IPTV is maturing. Our last major IPTV article provided an update on US Telco TV deployments, and touched on the lack of IPTV standards. It also reported on the emergence of several vendors offering systems for isolating quality-of-service problems and measuring perceptual quality as experienced by end-users
According to Point Topic, IPTV has been growing rapidly, reaching 15.4 million subscribers worldwide at the end of March--more than doubling in a year. Europe led in terms of total subscribers, with Asia second and North America in third place.
In the US, AT&T reported 549,000 U-verse TV customers at the end of 2Q08 and reaffirmed their expectation of reaching 1 million by year end. The other big US player, Verizon, had nearly 1.4 million subscribers for FiOS TV at the end of 2Q08. (Most analysts count Verizon subscribers in IPTV rankings, even though, aside from on-demand content, their FiOS TV service is currently carried by traditional RF.)
The biggest player in European IPTV is France, which collectively represents over half the European IPTV subscribers. Key providers are Free, Orange-France Telecom and Neuf Cegetal. With IPTV so prevalent in France, we were not surprised that Witbe, one of the interesting new companies in the measurement of IPTV quality, is based in France.
TV Quality Monitoring and Fault Isolation
At IPTV World Forum North America, we met with several companies offering tools for TV quality monitoring and fault isolation. Several of these, such as Ineoquest, we had met and written about before. Several others were new to us, and some were just starting to enter the North American market.
We thought the most interesting was Witbe, a company headquartered in Paris, France, that provides user quality-measurement systems for broadband service providers delivering video, voice and data. Unlike most other measurement systems--which connect to the input side of the set top box, Witbe connects to the output side of the box. It controls the box through the remote control interface, and measures the quality of the video and audio in a way that it claims models how a person would assess it.
Arman Aygen, Witbe's Business Development Manager, gave an interesting talk at the show. One of his slides (shown below) illustrated how two images of a face with the same quantitative blockiness (near the bottom in the left image, and through the middle on the right) would be appraised by a human (and by Witbe's system) as very different in quality.
After his talk, Sandy interviewed Arman. They discussed the importance of user-centric quality measures for interactive video services, and why network performance measures are necessary but not sufficient to create a satisfactory customer experience. Visit our IPTV World Forum Video Interviews page to see the interview.
Our last article on IPTV commented on the "numerous overlaps and gaps" between the many organizations working in parallel to set IPTV standards. At IPTV World Forum, we heard a talk by Helmut Schink, Head of Multimedia Standards at Nokia Siemens Networks, on the standards work being done by the Open IPTV Forum, where he serves as Vice-Chairman of the Steering Group.
The Open IPTV Forum (OIPTVF)--which was not even mentioned in the conference session described in our earlier article--is working to establish end-to-end interoperable standards for IPTV. Mr. Schink said OIPTVF is not trying to create new standards, but rather to select appropriate existing standards for each requirement and then define interoperability testing. He said its initial set of specifications has been finalized and will be published in November. It is now developing specifications to test interoperability.
The OIPTVF architecture embraces IPTV delivered over both managed networks (such as those most telcos are deploying today) and IPTV delivered over the open Internet. In his talk, Mr. Schink described how an IPTV service provider could offer video content both to its existing customers over its managed network, and to a much wider audience using the open Internet.
The members of OIPTVF include most Tier 1 European telcos, most of the long-established telco vendors, and leaders in consumer electronics. We are looking forward to reading the OIPTVF specifications when they are published. It will be interesting to see how quickly products based on the OIPTVF specifications come to market, and which telcos adopt them.
Update on MTS
MTS--now known as MTS Allstream--is a pioneer of IPTV in North America, and we have been tracking their progress for more than six years. MTS began in May 2002 with a 200 participant trial in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which led to a commercial launch of TV services. MTS provides an all-digital television service, offering three streams of video run over the telephone line through a single set-top box, using early VDSL technology from Next Level Communications (now Motorola).
At IPTV World Forum, we got an update from Kelvin Shepherd, President, Consumer Markets. In his talk, he said that MTS has had great success, gaining over one third of the TV market from the incumbent cable provider. A key element of their success has been innovative packaging that allows the user tremendous flexibility in what they buy and pay for.
Since Motorola has discontinued the Next Level line of IPTV equipment, MTS felt it needed to develop a different path for moving forward as the market matures and converged services become the next battleground for service providers. Kelvin said that MTS has chosen Microsoft Mediaroom for future deployments, because of their belief in its ability to provide robust converged services.
We discussed this and other aspects of IPTV--such as TV quality and fault isolation--with Shepherd in a video interview at the show. You can see the interview by visiting our IPTV World Forum Video Interviews page.