Merely a concept at the start of the century, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) has already completed the first stage of its growth, moving from an idea to a real service that has now achieved a broad market penetration across many European countries.
The next phase of the IPTV revolution
For consumers, IPTV provides connected and personalised experiences by integrating the TV with an intelligent two-way network. Forrester Research predicts that by 2017, one in four European fibre broadband subscribers will have IPTV, with penetration today already ranging from 13 percent in the UK to 33 percent in France.
In this second phase of IPTV, the main challenges relate to the daily business of delivering IPTV, including cooperation with content and infrastructure providers, taking deployment to scale and the guarantee of uninterrupted reception and robust picture quality.
For the telecommunications industry, IPTV offers the potential to generate considerable revenue streams by combining voice and internet with next-generation TV services. Telecommunications companies deliver these interactive TV services over their high-speed broadband networks. Typically, an operator will use a two MB line for triple play services and some subset for the IPTV service. For high definition formats, greater managed bandwidth, up to nine MB (such as ADSL2+ networks deliver) is needed. Accordingly, making savings on bandwidth usage is very important to service providers, especially as they look to offer bandwidth intensive services like HDTV – which are currently seen as the next ‘killer application'.
Moreover, the IPTV sector is in the midst of a reality-check as cable and satellite operators are fighting back. The impending arrival of ‘cable IPTV' and ‘satellite IPTV' introduces a significant new dynamic to this market as new competitors look to challenge the current players. The anticipated use of IP as the delivery mechanism for television on these networks redefines the potential for IPTV and expands its boundaries far beyond what has, until now, been considered a telco-centric activity.
The transmission of digital signals is also a critical aspect of IPTV. At present, a major debate is underway in Europe – and in the rest of the world – on the transmission methods available for digital signals. Currently, digital signals are routinely transmitted using terrestrial methods. European providers mostly work with the digital TV standard DVB-T – Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestial – which transmits digital TV signals via aerial antennas within their terrestrial networks. The method, which is called DTT (Digital Terrestrial TV) in UK and Ireland, ATSC (Advanced Television System Committee) in the US and ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial) in Japan, is slowly replacing analogue television systems. The challenge ahead is in integrating different protocols.
For consumers, IPTV provides connected and personalised experiences by integrating the TV with an intelligent two-way network.
Another major point of discussion is content and its protection and conditional access. The major Hollywood studios are reluctant to release their content to supposedly ‘open' networks – even if IPTV is anything but an open network. Consequently, a vigorous discussion on video formats and content protection is underway. Most IPTV platform architectures are consequently designed to provide support for multiple video formats including VC-1, MPEG 2 and H.264, allowing service provider flexibility in terms of video formats, including other advanced codecs. The challenge ahead is in integrating different media types.
To succeed, IPTV providers need to prove that they can create systems that will make converged, cross-platform service delivery a reality. In addition, companies have to prove that they can achieve significant penetration by reaching millions of subscribers rather than hundreds of thousands. This can be achieved by capitalising on the advantages IPTV offers: the availability of a broader range of TV channels, archives with different TV formats, access to movie databases, and in the future, the engagement of the customer through interactive services.
Microsoft and its partners are at the forefront of the IPTV revolution, working on innovative solutions in partnership with operators to create compelling, interactive, connected TV services for consumers.