Saturday, June 28, 2008

JCom to Deploy DOCSIS 3.0 in Japan

A Light Reading article describes statements by J:COM, a leading cable provider in Japan, that it plans to fully deploy DOCSIS 3.0 across its network by the end of July 2008. The service provides downstream speeds of 160 Mbps and upstream speeds of 10 Mbps at $60 per month, which is $5 per month higher than its DOCSIS 2.0 service at 30 Mbps downstream. It already has about 30 thousand customers for this service.

J:COM has about 2.8 million subscribers and passes 10 million homes in Japan.

J:COM is taking a much more aggressive approach than the U.S. cable companies with DOCSIS 3.0. Comcast only offers DOCSIS 3.o in the Minneapolis area with a downstream speed of 50 Mbps at $145.99 per month.

The regulatory regimes in many Europe and many countries in Europe have been much more effective than the FCC's approach in the U.S. People in these countries get much higher speeds at lower prices than are available in the U.S.

The U.S. approach has been to pit the cable companies against the Telcos. The problem with this is that they are both entrenched monopolies whose first priority is to protect their own business rather than to compete aggressively with each other. This leads to a cautious rollout of new services. This is why I have been saying that DOCSIS 3.0 will roll out slowly in the U.S. as a high priced premium service.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Japanese IPTV Standardization Effort

Several Japanese service providers and manufacturers have joined together to unify the technical standards for IPTV services in the country, with the first compliant devices expected to emerge by March 2009.

NTT, KDDI and Softbank BB have teamed together with Sony, Matsushita Electric, Toshiba, Sharp and Hitachi , plus the country's five major TV broadcasters, including NHK. The group expects to develop standards by the end of this August. Sony, Matsushita and others expect to start selling the first flat-panel televisions with built-in IPTV receivers compliant with the new standards by the end of March 2009.

The forum is also expected to present its work to the International ITU and other global bodies with the help of Japan's Ministry of Communications.

It is a significant step forward to get IPTV implemented into TVs and other consumer electronic devices. They face significant issues. It will be interesting to see if they can meet this schedule and how the resulting products are accepted.

Broadcast International Announces Video Encoding Breakthrough

Broadcast International announced a new MPEG-4 H.264 encoding technology that it says will cut MPEG-4 H.264 encoding rates in half for both HD and SD content. It has developed a software encoder that will operate on IBM BladeCenter servers. It calls this product CodecSys and it is able to operate multiple codecs simultaneously, each based on different image assumptions, to identify the most efficient encoding. The company stated that its encoded MPEG-4 H.264 output can be rendered by most MPEG-4 IPTV set-top boxes.

While CodecSys running on a BladeCenter is expensive for a single stream, Broadcast International stated that it is competitive with hardware encoders for four streams and significantly less expensive for 20 streams.

Broadcast International has been providing systems for satellite video networks for 25 years. It demonstrated CodecSys at NAB in April 2008. The product will be in beta test in the summer of 2008 and will have its formal announcement at IBC.

Encoding rates are a key issue for broadband delivered IPTV. Cutting rates in half will have a significant effect on ADSL and VDSL delivered IPTV, especially where HD and multiple streams are involved. ATT should find this product to be quite interesting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Packet Vision & Tandberg TV Solve MPEG-4 Ad Insertion Problem

Packet Vision ran into a problem with its targeted ad insertion project with the Inuk PC-based Internet IPTV service that serves about 150 thousand college and university students in the UK due to the use of MPEG-4 compression.

MPEG-4 has a latency of one or two seconds between I-frames that contain an entire screen. Between the I-frames only the incremental changes are transmitted. The ad insertions start with the I-frame but the ad being over written may have already run up to two seconds before the inserted ad starts. This creates a rather jarring experience where the viewer sees the ad to be over written for a bit before seeing the new ad.

This was not as significant a problem with MPEG-2 because the latency between I-frames is about 1/2 second, which does not create as bothersome an overlap with the over written ad.

Packet Vision worked with Tandberg TV, the company providing the encoders to Inuk, to carefully encode the broadcast streams from Channel 4 in the UK and to mark the insertion points. Tandberg TV made sure that ads started with an I frame so that a clean splice is made. This has provided a much better viewing experience.

This looks like a problem that is inherent in MPEG-4 that all encoder and ad insertion systems will need to solve. Packet Vision and Tandberg TV have done pioneering work to get targeted advertising to work in Telco IPTV services.

