bit-pipe trap and share in the revenues generated by the content flowing over their networks. Operators, though, will have to invest heavily and constantly to keep up with the need for ever-higher-bitrate pipes. In markets with well-entrenched cable providers, operators will have to compete on the basis of price, quality and content.
The half-hearted efforts by operators that are rushing into the market too late and too little - their networks can’t handle the heavy loads and they haven’t really got competitive content (like the main telco in the city where I live) will not get far even if their prices are cheap. The picture quality is mediocre and the content just can’t compete. They want to get into the business without spending much and they probably will run at a loss until they upgrade their networks and spend heavily on top-quality content.
Cable companies have much more experience in the entertainment market; they own modern high-quality networks and they have ample, long-established, sources of quality content. Telco newcomers will have a tough battle at first trying to profitably beat the cable operators at their own game - especially where the voice revenues they need to help fuel expansion are being undermined by competition from low-priced VoIP voice offerings from cable operators.
The telcos have the customer base and customer recognition and they have a great many other advantages in this market as well; IPTV can really help them build their value added services revenues, but most will have to work hard and invest heavily in the service to succeed. The task, certainly will be easier in markets that are currently without cable service - the initial expectations are lower and the service can be rolled out and built up without undue haste. IPTV has a great future, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.
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