Internet Protocol television (IPTV) is a system through which television services are delivered using the Internet protocol suite over a packet-switched network such as the Internet, instead of being delivered through traditional terrestrial, satellite signal, and cable television formats.
IPTV apps allow to stream video data over IP networks and with the emergence of broadband Internet it has become feasible to provide high-quality video streaming services free or for affordable prices. According to the surveys in 2013 the number of IPTV subscriptions will reach 83 million, while the revenues in the sector of IPTV services will amount to $38 billion.
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IPTV services may be classified into three main groups:
- Live television, with or without interactivity related to the current TV show.
- Time-shifted television: catch-up TV (replays a TV show that was broadcast hours or days ago), start-over TV (replays the current TV show from its beginning).
- Video on demand (VOD): browse a catalog of videos, not related to TV programming.
IPTV Network Topology
IPTV technology is part of a new breed of services designed to facilitate access to video entertainment. It provides access to digital TV over the IP transport medium from a head-end device to the end user’s TV set-top box (STB). Most service providers use a dedicated transport network to support IPTV.
A typical IPTV network is comprised of the following functional blocks:
- National headend: Where most of the IPTV channels enter the network from national broadcasters
- Core network: Usually an IP/MPLS network transporting traffic to the access network
- Access network: Distributes the IPTV streams to the DSLAMs
- Regional headend: Where local content is added to the network
- Customer premises: Where the IPTV stream is terminated and viewed
Technology used for IPTV
In standards-based IPTV systems, the primary underlying protocols used are:
- Service provider based multicast live streaming:
- IGMP for subscribing to a multicast stream (TV channel) and for changing from one multicast stream to another (TV channel change). IP multicast operates within LANs (including VLANs) and across WANs also. IP multicast is usually routed in the network core by Protocol Independent Multicast (PIM), setting up correct distribution of multicast streams (TV channels) from their source all the way to the customers who wants to view them, duplicating received packets as needed. RTP over UDP or the lower overhead H.222 transport stream over TCP are generally the preferred methods on encapsulation.
- Web based unicast only live and VoD streaming:
- Adobe Flash Player prefers RTMP over TCP with setup and control via either AMF or XML or JSON transactions.
- Apple iOS uses HLS adaptive bitrate streaming over HTTP with setup and control via an embedded M3U playlist file.
- Microsoft Silverlight uses smooth streaming (adaptive bitrate streaming) over HTTP
- Web based multicast live and unicast VoD streaming:
- IETF recommends RTP over UDP or TCP transports with setup and control using RTSP over TCP.
- Connected TVs, game consoles, set-top boxs and network personal video recorders:
- local network content uses UPnP AV for unicast via HTTP over TCP or for multicast live RTP over UDP.
- Web based content is provided through either inline Web plugins or a Television broadcast based application that uses a middleware language such as MHEG-5 that triggers an event such as loading an inline Web browser using an Adobe Flash Player plugin.
IPTV Web Application Development
With Web 2.0 standards and the Internet as a commodity item, catchy visual information has become not just a complimentary feature but a must-have functionality of a web site, which adds to overall interactivity and dynamic character of virtual communication. Today users are attracted by eye-candy visual information or at least they want to have a choice either to flick through text content or to enjoy visually rich content. For this reason, content providers turn to professional web app developers in order to make their web sites more appealing to customers and have IPTV applications embedded.
Moreover, many users are not prone to wait for a desired program to be broadcast and opt for interactive catch up Internet TV or video on demand (VoD) services. Therefore, nowadays software development companies are tasked with various IPTV development projects, which are aimed at enhancing user experience and, consequently, generating more revenues for content providers.
Most applications on IP networks are unicast, which means a data connection is set up between two hosts and only two hosts. IPTV requires one to many connections; therefore, data must be multicast from a source (called a root) to end devices (called leaves). IP multicast allows a host to send packets to a “virtual” address that is not directed at a particular host. If an application on a host is interested in that data, it can listen in by requesting the network software to find that data.
