By Col K K Sharma
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is rapidly becoming reality. According to California-based analyst firm Infonetics Research, revenues will soar to more than $44 billion in 2009 and 53 million households worldwide will be watching TV via broadband. IPTV will revolutionize the content delivery model. Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) are already an indication of the transformation. Consumers no longer have to view content at set times as dictated by the networks or subscribe to 120 channels in order to gain access to a few that they really wish to watch. The ability to skip through commercials spells the end for so-called prime time advertising. IPTV will change things dramatically and consumers will be able to view anything at any time in high definition (HD) quality.
While this is an exciting new business opportunity, it also presents some serious challenges to the operators and product vendors. The challenges would be:
• To provide adequate bandwidth to the subscriber ( a minimum of 2mbps)
• To build a robust last mile capable of carrying large band width.
• To provide an affordable low cost set-top-box to the subscriber.
• To provide sufficient content including TV channels, VOD, adult etc.
• To convince the owners of high quality content that it is safe to make their content available on IP networks.
To many of us, IPTV business seems to be a very lucrative one but the hurdles in its way may slow down its growth in the nation. Broadly, it is the poor broadband penetration, high priced Set-Top Boxes (STBs) and last-mile (to the home) connectivity problems that are delaying the telecom industry’s much-touted plan of rolling out IPTV services. Hailed as the next big thing in digital home entertainment, IPTV is still in its infancy in the country and might take another year or so to get a proper shape. For the IPTV market, many firms are betting high. On one hand, where MTNL, BSNL and Bharti Airtel have already launched their IPTV services, telecom giants like Reliance Communications and Vodafone are soon coming up with their ventures in the market. The plans of various companies to enter IPTV business would bring in the much required competition quite early but the success of IPTV market at this stage is questionable.
Lack of Public Awareness
“A lack of awareness on the benefits of IPTV, such as its interactivity and edutainment (education plus entertainment) is the major reason for the lack of its popularity in the country. The current requirement is to educate broadband users, who are the potential customers, about the service,” according to MTNL Executive Director, J Gopal.
High Cost of STB
Another poser before industry is the high cost of IPTV STBs that are priced at Rs 8,000. In comparison to this, the STBs of Conditional Access System (CAS) and Direct-To-Home (DTH) services cost Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 respectively.
Lack of Last Mile Infrastructure
The next difficulty for the industry is the lack of proper infrastructure. According to Reliance Communications President (Home and Enterprise Business) Prakash Bajpai, IPTV’s growth would depend on the last mile connectivity and companies would look at a faster rollout of these connections. Last mile connectivity and lack of mass broadband penetration are the issues, given the fact that the broadband and fixed-line services of leading telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications have limited last mile presence. Unfortunately only 25% of last mile connectivity of MTNL and BSNL may be fit for carrying high bandwidth IPTV signals.
There is a last mile connectivity of 75 million subscribers of cable TV networks ready for the service but the big giants of the industry who are planning the service, do not have faith in the unorganised cable TV industry. According to them the industry lacks consolidation and quality of networking. According to Mrs Roop Sharma, president Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), cable operators started with one video channel 18 years back and today are providing 150 satellite channels. They are providing internet on ethernet LAN and it is the same technicians who maintain these networks. She says that many of the expert telecom engineers would fail to solve the problems of distribution on these networks what these technicians will do in minutes. “It is a question of getting the right opportunity and adequate incentive, and these cable operators will achieve anything”, says Mrs Sharma.
Even when we take the case of developed markets like the US, the telecom companies providing the IPTV services face a saturated pay-TV market that will require attractive pricing to lure consumers from cable and satellite services.
Fully 82% of all U.S. households reported having a pay-TV subscription in 2006, according to a survey by Gartner. The researcher forecasts that number to increase to 84% by the end of 2011.
Currently, fewer than 1% of the total pay-TV subscribers subscribe to a telephone company for IPTV service, Gartner said. However, that number is expected to increase to almost 8% by 2011, mostly at the expense of subscriber loss from the cable companies.
One area is the interactivity features with pay-TV subscriptions. The number of households using those features has increased during the past year to 15% from 9%. Interactivity includes program guides, a channel or service with on-demand content, and advertisements where the user can click to request information.
"Many of these increases in feature adoption can be attributed to the fact that the entry of IPTV into this market has caused the competition to raise the ante," Gartner analyst Amanda Sabia said in the analyst's report.
The same will be the situation in India. Before the telecom companies start with their ventures, cable operators will install the IPTV headends and start giving the services. The biggest advantage they have is that they already have the content with them. Moreover, they are expert in the job of distribution of video content. Even the market is very well known to them and being from the same locality, they have a good rapport with the subscribers.
IPTVsystem delivers digital television service using Internet Protocol (IP) over various access technologies supporting high speed Internet like broadband connection based on copper loop, optical fiber or wireless access technologies etc. IPTV platform can also provide services like Video on Demand (VoD), Live Video and gaming etc. It is a true platform for the triple play services of Voice, Video and data.
Architecture of IPTV Operation in Telecom Network Diagram
Encoding: The IPTV encoder receives video streams in different formats from different sources. Typically the videos are received from either broadcasters using satellite receptions or from stand-alone video content producers. The IPTV providers can also create their own video contents. These video streams, are then reformatted and encapsulated for further transmission using Internet Protocol with appropriate Quality of
Service (QoS). This makes it ready for delivery to customers.
The combination of IPTV encoder, Administrative & Billing Server, VoD server and Live Video server is collectively known as IPTV Service Platform.
IPTV service can provide Live TV, time shifted TV and VoD after code conversion and encryption. Typically, the live video content is delivered in MPEG2 copmpression system. Newly released H.264 format is pre-designed to replace the older MPEG-2. In standard-based IPTV systems, Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) and Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) are used. Here, IGMP version 2 is used for channel change, signaling etc for Live TV viewing and RTSP is used for stored services like VoD.
Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAMS)
DSLAM is equipment used to deliver high-speed IP packets over Copper loop media to the subscriber in telecom network. These DSLAMs can either be co-located with the IPTV service node (normally called Headend) or can be located far away and connected using high-speed backbone network.
Reception Mechanism In DSL both voice and data signals are carried over copper loop. At subscriber premises copper loop is connected to splitter which separates the voice service signal & data. The voice output is connected to telephone set and the video output of the splitter is connected to a device called multi port modem also known as Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). A personal computer (PC) & settop box can be simultaneously connected with the CPE on different ports to receive Internet.
IPTV Over Cable
It is possible to provide IPTV over cable TV networks using cable modem technologies like Data over Cable Service Interface Specifications (DOCSIS), which permits two way communications in cable network. DOCSIS system pocketize the data and send over the network at high speed, in very similar manner as done in IP networks. The present cable modem technologies (EuroDocsis 1.0/1.1/2.0) have ample Capacity. Still applications like IPTV, video-on-demand may require high bandwidth. Next-generation technologies (Docsis 3.0) will make it possible to increase capacity at a reasonable Cost. The transmission network of cable operator ( If designed to support two way operation) can carry all three types of signals (IP, digital TV and analogue TV) simultaneously. A subscriber can receive analogue cable TV without requiring any STB or cable modem.
These days all digital head-end equipment gives QAM as well as IP out put. Hence it becomes very easy for cable operators to provide these services.