Global Sources
EE Times-Asia
Stay in touch with EE Times Asia
EE Times-Asia > RF/Microwave

For carriers, IPTV poses new challenges

Posted: 16 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Loring Wirbel? EE Times? iptv? stb? set-top box?

The flexibility of IP delivery will make traditional RF broadcasting a thing of the past. But even as operators of all stripes tackle the technical challenges that IPTV presents, they are entering a whole new world of content choices.

It isn't clear that users will want traditional channels at all, once they realize that all the standard programs plus a lot of non-traditional IP video content are available on demand at any time, according to Stephen Reeder, director of product strategy at ANT Software Ltd. "Interactivity itself is a revenue generator, but the type of application can be very specific to a region," he said.

For example, Reeder said, karaoke on demand is huge in Taiwan, but has been a lackluster seller everywhere else. Meanwhile, online gambling over IPTV is big in Germany.

"This is more of a silver shrapnel than a silver bullet model," he said, "and the deadly factor for service planning is that there's no way to tell if a service will be successful until after you deploy it. In fact, the highest revenue generators we have found are for on-demand subjects that are very topical and short-lived. Background material for celebrity reality shows, for example, may have a popularity spike measured in days or hours."

Content was just one of the issues addressed at the recent National Association of Broadcasters meeting, as conference speakers attempted to chart a course from legacy broadcast models to on-demand IP or "clipcast" services. Indeed, observers said that even a full broadcast programming model might best be provided as an IP flow.

"At the end of the day, IP isn't just a vehicle for on-demand service or clipcasting. It can emulate real programming channelsassuming the interactive user of the future is even going to care about channels," said Todd Waters, director of business development of IP subscriber networks at Scientific-Atlanta. "The problem for the traditional broadcast or cable carriers is: When do you cut across to IP services, and how do you maintain an economical set-top box as you prepare for that?"

Nor is the problem unique to the legacy analog broadcast channels. Standard- and high-definition DTV networks still follow the push-broadcast model, and even new compression standards like MPEG-4 were not designed with TCP/IP transport in mind. Broadcasters and cable TV operators could also share a common threat from telephony carriers and Internet service providers as those companies move to IPTV.

Tom Giunta, VP of product marketing at Motorola Inc.'s wireline services business, warned that telco fiber-rich IPTV projects like Verizon's FIOS and AT&T's Project Lightspeed could represent a threat to all broadcast models, both in end-user bandwidth and management-plane control of hybrid delivery systems.

"The IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem] architecture is absolutely essential for common management of content based on IP, and so far, the phone companies are ahead in realizing this," Giunta said. "Meanwhile, they are upgrading their access networks to a fiber-deep architecture, using a mix of passive optical networks and ADSL2+."

Ryan Petty, VP of the Myrio group within Siemens AG, said that broadcasters and new video service providers alike must be prepared to deliver the full range of broadcast possibilitiestraditional broadcast content, on-demand IP service, "local channel" equivalent service, exclusive content and the extreme-niche specialized content known as "long-tail" services (referring to the revenue obtained from a large archive of obscure, less-popular content). A newcomer to IPTV services should offer something available nowhere else, he said, such as Belgacom's recent offer of exclusive access to Belgium's premier soccer games.

In the extreme case, a carrier with no true broadcast legacy can offer a streaming IP service that appears to be multichannel, but is more flexible than real-time broadcast. For example, said Petty, Shanghai Telecom already offers 100 "channels" that consist of content stored and archived in the network, giving users rewind and fast-forward capability in what appears to them as a live-broadcast network.

The problem for broadcasters and cable operators in North America is that current cable headends, as well as the "super headend" programming centers used by digital broadcasters, are not prepared for bringing in archived or near-real-time IP services. Jim Olson, chief executive of Tandberg Television subsidiary SkyStream Inc., said that SkyStream followed the move of intelligence to the network edge in developing multifunction, multiband headend systems that could be adapted for HD and IP mixes. It offers a full chassis-based multislot system for super headends while shrinking the same functions to a 1U system with mezzanine modules for video-server edge applications. Parent Tandberg's expertise in specific encoding functions may later show up as modular "blade" technologies for the SkyStream iPlex, Olson said.

BOM difference
A difficult problem for cable operators with legacy RF traffic is the difference in BOM costs between a simple IP-STBcommon in many green-fields network locations in Chinaand an STB that must also embed microtuners for traditional channels. An IP system acts as a simple router, said Waters of Scientific-Atlanta. Thus, more pseudo-channels are implemented, as IP flows can be added with little additional cost at the STB.

But a cable STB must add microtuners to increase the number of legacy channels, even if it moves some of its services to IP networks, Waters said.

Paul Robinson, MPEG segment manager in Tektronix Inc.'s video test unit, said that a similar gap exists between those familiar with monitoring MPEG transport streams and those test engineers who grew up with IP protocol analysis. Tektronix's partial solution was to develop two generations of Video Quality Manager tools for its IP-centric Spectra 2 analyzer, while providing IP correlation information for the MP400 MPEG-4 transport stream analyzer. It will be a long and tortuous path to bring MPEG and IP testing together, Robinson said, but the correlation of IP packet problems with video artifacts represents an important first step.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

Article Comments - For carriers, IPTV poses new challen...
*? You can enter [0] more charecters.
*Verify code:


Visit Asia Webinars to learn about the latest in technology and get practical design tips.

Back to Top