The multicast address is used as a logical identifier for the content. To support this mechanism, most IPTV deployments use the Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF’s) IGMP. IGMP was introduced as RFC 1112 and then was improved in RFC 2236 and RFC 3376. IGPM allows for the creation of multicasting trees built from the leaves up. Applied to IPTV, it works as follows:
When a subscriber wishes to view a specific selection of video content, an IGMP “join” message is generated from the STB at the subscriber’s location to the network. The message travels upstream until it reaches a multicast node. When the “join” request is detected by the multicast node, that content is replicated and a copy is forwarded to the requesting STB. Similarly, when a user wishes to change the channel, it first sends an IGMP “leave” message to the multicasting node. Only after it has effectively left a multicasting group can a user join another group.
IPTV video encoding techniques include MPEG–2, MPEG–4 AVC, or WM VC–1. MPEG–2 video compression has been around for about 15 years. It is the encoding of choice for digital cable and digital satellite systems. It is well understood, carrier grade encoders exist, and the cost of MPEG–2 decoders is low (less than $15 for 10 K units). The compression efficiency of 8 MPEG–2, while sufficient for HFC networks or pure fiber networks, is not sufficient for TP loops. MPEG–4 AVC or WM VC–1 is required.
MPEG–2 and MPEG–4 AVC rely on the principle that occasional pictures compressed spatially are interleaved with pictures that predict and describe the motion. The superiority of MPEG–4 AVC over MPEG–2 is largely due to substantial improvement of the motion compensated prediction. MPEG–4 also extends the adaptive field or frame encoding mechanisms. MPEG–2 uses picture-adaptive field or frame coding. MPEG–4 AVC adds the tools to allow the field or frame coding to be adapted on a macro-block basis.
Microsoft is in the process of standardizing Windows Media (now known as WM VC–1 or VC–1, through the Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers [SMPTE]). Because of the standards effort, Microsoft has revealed that the underlying technology is quite similar to MPEG–4 AVC.
Some say WM VC–1 differentiates itself by adopting a toolset that is optimized toward decoding on personal computers. We believe that the major difference between MPEG–4 AVC and WM VC–1 is that there is an option for WM VC–1 streams to be decoded on a high-end (more than 1 GHz) Intel processor without the need of special hardware.
MPEG–4 AVC and WM VC–1 are the only encoding solutions for telcos that have opted to conserve TP or the last few hundred feet. Both encoding standards are still new; we expect to see dramatic compression and quality improvements in the next few years. We do not expect to see any compression improvement for MPEG–2.
HTML5 Loaded into IPTV Platform
IPTV platform is specifically geared toward the hospitality industry–those who spend a lot of time in hotel rooms are likely to notice this first–though there’s likely to be room for the larger consumer market to get at least some spinoff out of this. At any rate, the addition of HTML5 to IPTV will make it easier for developers to bring in new apps for the system, which in turn increases its overall effectiveness and allows for more functions to come into play.
IPTV platform has the ability to work with both standard applications and the two-way capability inherent in IPTV, the whole thing can be reduced down to a set-top box, allowing you to bring in IPTV systems without having to commit to a huge new television buy. Better yet, with HTML5 capability in play, users can link to the television’s systems with their own mobile devices over Wi-Fi, and thus provide access to several new features like information, over-the-top video content and information about the businesses.
IPTV operators face five major challenges:
1 – Getting the Basics Right
Most new technology launches have teething problems, so given the complexity of IPTV platforms it is not surprising that launches across Europe and the US have been plagued by early problems.
While most of these problems have been quickly addressed, the challenge, in the face of robust competition from experienced cable and satellite operators, is to deliver a service that is not in any way inferior to those competitive services. The risk of spiralling costs in customer care makes this an EBITDA and customer-retention imperative.
