|Asia-Pacific I 2009
|IPTV and fixed-mobile entertainment
|Vice President, Worldwide Marketing
Brian Caskey is the VP of Worldwide Marketing for UTStarcom, Inc.; he has more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications and IP networking industry and currently oversees all marketing efforts for UTStarcom. Mr Caskey joined UTStarcom as Vice President of Strategic Technical Marketing, responsible for consultation on the design and implementation of large-scale Voice over IP (VoIP) and next-generation networks. Mr Caskey also has extensive experience in the design of large, IP-based voice and data networks for Fortune 500 companies and telecommunications service providers. He spent more than 12 years in the satellite communications industry at GTE SpaceNet and AscomTimeplex designing Voice, TDM and SS7 networks and over ten years at 3Com/CommWorks in various executive, technical marketing and strategic technical advisory roles.
Mobile service providers, wire line networks, cable operators and mobile device manufacturers all look to fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and IPTV to generate new revenues and compete strongly in the market. FMC makes possible fixed-mobile entertainment (FME), the ability to seamlessly stream a programme one is watching between devices – from the home TV to a mobile handset. IP-based Next-generation networks (NGN) and softswitches make it both economically and technically viable to bundle programming and to seamlessly transfer between networks and devices.
Mobile service providers, wire line networks, cable operators and mobile device manufacturers typically seek new revenue-generating innovation and functionality for their customers. There is much promise on all those fronts with fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), which is emerging in some markets but only scratching the surface in others. FMC provides consumers the optimum voice, video and/or data connection possible regardless of location – home, office, automobile or other transportation mode. That reach could offer a significant increase in both subscribers’ business productivity as well as their social connectivity. Society’s increased mobility places a premium on the transparent switching from one technology to another – and it’s gaining momentum. The Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance, for instance, includes operators in Europe, South America and Asia. Acceptance, however, is not universal; no US carrier has yet to launch true FMC services. As the use of converged technologies gains acceptance, their spread could be propelled not only by FMC voice, but also by video and data services. As it stands, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) is rapidly gaining notoriety as an important application for generating new revenue for fixed-line broadband networks and wire line companies. FMC’s next phase is to put media in the hands of customers through fixed-mobile entertainment (FME). This would allow users to begin watching movies at home and continue watching them on handheld devices while in transit. The result for operators could be higher yields on multiplay rates as well as new services that command premium prices. Mobile IPTV represents a catalyst in the evolution of FME. Whether users are watching a movie or playing a video game on television, mobile IPTV creates a path for fixed-mobile entertainment that can stream from the full-size television set in the home or office to a user’s handheld device. Streaming media True streaming media is at the heart of future FME services. Set-top boxes (STB) in the home are used as a method to store and receive video. Users select videos on demand (VOD) and often time-shift (change the time) when they view their selections. Streaming media eliminates the need for the STB and enables media to be sent anywhere – to an Internet TV or a PC that has the right client software, or to a wireless device like an iPod or handset. Streaming media enables a key element of FME – mobile IPTV. Though mobile television has yet to achieve the maturity level that operators strive to deliver, complete end-to-end IPTV systems are available now. Some end-to-end platforms provide for fully interactive broadband TV and VOD, encompassing everything from a STB, to a media station streaming and storage server for content-only deployment, a content engine that encodes and trans-codes live or stored media, authentication and DRM servers, an OSS and a network management system. Such end-to-end IPTV solutions can be very attractive to operators because developing an IPTV system through multiple vendors is a notoriously complex and difficult task. Operators already are working to develop excellent services for hundreds of thousands – and potentially millions – of consumers. In China, one provider maintains an IPTV platform that currently serves about 200,000 customers and has the capacity to support up to 500,000 users. The service, whether fixed or mobile, should provide a better, less-expensive experience than the consumer has today. To meet future needs, operators demand a solution that is highly scalable, offers simple and seamless growth, and lets them drive service to both fixed broadband and wireless customers while retaining existing infrastructure. The next step is to deliver rich IPTV, similar to that available in the home, to wireless-enabled devices and handsets. However, this requires convergence. Ideally, a subscriber would access IPTV and other applications, and services at any time, from any place, regardless of the connection: wireless, broadband, wire line or IP. IPTV services should be so simple that when consumers watch their favourite TV shows, the media should follow them. For example, when uses leave the house, they should be able to transfer the show from the home network to their mobile handset served by a GSM network and watch the programme on the train to work. The user should also be able to check voice mail or email from the same device. Next-generation networks and FMC The future of FMC begins with the next-generation network (NGN), which in combination with softswitches will facilitate the reliable transition of IPTV from fixed to mobile networks. The cost of deployment, time-to-market and investment in existing infrastructure are factors that operators must consider. Providers will want to use a single network to offer multiple services, which has highly important economic consequences. In as little as three to six months – depending on the subscriber base and services offered – providers can achieve a return on investment, a vast improvement over the 12-18 months traditionally needed to obtain this return. NGNs will improve the business case and simultaneously provide support for broadband, video and voice. An NGN core, for instance, enables telephone companies to generate revenue immediately by enabling them to provide and bundle mobile entertainment, IPTV, wireless service as well as traditional local and long distance using a single, unified, infrastructure for all these services. NGN supports such back-office functions as billing, office administration and customer support and, in addition, allows subscribers to interact with IPTV programming. Because NGNs use softswitches, they can communicate with users on any IP-based network. Users can be on different networks, GSM or CDMA for example, but that poses no problem because carriers can use the NGN to peer into a wide variety of existing legacy networks and communicate with IPTV or any other IP service anywhere. Tier-one service providers can use NGNs to compete with other incumbent and emerging service providers, reduce churn, increase revenues and pick up new subscribers by offering triple play services – telephony, high-speed Internet and IPTV – to their wire line customers. As the pace of FMC evolution quickens, operators will be able to choose among multiple methods for delivering IPTV to mobile devices. Among them: the ETSI Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) standard, MediaFLO technology, TD-CDMA, WCDMA and WiMAX. NGN, which is access agnostic, simplifies the question; it treats all content simply as an IP payload transmitted by the network no matter what the device. Moving a favourite TV show from your WiFi network at home to a GSM or CDMA wireless network outdoors to another CDMA or WiFi network at the office calls for a solution that seamlessly crosses access transport boundaries. That requires NGNs, plus IP, plus an FMC solution that enables transparent interconnection to both fixed-line and cellular networks and that eliminates the need for a major overhaul of existing infrastructure. Nevertheless, moving to FMC can be a tough decision for an operator that has already made an investment in NGN and offers some IP service, and also has invested in a GSM or CDMA network. It is highly unlikely that any operator wants to pull the plug on its existing networks to invest in an entirely new infrastructure. NGN/FMC platforms can solve this problem by providing peering between an operator’s disparate networks, enabling customers to make a seamless transition from one to another. With an NGN/FMC platform, operators can also enable IP call control across any platform. An NGN/FMC platform can deliver IPTV over any network, whether broadband or wireless – even to a mobile handset. An NGN/FMC platform also eliminates time-to-market considerations for a variety of services; because no matter what the operator offers, the platform can make FMC happen right away. Together, these steps define the transition to FME and give operators a framework that allows them to do almost anything they want.