Delivering on-demand content over broadband

Updated: Nov 21 2005, 05:30am hrs
Todays digital consumers want the best of every experience including TV watching. And promising to do just that and redefine the way we watch television is Internet Protocol or IP-based services such as IPTV. Customers can simply order programs and films through the television interface, pay for them, and watch them immediately with full trick mode (stop, rewind, fast-forward, pause, etc).

This truly interactive form of video-on-demand (VOD) is unique to IPTV because of the point-to-point nature of the virtual connection between the customer and the headend. The most important aspect for the consumer will be that the television programming delivered is what they want to watch, and the interface for choosing their VOD films, games or broadcast programs is simple to use and well-presented.

As for the equipment makers and service providers, IPTV might just be the biggest revenue generator in the entertainment sector soon. By the end of this decade, 25.9 million IPTV subscribers will generate more than $10 billion in revenue globally, says a report from analyst firm Informa Telecoms and Media. Many countries across the globe have begun establishing proper network infrastructure to enable this service. Closer home, south Asia in general and India in particular is poised for an exponential growth in the delivery of broadcast and VOD content over mobiles and IPTV.

Nevertheless, a question arises as to whether Indian carriers internet service providers, telcos and cable operators are ready to offer IPTV services What about the equipment Since they use digital CTVs, are there key issues relating to delivery mechanism

Rahul Nehra, country manager (India), Irdeto Access, says, 2005 was a year of learning for operators and India will see a commercial rollout of IPTV services by 2007. The governments target of 20 million broadband users by 2010 is quite possible with the promise of wireless technologies such as WiMax. This will also aid the rapid growth of IPTV in India and across the world.

According to Alok Shende, director, ICT practice, Frost & Sullivan, traditionally, the television experience has always been one way from broadcasters to consumers. IPTV holds the potential of fundamentally transforming the experience of watching television by bringing in two-way interactivity, storage of content and greater control over the television experience. This is not possible with the other choices available today, namely direct-to-home (DTH) and cable.

Technically, in IPTV, the network infrastructure is modelled on the lines of a private network owned by a service provider. Peer-to-peer networks (P2P) are a viable networking option for IPTV. These networks rely on the bandwidth of users to share data. With such a network, multiple users can tune into the same broadcast channel at the same time without facing any delay. Internet Protocol (IP) is a means for data transfer over a network, and mainly sends packets of data (could be video, text, audio) over dial-up or direct broadband lines.

Says Vishesh Gupta, assistant VP (marketing and business development), Alcatel South Asia, with IPTV, you can send TV signals over such a network. A set-top box at the customers premise decodes the data sent and converts it into standard television signals. This set top box is connected to your TV and contains a hard disk drive (data storage device used in PCs), which simultaneously saves and streams the programme in real-time. He adds: It will allow you to watch your favourite programme when it is convenient for you, rather than when it is broadcast. This brings flexibility to your viewing as the stored programmes can be treated like a video tape. Functions such as forward, rewind and pause can be effected with such a service.

According to Mr Nehra, there are three main facilitators for IPTV in India which could help IPTV happen faster than expected:

Content

Largest repository of audio and video content in the world but a major sufferer on account of piracy.

Digital delivery modes

Availability of 10 million broadband lines by 2009

Tech for content protection

Maturing of the product offerings on IPTV from equipment makers

Industry analysts say that in many areas, the availability of IPTV services and broadband internet is limited by the bandwidth offered by the copper wire infrastructure, which decreases as the distance of the home from the telephone exchange increases. Traditionally, cable companies have been able to exploit this area of weakness and obtain a stronger hold over the local market. However, new ADSL and video compression technologies may soon spell the end to these traditional barriers to service, allowing telcos to reclaim subscribers.

Even in India, there have been a few brave attempts by some small and medium-sized operators in conjunction with BSNL, MTNL over the last two years but have not yielded the desired fruits. It is only now that MTNL, VSNL, Bharti and Reliance and a few other state-level players have realised the true potential of this delivery mechanism and have taken concrete steps to make IPTV a reality by the end of 2006. The US-based UTStarcom, a provider of IP-based, end-to-end networking solutions will be launching IPTV services in India by next year.

With the government working towards creating a feasible atmosphere in the connectivity space, Chinese telecom majors like ZTE and Huawei are eyeing India to deploy IPTV solutions and services. ZTE has already signed an agreement with Altas Interactive. According to the agreement, ZTE plans to provide IPTV services to 60,000 Atlas subscribers based in four major cities. Alcatels Mr Gupta says, At a time when most of the telecom players are busy rolling out new networks and aligning themselves towards the changing market needs, applications like IPTV are going to provide the much needed growth - when it comes to targeting newer revenue streams. Todays telecom service providers are looking out for more revenue streams. IPTV can be their piggy bank if they plan well.

Overall, the IPTV market in the Asian region is predicted to grow to $300 million during 2005. The number of IPTV subscribers in the Asia/Pacific region (excluding Japan) is expected to grow from nearly half a million subscribers in 2004 to over 20 million subscribers by 2009.

Much of the Asian market has a particularly high level of broadband penetration, and there are huge opening markets, particularly in India and China. India continues to build its already robust telecoms infrastructure, and strong government support for new technology means that the continent could have as many as five million IPTV subscribers within the next three years.

With improved bandwidth and video compression techniques, carriers can now look forward to deliver live TV signals to either a TV set or a PC through a broadband network, completing the triple play of voice, video, and data offerings.