One of the hottest areas of activity in the telecommunications industry today is IP television (IPTV). As the name implies, IPTV is the delivery of television-like services over an IP-network infrastructure. With the wide deployment of broadband data access to the home, and the evolution of IP to include class of service (CoS) and quality of service (QoS) capabilities, the trend is toward collapsing all information flows into a single packet-oriented network service: the ultimate converged environment.
Beyond this broad definition, however, there is little consensus in the industry concerning exactly what comes under the umbrella of IPTV, how the services will be supported technologically, and what the customer will see as features of the service.
Today, major broadcasters, like ABC and CBS, are making popular television shows available for download through iTunes and are posting snippets of some of these shows on their websites. Is this IPTV? What if these broadcasters begin to stream some of these shows from their websites? Will that be IPTV or just another version of streaming video? Will IPTV be purely linear programming, reminiscent of what we purchase from cable companies today, but delivered with a different technology? Or will it be a pure video-on-demand (VOD) infrastructure in which users can pick and choose any program from any provider at any time? Perhaps these will be combined as they currently are in cable systems (e.g., linear video and pay-per-view). Will this service be monetized by subscription, commercials, or both?
The infrastructure for the delivery of IPTV does not have to be the Internet. With carriers deploying high-speed fiber-optic services to the home (or near the home), they could use the same physical facility but a completely separate data stream to pump television into the home. Or they could build a completely separate network for distribution of the television information, and then merge it onto the broadband Internet facility at the edge – a kind of hybrid solution.
Different carriers are taking different approaches, and there is currently no clear definition of most of this. Traditional voice and data carriers have one perspective. Cable companies have another. Internet-based companies have yet another. It will take some time for the dust to settle, but there is no question that significant change is underway.
IPTV vs. Streaming
People are used to downloading “video” clips from the Internet. These clips are usually created for delivery in streaming mode. In streaming mode some of the clip is downloaded (buffered) prior to the clip playing. The buffering is used to ensure enough video is available for continuous play (i.e., the packets arrive at a rate that the buffer does not empty). If the packet arrival rate is too slow, or the buffer is too small, there will be breaks in the clip.
The key difference between IPTV and streaming of video is the control. With IPTV the network operator controls the content, its assembly as well as its delivery to the home. This control also includes implementing the document rights management (DRM) on the content at the provider’s choosing.
Streaming has a role, but is suited to shoot video clips on the Internet; it does not compete with IPTV. The uncertainty of available bandwidth and delay renders streaming not at all ideal for live TV broadcasts, but very well suited for specialty vignettes. Examples include a sports teams streaming a news show from practice once a day, or a video game company streaming a review of its latest product. The end-to-end control of IPTV caused it to be a natural fit for delivering television programming over high-speed data connections, such as ADSL2+ and VDSL2.
Control of the content is where the money is. Services such as pay-per-view, video-on-demand, and sports season passes are all revenue generators. Integrating video with other IP services, such as delivering caller ID on to the TV screen, is a feature of IPTV that is difficult to achieve with traditional cable.
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