By Peter J. Brown
With IPTV, maintaining quality of experience brings its own set of challenges and a greater degree of emphasis on IP network management, operations support systems and video quality of service.
Ian Roy, vice president of product management at Netcracker Technology, likes to talk about the IP enablement of TV via satellite and the promise of convergence. "To succeed in the market, where they will be competing with the telecommunications and cable operators, satellite IPTV providers need to ensure that they can bundle these into triple- and quad- play services, accurately and effectively activate such services for consumers, as well as, and most importantly, proactively manage the experience of consumers and their use of the services," he says. "Every satellite operator considering an IPTV offering needs to review their [operations support systems] strategy to ensure its alignment with and support of the key differentiators."
IPTV is a technology -- not a distinct service -- and what is driving the demand for IPTV is the quest for greater consumer choice, control and convenience in television experiences, says Ran Oz, CTO and cofounder of Bigband Networks Inc. "IPTV is at the forefront of enabling technologies for such advances, and it is very compatible with satellite technology for long-haul content transmission either direct to homes or to wired or wireless broadcast plants," he says.
While satellite can incorporate IPTV in an evolutionary manner, as cable networks are doing, by gradually phasing in compatible encoders and splicers, the client device is critical, says Oz. "If IPTV is deployed end-to-end, which it must in DBS (direct broadcast satellite) since there is no network edge at which to transcode to a different format, all DBS client devices receiving IPTV content must include IP capabilities," says Oz. "This is why, for example, DBS introductions of IPTV are specifically for HD (high- definition) content, so only the HD subscribers who are generating premiums anyhow must have client devices modified for IPTV capability.
"In the satellite transmission of IPTV to terrestrial broadcast plants, the requirements are easier because any necessary transcoding can be placed at the network edge, and simulcasting practices can be implemented to smooth transitions towards a widespread proliferation of IP client devices," he says.
IP routing capabilities can be incorporated to deliver content to specific zones or locations or to a redundant source when transmission faults occur. Session and content awareness simply adds more zip to IPTV in the form of more advanced functionality such as targeted advertising within live programming, according to Oz. "These practices can also be applied to MPEG-2 content, and in fact, IP transport and routing has been increasingly incorporated in digital cable headends during the last several years, again underlining the degree to which IPTV is a largely evolutionary advance," he says.
From a network management system perspective, the shift to IPTV is spawning massive network rebuilds and big rollouts with new types of equipment, says ILC COO Mark Krikorian. IPTV network management systems protect a much larger revenue stream, so immediate fault isolation, business impact analysis, preemptive problem solving and self-repair become much more critical.
"With networks changing so rapidly, network management systems need to adapt to new technologies without high service costs for drivers or probes and need to be able to track the network buildout without a lot of manual intervention as well," says Krikorian. "The demand for network management products for those networks is just now beginning to really ramp up, particularly for management of video" quality of service.
Video is different from other services because the consumer's quality of experience can drop without a corresponding equipment failure. Besides video, overall quality of experience for the consumer includes things like audio quality, program guide ease of use, security and reliability.
"The management system needs to correlate [quality of experience] problems with circuit level problems and business impact. To accomplish that, knowledge of the relationship between network equipment, circuits, session and content must be captured and monitored," says Krikorian. "Satellite network operations need to focus on the video service, recognizing degradation of the video quality and reacting with automatic repair. This requires management and control that is video aware.
IPTV may not transform TV in a fundamental way, but then again, maybe it will.