Tuesday 10 September 2013

IPTV & 4G Apps in an IMS Core - what next for App Store and IPTV?

I was recently reading the Netflix view of the future of television and it set me thinking, as these things often do. Netflix's opening gambit in their "Long Term View" is that Linear TV's days are numbered. For those who aren't familiar with the terms, Linear TV is where you watch a set of channels with a broadcast schedule - i.e. programming follows a linear timeline, once a programme's allotted slot (in time) has gone, you missed it. This represents pretty much what all of us currently experience as terrestrial or satellite TV, without the use of a Personal Video Recorder (PVR).

How a lot of us consume TV now is a mixture of linear programming - augmented with a PVR so the linearity is - well none-linear! For those hooked on reality TV and more than that live reality TV the linear model still works - IF you add interaction from the audience, not to mention of course sporting events - that are probably the mainstay of linear broadcasters. So whilst I have to agree with Netflix's view about the decline of linear TV (heck most of us using a PVR aren't linear any more anyway), its difficult model to break especially in the UK where we have a pretty good terrestrial broadcast TV network.

The terrestrial broadcast TV model when the coverage is as good as it is in the UK is a difficult one to break.... Or is it? With the advent of Digital Video Broadcast - Terrestrial (DVB-T - Freeview/Saorview/La Télévision Numérique Terrestre (TNT) - or whatever it is called in your part of the globe), we get the same originally channels and guess what even more to watch (well if you can find a programme worth watching - then you'll probably record it!) Think about this for a moment.... What do we actually have here..... A nationwide Digital Broadcast medium capable of transmitting multiple video and audio streams, simultaneously with the customer requiring nothing more than a relatively inexpensive roof (or loft) mounted antenna, and receiver capable of translating that in to the image we see on the screen. What's more - the way the channels are transmitted (a MUX/virtual subchannel/bouquet as it is called), means we now have multiple programmes/stations per frequency, more than this - these "channels" are also capable of carrying data in the form of MHEG-5 or the Java based Multimedia Home Platform (MHP). Combined with faster internet access for a "back-channel" uplink communications path for these Xlets (Set-Top-Box Applets), in theory you have a recipe for Set-Top-Apps........... Which vendors of STB and DVD/Blueray players are starting to adopt.

Well almost of course we now See Internet enabled TVs. Blueray players and STBs, with embedded apps for Netflix, Lovefilm and the linear TV programmer's Apps (Like the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and Demand5 and the like). These use HTTP streaming to create a none-linear model for consumption of content, built on the success of their Internet (PC/Mac/Browser and Tablet) variants. The limiting factor for these "apps" is available bandwidth from the Broadband connection. Whilst this is steadily improving, its still not what it could be everywhere (that's a whole other discussion right there!) The point I am moving towards - is better integration of these apps within the STB with the DVB data service and channel guides, and of course core network services.

We've long discussed (in the telecoms industry) the utopian view of telecommunications services that are fully integrated with our Diary and calling behaviours and to some degree we're there - well at least the technology is getting there to support it with the IMS-OSA Application Servers standardised and a Java Specification for device interaction with the IMS (JSR180 and JSR281). JSR281 as an interesting specification - designed as part of the embedded Java platform - Which MHP is exactly that - in an STB! So we have a mechanism for interacting with IMS services from and STB or "Internet TV", this allows us to initiate a multimedia session, combined with the DVB-T broadcast capability for distribution of video content nationally (at least) we have a recipe for building interactive services. However.... Carriers are still deploying or are "to" deploy IMS for mobile environments and are currently still in transition or at best mixed network environments for fixed, not to mention this disparity of xDSL provision in a competitive market and the mobile operator's current fixation of LTE rollouts. Some carriers are rolling out IPTV services combined with DVB-T receivers to combine, Linear, Near Video-On-Demand (NVoD) and Video-On-Demand (VoD) services.

What does the above paragraph mean? Well at the moment the market is at best fragmented and the current winners are the Over-The-Top (OTT) providers, the likes of the BBC, Lovefilm and Netflix. These providers are "piggybacking" on the Mobile and Fixed provider networks (data) and delivering content using STB apps. The IMS and OSA App Server and JSR281 mechanism may well be a redundant set of standards...... Is there a future for IPTV and IMS marriage as proposed in the TISPAN standards... I'm going to stick my neck out here and say "NO". In my humble opinion (IMHO) that horse has bolted - so to speak. OTT applications as cited above are in my mind more likely to succeed.

Note: OTT is clearly on Genband's mind too: 

Offering the Fring white label service to carriers is an interesting step.

Is Linear TV and more specifically DVB-T services dead... Not yet, and IMHO I think have a life beyond the Set-top box - why - because they're (compared to Internet TV) cheap to distribute programming in infrastructure terms. Whilst we can rollout IP Multicast to "trim" the distribution of media streams, Linear plus PVR wins easily.

(More to come -whilst I chew on this topic a little more in my head) 
Next the question of IP Stores for Set-Top-Boxes and Internet TVs. Google (Android) and Apple (Apple TV) and Microsoft want to own this.... What about the Network Operators rolling out LTE data services... They'll want piece of the actions too............ Maybe even WebRTC is the answer?

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