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What exactly IS IPTV (television over Internet Protocol)?

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Uploaded on Oct 12, 2006

There are many misconceptions about IPTV, but Geof Heydon, Director of Innovation and Market Development at Alcatel, is an expert in the IPTV future. In this interview he separates fact from fallacy in the IPTV and "multi-service network" world. For one thing, IPTV is delivered over a separate IP network that is not the Internet. It is not something you can do on the Web today (or even in the future). It is about offering video in all its forms, TV on demand, free-to-air TV and even pay-TV together - and richly imbued with simultaneously available multiple broadband connections, Voice Over IP phone circuits, video conferences and so on. But it will take place on a very different kind of network from those in use in Australia today.

Heydon explains the work to evolve the existing broadband networks towards IPTV, but also the entirely new networks that may be built to succeed the existing HFC cable when the latter wears out. Only new networks will be able to overcome the high "background contention ratios" that prevent today's networks from delivering the end-to-end performance needed for IPTV. It is that high speed that allows IPTV features such as quick channel changes. ADSL2+ is a major upgrade to the access component of the network and that is one significant requirement of IPTV.

But that's just a start, says Heydon. You also need the network backbone to be upgraded, and for a small country such as Australia, it is not clear that the market can be allowed to look after itself without a visionary Government ensuring faster networks are implemented via a sensible regime of new incentives to the broadband industry. Heydon talks about the issues that have faced SBC, a telco in the USA that is using IPTV from Alcatel and Microsoft to wage combat against the leaching of triple play cable competition. (The SBC IPTV offering is expected to light up at the end of this year.) Heydon talks about broadband companies in places such as Italy, where FastWEB has many lessons for the Asia Pacific region.

Heydon also talks about the specifics of today's user experience, with early systems such as the Microsoft Windows Media Centre and the Elgato EyeTV, or the Foxtel IQ PVR, offering the first glimpse of the IPTV benefits, but nowhere near the actual promise of a fully realised IPTV regime. Trickle fed video services on today's Internet can't deliver Standard Definition, let alone High Definition channels, with hundreds of such channels being instantly accessible. That requires a lot more network sophistication and a TV-oriented experience, rather than a PC-oriented experience.

And such a unified delivery system also establishes a unified TCP/IP environment so that 3G networks' video-capable mobile handsets will seamlessly interoperate with the TV world, allowing applications to interoperate across both platforms with video shared and used appropriately on each. That means a unified user identification system, with a dramatic decrease in the number of passwords people will need to remember. It also means a much better capacity for the network to intuit each user's needs based on its understanding of the user's personal wants and needs as they assume each "personality" in their broadband life. Notwithstanding the potentially chilling confidentiality issues, one result will be that TV will serve different advertisements to children, as compared with when the parents watch TV later in the evening. It means a game player's profile in shoot 'em ups (established during that person's teen years) will be maintained separately from that player's more sober business profile during a day in the office.

In the IPTV world, it will also be possible for each device in a consumer's life to control or access each other device. For example, a parent may use a Personal Digital Assistant while on the road, to transmit a message to the TV screen telling the children it is time for bed.

Heydon describes a metaphor: when water and electricity were installed a century ago, no one anticipated the dishwasher or clothes washing machine. But the way those early utility services, once so separate, eventually converged into new forms so useful that they are almost ubiquitous throughout the developed world, is a signpost to how today's broadband services are likely to mix and match into new and ubiquitous forms in coming years.

And that thinking raises the vital issue of how entrepreneurs and technology strategists will profit from these changes. Heydon describes some of the new businesses and new products envisaged today, that will forge the profitable broadband value propositions of the next decade.

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