The IPTV Juggernaut and the Future of Broadband

24 Jun 2008

By John Janowiak, President, International Engineering Consortium

The trend toward greater IPTV deployment continues unabated, and at a time when the global economy is in slowdown mode, the application is helping the telco industry worldwide buck the trend.

Recently, Yankee Group reported that IPTV subscribers in America might hit 97 million within the next three years – compared to only 1.4 million in 2007. And the growth is not just centered in the U.S. Infonetics Research has indicated that the IPTV/SDV market will experience double-digit growth within the same three-year timeframe, to reach a global $9.8 billion annually.

These kinds of numbers are good news for an industry that has seen revenues from traditional fixed-line services, such as voice, decrease in recent years. As carriers such as Telefonica and China Telecom proceed with their IPTV deployments, the industry is gearing up for a world in which subscribers increasingly turn away from cable operators and satellite service providers.

Nevertheless, there remain some critical issues surrounding IPTV deployment and services, including the transition to all-IP, increasing broadband rate, QoS, revenue models, services delivery, etc. – the answers to which hold the key to the application's future prospects. Debating these issues is the focus of important forums around the world, especially the International Engineering Consortium's Broadband World Forum Asia 2008, to be held July 15-18 in Hong Kong.

Getting It Right
As the industry embraces IPTV in the real world, many are finding that QoS – or rather, Quality of Experience (QoE) – is the key to video services success. Making this happen involves a variety of factors, such as broadband throughput, services control and diversity, and innovative, interactive applications. However, carriers are encouraged by the success of rollouts such as Orange, Free, NeufCegtel, Fastweb, and PCCW, and as a result are pouring money into the IPTV promise.

"Service providers continue to build out headends and spend on IP set-top boxes to aggressively court video subscribers," says Jeff Heynen, directing analyst for IPTV at Infonetics. "IPTV, in its pure and hybrid forms, continues to grow steadily and is poised for bigger growth as operators clear regulatory hurdles, MPEG-4 HD set-top boxes become more widely available, and as operators lock up exclusive broadcasting arrangements with professional sports leagues, movie studios, and international programmers."

The emphasis on QoE, however, is becoming paramount. After all, deploying IPTV in the lab or in trial is one thing—deploying it on a mass scale to hundreds of thousands of residential users in the real world with adequate QoS is another. Customers who turn from their traditional cable provider to try telco IPTV will give the service a fair try – if it fails to live up to expectations, service providers can say goodbye forever to that prospect.

This reality is driving carriers to "get it right" out of the gate, and hence proceed cautiously with their IPTV rollouts. For example, Ireland's Smart Telecom is planning a careful introduction of the service across Ireland in April, making sure the QoS is solid before mass rollout.

"We will begin with a soft-launch where we will select customers closest to exchanges or who are on the smaller copper loop closest to the exchange," says Pio Murtagh, CTO of Smart Telecom. "Once we're happy with the quality of service, we will begin a general rollout."

Helping carriers get their IPTV networks in place is a key focus of the Broadband World Forum Asia. Among a range of issues, the conference sessions will look at alternatives and strategies for upgrading the access and metro networks to accommodate the service agility and dynamic infrastructure needed for IPTV, VoD, and personalized services.

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