Monday, June 23, 2008

FastWeb and Telecom Italia to Cooperate on Fiber

Telecom Italia have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to share fiber infrastructure in Italy and to cooperate as follows:
  • Joint planning of the civil infrastructure for fiber networks
  • The reciprocal exchange of rights to use civil infrastructure
  • Joint study and testing of new techniques in civil infrastructure such as latest generation micro-tubing for laying fiber
As part of this MOU the two companies settled a number legal and regulatory issues between the two companies, including:
  • Fastweb's claim against Telecom Italia's alleged unfair practices in the business customer segment
  • Disputes relating to Fastweb's fixed line tariffs and to those applied by Telecom Italia on the mobile network
  • Telecom Italia's contesting Fastweb's adjudication of the tender to supply telephone services to public governments in Italy
  • Reconciliation of a number of account items under dispute between the two companies
This agreement shows a path forward that may be followed in other companies with strong telecom competitors. FTTH is a very expensive proposition and both incumbents and competitors will be well served by cooperating in the deployment of fiber infrastructure.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Amino Introduces HD Digital Set-top Box

Amino introduce an HD set-top box that included only digital interfaces such as HDMI for the U.S. Amino believes that nearly all flat panel TVs in the U.S. have HDMI interfaces. The AmiNET 130 does not have analog interfaces such as coax or S-Video interfaces.

This set-top box is very small and could be hidden behind the TV using string to tie it up or with a velco strip to attach it. Amino state that its small size is generating interest from consumer electronics companies interested in integrating IPTV into their TVs and other video products.

This was just about the only interesting IPTV hardware product that I saw at NXTcomm. The small size of this box should prove to be very attractive to a lot of customers.

Three Screen Strategies

This week three interesting three screen were announced or shown at NXTcomm.

Verimatrix introduced its content security system for mobile applications. It now provides a single system that can support TVs, PCs, and mobile devices. Verimatrix has also added support for other security technologies into its system such as OMA DRM, Microsoft DRM, and Marlin DRM as well as its own VCAS DRM. This gives the service provider the ability to deploy a single system that can support a broad set of content security technologies.

Ericsson's Tandberg TV demonstrated a three screen metadata system that gives service providers to manage the metadata for their video assets including the ability to supplement the metadata delivered with the asset with additional metadata that is available from Internet sources. It also gives users the ability to browse and search this metadata with a very attractive interface from either the PC or a mobile device.

Alcatel-Lucent gave a demonstration at NXTcomm of three screen technology based on the Microsoft Mediaroom DVR capability. This system copies the content that the viewer records on the DVR to a network server and then provides access to these private network assets from both a PC and a mobile device. The network provides a catalog of what is available and the handles the format and compression conversion required to display on either the PC or the mobile device. A viewer can automatically record their favorite programs and then view them using either a PC or a mobile device while they are on the road.

Three screen TV is moving from hype to reality. Both Verimatrix and Tandberg TV now have products that add real value. The Alcatel-Lucent demonstration is quite interesting but raises a number of issues that need to be addressed. For example, the content providers may object to this use of their assets. There are also real privacy issues when you take private content and put it onto a network.

Win Multimedia to Offer WiFi IPTV in Thailand

Win Multimedia will deliver IPTV to a set-top box connected to the TV as well as to the PC over its WiFi based broadband network in Thailand and China. The IPTV services include 60 broadcast channels with an NPVR service, video on demand, Karaoke, Information Services, SMS, Tracking, Interactive Services, Gaming, and video conferencing. Win plans to sell the service at 10 thousand retail outlets in Thailand and China.

Digisoft is providing the middleware for this service, and Verimatrix is providing the content security. Both companies are supporting both PC and set-top box access.

This is an interesting deployment. It is the first wireless IPTV service I have run into. By this I mean wireless to the TV and not TV to a mobile device. It is also one of the first deployment that I have seen that is going to rely exclusively on retail sales channels.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Verizon to offer 50 Mbps FTTH

Verizon will offer a FiOS FTTH service with 50 Mbps downstream speeds and 20 Mbps upstream speeds across its entire FiOS footprint. This service will be available for $89.95 per month in New York and Virginia and for $139.95 elsewhere. It also offers a service with 20 Mbps in both directions for $64.99 in all markets.

Verizon is raising the broadband performance bar. The cable companies will have to respond with similar DOCSIS 3.0 offerings to remain competitive. This also shows the advantage of Verizon's FTTH strategy compared to AT&T's VDSL strategy. ATT offers a maximum of 6 Mbps today which will increase to 10 Mbps later in 2008 when it introduces its channel bonded service.

Cisco Predicts Video Will Dominate IP Traffic

A Light Reading article has Cisco tables that gives their forecast for global IP traffic out to 2012. This forecast makes the following conclusions:
  • Internet IP traffic dominates but non Internet IP will grow more quickly
  • Consumer IP traffic dominates and will grow faster than business IP traffic
  • Telco IPTV will be one of the fastest growing sources of metro IP traffic
This study confirms our analysis that Telco IPTV services will become a significant factor in carrier metro IP networks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Microsoft adds Mediaroom Partners

Microsoft announced that it added three new system integration partners, HP, Tech Mahindra, and 180Squared. These companies are in addition to Alcatel-Lucent, which is Microsoft's only end-to-end system integrator as well as its only reseller.

