[IPTV Myths]Part 2: Experience

In our previous issue we ran the first part of the guest series authored by Hemang Mehta, IPTV Group Product Manager for Microsoft TV, focusing on the technical aspects of this burgeoning market. In this month’s installment, Mehta analyzes the common misperceptions of what the IPTV experience will be.

Myth: IPTV is grounded in hype, and is “me-too” TV in reality.

The reality: IPTV is not a copy of the current broadcast TV but gives us a basis for re-inventing TV, which other broadcast pay-TV services cannot match. It already has better security, has been adapted for high definition TV, and has added advanced picture-in-picture services. It has also made possible mosaic interfaces, where instead of looking at text describing numerous TV programs, viewers can look at live TV miniature moving pictures of the actual programs. This is just the start, and there is much more to come.

The explanation.

The ubiquitous nature of IP data makes it relatively easy to create layers and layers of services on the same network. But many IPTV companies have only been trying to re-invent cable TV, for a lower price, and worry about innovation later.

That might be okay for services that don’t compete with major established national TV brands, such as rural telcos, or those operating in less advanced countries with lower quality TV. But in the end IPTV will live or die by its ability to provide a better TV experience and integrate with other IP-delivered services on the same network displaying them on the same devices.

Many of the world’s top telecommunications service providers recognize the need to deliver a “better TV” solution to compete in today’s market, and they are increasingly turning to IPTV to do so.

Thousands of applications will be written to take advantage of the possibility of interconnecting the IPTV world with IP-based services. Here are a couple of examples:

• When an instant message reaches a home gateway, intended for a PC, it might find the device either turned off, or currently not in use. In this case, it can be diverted to the TV screen, or to a mobile phone. If the TV is not on or the message goes unanswered by a certain time period, it could be turned into a voice signal or SMS and dropped into a mobile phone voicemail or messaging system.

• Consider a business traveler. When a traveler is in the middle of a video call on a mobile, he may want to show PowerPoint slides in his email, teleconference a third person in, or when he gets home, transfer the call to the home PC or TV screen.

That type of service is only possible when the same data formats are used, the network is intelligent enough to transcode (translate from one encoding to another in real time) for a new, smaller device, and where a federated identity can be shared across multiple devices and applications so that some central server knows that all these devices are different facets of the same person.

These types of scenarios are mostly futuristic, but without widespread adoption of IP as the routing and packet-switching process for the data, none of it would be possible, and where it might be possible, it would be too expensive to achieve.

Myth: IPTV will stop me from being able to use downloaded video programs in other formats on my broadband line.

The reality: Video file downloads to the home are an important business, and it is unlikely that any broadband operator will simply opt to block video from such sources, just to promote its own IPTV service. IPTV is real time; downloads are not. IPTV is about building an instantaneous delivery network for services that customers need now; file downloads are about “mail order” style deliveries ordered now, which come later.

The explanation.

IPTV is designed to “at least” replace existing pay-TV systems and do a lot more besides. All other forms of “delayed”, best-effort video downloads are really about “augmenting” the pay-TV service customers already have, not replacing it.

A complicated process takes place to get the access network and the core telco network to ensure that an IPTV service can be delivered reliably in real time. IPTV can’t really exist without these network additions, because they enable a TV program to be sent from a “head-end” encoder and arrive at a TV set, every time, at the same speed that it plays out on the screen.

Services that “arrive at the speed of the network” are referred to as “best effort.” They get to their destination as fast as the network allows. The key is for the operator to build its network in such a way that most of the Internet packets sent into its network find their way to the right destinations in a reasonable timeframe. The Internet Protocol is clever enough to fix any problems that occur on its own, by arranging the resending of any lost or late packets.

That journey starts from a home DSL modem, travels across the last-mile copper or fiber to an access multiplexer that automatically sends Internet traffic across an aggregation network (a set of routed connections) to one big server called a Broadband Remote Access Server or BRAS. In the same way, all Internet traffic comes from this same server and returns by the same path. IPTV comes via a separate server over a guaranteed route — only meeting this traffic in the “last-mile” connection to the home.

As the size of files that are downloaded over the Internet get bigger, operators are adding more bandwidth from their BRAS to homes. However, operators can only keep up with demand based on the pricing of their broadband services. If broadband pricing continues to fall, then operators will not have enough money to keep this part of their network developing in line with Internet traffic. As video downloads increase and take up more of this “best-effort” traffic, it will put an increasing strain on such networks. This is exactly why IPTV’s guaranteed real-time delivery is so important.

If piracy could be completely eliminated, then these networks would be freed up more and more for legitimate traffic, and if spam could be eliminated, then even more bandwidth could be kept back for legitimate uses. Applying as many technological resources as possible to solve these two issues is essential and in time this will be achieved. But until then, telcos must balance their broadband revenues with money spent providing Internet access. We see that as completely unrelated to the resources that are made available for IPTV and the only limiting factor in download video services.

Myth:If I have a Digital Video Recorder, I don’t really need IPTV.

The reality. IPTV and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) are actually complimentary services. A DVR has to get its content from somewhere, and that has to be either a quality TV service such as is provided by IPTV, or file download programming over the Internet. IPTV, working alongside a DVR, gives the consumer a complete experience, including the ability to pause and rewind live programming.

The explanation.

DVR is one of the key features consumers want. There are, however, many great TV applications that a DVR — which is basically a recording device — cannot deliver. These include things such as picture-in-picture mosaics, advanced search functions, connected services such as caller ID, photo sharing and email delivery on TV and across devices, and so much more.

There is an entire ecosystem that must be built around DVRs, and in order to get the best benefit from them, the content on the DVR is best derived from an IPTV system. This is because DVRs can be a stopping-off point between the IPTV service and portable devices and home networks.

Once content has been delivered to a home over an IPTV system, its viewing life does not end there. That content must be protected from piracy in a way that does not infringe on a consumer's right to personal use of that content on all of his or her devices.

The easiest way to do this is to design the encryption for the DVR with transport to portable devices in mind. One organization that is doing this is the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), which selects existing standards and then ensures that varying implementations of these work together in the future digital home.

The DLNA has 250 member companies, including virtually all of the leading consumer electronics and high technology businesses with a stake in this area.

At the moment, IPTV is farthest ahead on acting as the gateway to deliver content into the DVR that can be accessed elsewhere in the home. There are unresolved issues in delivering content from two competing high definition DVD standards, and mobile content is not dense enough, while cable and satellite both have format obstacles to overcome. The two prominent ways to deliver content into such a home network are through an existing pay-TV system (of which IPTV is the best since IP is such a ubiquitous data format to work with), and the PC, which uses the same IP format.

Hemang Mehta is IPTV Group Product Manager for Microsoft TV.

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