2 – Securing Appropriate and Adequate Content
One of the most significant challenges to operators in the IPTV space is the scarcity of good content deals. For the incumbents in particular it has been difficult to come to terms with the reality that they offer insignificant scale to major content providers with customers (actual or forecast) in the hundreds of thousands at best compared to their cable and satellite competitors who count their customers in the millions. BT’s non-subscription offer may help the company to overcome this challenge but it is a high-risk strategy. Collaboration between IPTV operators to improve their collective voice with the major Hollywood studios and other key content providers may help to improve the range of content available to all. Exclusive sports rights, particularly football in Europe, have been a cornerstone of the strategies of Fastweb in Italy and Belgacom in Belgium, but again it is a high-risk strategy and the investment case is far from guaranteed.
3 – Developing Advertising Funded Capabilities/Models
To deliver profitability, IPTV operators need to extend revenue generation capabilities beyond Pay TV and Pay Per View (On Demand) services. The obvious opportunity is to develop advertising funded models based on the success of Internet players. Advertising potential extends from basic banner advertising in the EPG to advertising sponsored On-Demand content, but significant technical hurdles remain. Even without the technical challenges, Telcos lack the necessary relationships and also the scale to generate significant revenues from advertising at this stage in their evolution.
4 – Moving from Commercial Convergence to Functional Convergence
Bundling IPTV with voice and data into triple play offers is a tried and tested approach to promoting services, but may serve to undermine profitability as discounting is almost invariably used to make bundles attractive. Bundling is also easily replicable, and the only likely effect of replication by competitors is to apply further pressure to prices – as has been seen in the UK broadband market.
The challenge for IPTV providers, therefore, is to move from commercial convergence to functional convergence and to start delivering on the technical promise of IPTV. Functional convergence may take many forms, such as offering integrated Mobile TV offers, delivering IPTV content to PCs, enabling PVRs to be programmed remotely, enabling IM and chat services to/from the TV, or developing interactive UGC-based services such as video dating using the IPTV platform. Using functional convergence to enhance and differentiate the customer experience will help to move away from me-too offers and alleviate long-term price pressures.
5 – Delivering Personalisation
In the longer term, and building on advertising capabilities and functional convergence, IPTV will need to take leverage the customer profiling capabilities of IPTV platforms to deliver targeted advertising that will both enhance revenue generating capabilities and act as a differentiator compared to other Pay TV platforms. Telcos are well positioned to capitalize on personalisation, given their greater experience with CRM systems than most other IPTV competitors.
To provide top-flight feature-rich IPTV applications and ensure the best user experience web application developers have to solve the following IPTV development tasks:
- Create easy-to-use content management and distribution systems. Web application developers have to build IPTV applications in order for video content providers to manage their web site content easily, while giving users the opportunity to take advantage of time-shifting and electronic program guide features and the possibility to extract videos on demand from media content archives. In addition developers have to provide for external content delivery integration, which allows linking the content on the web site to global streaming platforms, generating more potential viewers and sidestepping latency and heavy traffic limitations.
- Protect video content from copyrights infringement and stream hi-jacking. IPTV application content should be protected from unauthorized use by implementing Digital Rights Management and geo-blocking features, while in order to avoid IPTV content to be hi-jacked during the process of IP transmission web developers should introduce advanced encryption algorithm solutions. Furthermore, to protect video content from unauthorized distribution IPTV systems can be embedded with digital watermarking solutions.
- Introduce Web 2.0 interactivity. Today Internet communication has been transformed from a provider’s monologue into users’ dialogues and buffs communities, that’s why IPTV systems have to provide users with an opportunity to leave their feedbacks and share the information with other users. To allow for user-generated content web application developers create IPTV systems with in-build widgets, community and video conferencing features as well as blog integration facilities and custom players in order to ensure highly compelling user experiences.
- Provide easy-to-manage subscription and payment systems. IPTV systems should provide for easy and fast subscription systems and ensure simple payment process, which gives your customers an opportunity to choose from various payment methods.