Microsoft also stated that Mediaroom is not supporting more than 2 million TV sets worldwide.

This is interesting because it may indicate some weakening of the Microsoft/Alcatel-Lucent arrangement. Alcatel-Lucent offers two middleware software systems as well as Mediaroom. Whether or not this is true, Microsoft's service provider customers can benefit from the incremental skills that these three new partners bring. HP has a strong server hardware base. Tech Mahindra has strong back office skills, and 180Squared provides applications and the ability to support smaller deployments.

The 2 million TV sets does not mean 2 million subscribers. AT&T in the U.S. provides multiple set-top boxes per home. In any case, Microsoft is experiencing strong growth in homes served.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

China Telecom Wants 574K IPTV Set-top Boxes

China Telecom launched a unified bidding process for 574,000 IPTV set-top boxes. The bid covers 536,000 SD and 38,000 HD units all with H.264 . China Telecom set this figure after consulting with its provincial branches on their growth plans for IPTV . The bidding is taking place through a unified framework managed by China Telecom, while each province is involved with its own procurement. Only Guangdong Telecom will not be ordering any terminals, as its IPTV platform will not be upgraded to the latest version of IPTV this year.

This bodes well for IPTV in China in 2008 and marks the start of HD services. It will be interesting to see if this rate of growth continues beyond the Beijing Olympics.

Creating a Level Playing Field for Content in India.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) held meetings the May 14 through 16th with the broadcasters of pay channels to discuss the rates and packaging of channels they offer to facilitate faster growth of IPTV services in the country. TRAI had previously recommended that the broadcasters should be allowed provide signals to all distributors of TV channels including IPTV service providers.

Some of IPTV have had difficulty getting broadcast channels at prices as the DTH satellite service. providers are getting in line with TRAI’s determination of a-la-carte and bouquet prices on advisory basis. In the meetings there was a general consensus for non-discriminatory pricing as well as pricing channels on both an a la carte and a bundled basis for IPTV services.

This is a step forward for IPTV in India that will help the Telcos to compete with the existing satellite providers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shanghai Telecom at 420K IPTV Subscribers

Shanghai Telecom now has 420 thousand IPTV subscribers in the city compared to 230 thousand one year ago. Shanghai's IPTV service is adding value added products and developing new services. For example, its relaxation games, which were launched on May 31, attracted 34 thousand users in four days, which illustrates the popularity of interactive products.

China's IPTV subscribers is expected to grow at a significant pace this year due to the Beijing Olympic Games. The service is expected grow rapidly during the next five years and is expected to reach 35 million in 2012.

Shanghai has the most successful IPTV service in China and is experiencing rapid growth. IPTV has not been as successful in the other deployments in the country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Free Negotiating for Alice France

Free, the competitive carrier in France, is negotiating to buy Telecom Italia's Alice broadband service in France for about 800 million euros. Free stated that it expects to complete this transaction by the end of 3Q08 subject to consultation with the employee representatives and other necessary approvals.

Free also stated that this transaction would move it back into the position of the leading competitive broadband carrier in France. It lost that position last year when Neuf Cegetel acquired Deutsche Telekom's Club Internet broadband service in France.

Free makes it sound like a done deal. It appears to be a good move by Free as long as the subscriber turnover is low during the transition.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Alcatel-Lucent Improves IPTV Network Architecture

Alcatel-Lucent announced improvements to its Triple Play Service Delivery Architecture (TPSDA) that includes:
  • Increased capacity and density
  • Policy enforcement with per-subscriber resolution
  • The equivalent of 19.2 million queues per telecom rack, which enables more fine-grain service control to ensure each service is delivered with the appropriate Quality of Experience (QoE) and uses network resources in the most efficient manner
  • PPPoE termination, which facilitates the smooth migration of legacy networks to TPSDA
  • A reporting and analysis system which provides tools to warehouse, aggregate and process per subscriber application-level statistics
Alcatel-Lucent's TPSDA has been successful and fifty service providers globally have adopted it along with Alcatel-Lucent products, including AT&T in the U.S. TPSDA is providing more granular control over flows in order to assure QoE. Zeugma is attacking the same problem with its new system.

These architectures will clearly be important for insuring QoE for VoIP and mobile services. It is still not clear to me that it will be effective for IPTV traffic as IPTV moves from a broadcast/multicast approach to an on demand/unicast approach. Unicast TV will saturate these networks and be quite difficult to manage using packet based techniques.