Home North AmericaNorth America 2007 Realising the promise of IPTV

Realising the promise of IPTV

by david.nunes
Kumar ShahIssue:North America 2007
Article no.:8
Topic:Realising the promise of IPTV
Author:Kumar Shah
PDF size:236KB

About author

Kumar Shah is the CEO of Kasenna. He has more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications sector in general management, marketing, sales, strategic planning, business development and engineering management. Mr Shah has been involved in the development of video, broadband access, multi-service switching and internetworking products for the global telecommunications carriers and service providers. Kumar Shah was most recently an Entrepreneur-In-Residence, EIR, at US Venture Partners. Previously, Mr Shah was President and CEO of Occam Networks and Chief Marketing Officer of AccessLan Communications. Kumar Shah has an MS in Electrical Engineering from University of Massachusetts, Amherst and BTech. in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India.

Article abstract

Internet Protocol TV, IPTV, enables telcos and service providers to offer a wide range of high-margin services that help build and maintain customer loyalty. Telecom operators have networks designed for two-way traffic that can deliver personalized services more easily than cable networks, but planning and rolling out IPTV can be a challenge for many operators given the complexity and number of choices. Nevertheless, open standards-based systems and cooperation between hardware and software suppliers with pre-tested solutions have simplified the problem.

Full Article

Telecom operators around the world have awakened to the promise of IPTV, Internet Protocol TV. With a focus on reaching new customers, and selling more services to their existing customers, purveyors of IPTV equipment and software are presenting IPTV as a way for carriers to enable a raft of new, high-margin services that customers actually want. By building the infrastructure to deliver IPTV, operators can offer new and exciting programming and interactive features to subscribers who eagerly await them. In doing so, carriers hope to build new loyalty with customers and to reduce customer churn. While the challenges are many, the win-win scenario IPTV presents to carriers and consumers makes it worthwhile, and companies are tackling those challenges now. Len Feldman, Director of IPTV Analysis for MRG, in April forecasted that service provider revenues will grow from US$3.6 billion in 2007 to US$20.3 billion in 2011. The biggest challenge to carriers seeking a piece of that US$20.3 billion pie is choosing the right equipment, evaluating the features that the carrier offers to its subscribers, and testing the reliability and scalability of a system before buying. Carriers have the early technical lead in rolling out two-way communications with IPTV, something that MSOs, multiple system operators, (large cable companies) cannot yet easily deliver. The trends driving carrier vendor selection include new open standards and HTML-based approaches in middleware, enabling ways to add Internet and user-generated content to the TV programming mix, and more cost-effective scalability. The telecom operator edge The fact that telecom carriers can deliver their programming in a one-to-one manner, versus the multicast (one-to-many) method cable providers now employ, gives the early edge to telecom IPTV infrastructure. The carrier can offer more personalized programmes and even deliver advertising that is more likely to hit its mark. The two-way nature of IPTV makes the TV both a window to the wonder of video-on-demand, VoD, and a communications tool that the end user can leverage for his own purposes – to shop, gather information and reply to requests for information. Typical IPTV features include an on-screen electronic programming guide, EPG, and a personal video recorder, PVR, which allows for time-shifted TV, and an onscreen caller ID, a simple convenience that shows subscribers who is calling them on their telephones and allows the subscriber to answer or ignore the call. The stakes go up as carriersí services and offerings to consumers begin to overtake the popularity of the current cable TV offerings. In the near future subscribers will have ëin-network PVRsí and the carrier will save whatever shows the viewers select; these shows will be accessible on the network from anywhere. Services in many parts of the world already include on-screen shopping, surveillance cameras monitor kids in day care or the unattended home, interactive multi-player gaming, and ways to ëvoteí during popular shows for the alternatives the show presents. The promise of personalization will make TV more compelling. The telco programmers can deliver shows to a neighbourhood based on its zip code, to a city or in accordance with an individual viewerís habits. Such targeted programming is bound to be more appealing and ëstickyí – reaching ethnic neighbourhoods, colleges, rural towns, or retirement communities, for example, according to their interests. IPTV allows carriers to give any consumer the programmes and services that suit him or her best – ones they are willing to pay for. Where to begin? Putting together the infrastructure for IPTV can be a bit perplexing to some operators. To create an ëend-to-endí offering, the operator must often choose ëone of eachí from multiple vendors. The operator, depending upon its needs, might have to deal with separate vendors for middleware, VoD, video on demand, server software, server platforms and hardware to run it on, set top boxes, encoders, encryption to protect programming and DRM, digital rights management, for content – each of which might have multiple, competing, vendors. Sorting out all the technology becomes a full-time job – even before a deployment can be planned, let alone rolled out. Although itís true that leading vendors in those areas are often new companies with one focus, the leading providers of the software and hardware needed for IPTV have worked to pre-integrate their offerings in many cases. These interoperability arrangements provide carriers with an end-to-end offering that they can test in their networks. In addition, larger equipment manufacturers have formed alliances and reseller arrangements with the players for some of these technologies. Whatís most important is choosing the solution that works best for each operatorís unique needs. Is it a large metropolitan area? Then the system chosen must be ready to scale. The shift toward MPEG-4 technology to pave the way for high-definition TVís requirements is something to consider now, too. Working with providers who will work side by side with you to establish and test real-world results before you buy the system is also fundamental. Open standards-based IPTV One of the latest developments in IPTV has been the arrival of a third generation of HTML-based middleware that can run on off-the-shelf servers. This software addresses the desire of those at the carriersí central office to communicate more easily with the set-top box to insert programming alerts and banner advertising or other content ëon the flyí. We can liken the move to such middleware to the move made when Netscape introduced the first web browser. Netscape enabled new HTML capabilities in the form of ëextensionsí to the language. Since these capabilities were so much more advanced than what other browsers could produce, Netscapeís browser soon dominated the industry. By 1995, it was a good bet that if you were browsing the Internet, you were doing so with a Netscape browser. Given the high cost of specialized servers, using open-standard servers for IPTV makes sense. Compared to existing proprietary systems, open standard, next-generation, video content and service delivery platforms with an intelligent management infrastructure will greatly benefit service providers. It allows them to build more easily commercial-grade IP video networks to support new IPTV services. Content, personalization and place shifting What is exciting about IPTV is that it is where TV and the Internet come together. Wireline carriers or ISPs can use IPTV to solidify their customer relationships by enabling their subscribers to upload or view user-generated video, scan store prices for an i-mp3 player on a TV, or watch the latest first run films. An operator can use the new HTML-based middleware to leverage RSS, really simple syndication news feeds, to link to any digital content, or for TV programming and VoD. Operators can deliver the content to the TV, the PC or, in the future, the handset. There is an opportunity to offer ethnic programming or age-appropriate targeted programming by leveraging the two-way communication enabled by IPTV. IPTV can deliver the right programming to users who seek it – maybe even before they seek it! This can be based on zip code – or by analysing the viewing selections that users make. There are even more sophisticated methods that are enabled by IPTVís software and services. In the near future, the ërightí (selected) ads will be delivered to the end user; this places the advertisers who have had to deal with being ëTiVoedí, skipped over, back into the equation. Scaling to reach millions of subscribers It is not unusual to see operator requests for proposals to vendors, or RFPs, requests for proposals, asking for a solution that can scale from several thousand or several hundred thousand users to one million users. The reason? IPTV is moving so rapidly that they want to make sure their investment can grow with their deployments and subscribers. No one knows exactly what new services might take hold with subscribers in the coming years, and a system that lacks the ability to scale will dull a carrierís competitive edge. Benchmark tests between large equipment vendors and innovative start-ups are going to become more common – in fact, some have recently broken the one million barrier. The results of one benchmark test, based on the performance of the middleware and the server alone, showed that one million set-top boxes, at 60 per cent concurrency – which means a network with 600,000 active VoD users – can be reached with just five off-the-shelf servers. This is a big step and proves the viability of large-scale IPTV deployments. The final word Clearly carriers have much to gain with IPTV, but they must educate themselves on vendor offerings and the best approaches for their unique deployments. It is wise to consider open-standards approaches and ways to integrate content from the Internet, and to consider, as well, the scalability issue early on. The promise of IPTV includes a closer tie to subscribers, and a relationship that can bring new dollars to carrier coffers.

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