IPTV 2.0 comes of age

While the spotlights are blazing on UHDTV and OTT at IBC 2013, one of the interesting side shows will feature something called IPTV 2.0. I am not yet sure exactly which vendors or service providers will be talking about IPTV 2.0, but rest assured some will. The term will be applied more in a marketing context than to any tangible set of technologies or standards, but there is still an underlying reality behind the hype. While the term second-generation can be applied more accurately in a technical sense to satellite, digital terrestrial or cable TV distribution, where it represents a coherent set of components that equate to greater transmission capacity and improved quality of service, IPTV 2.0 has crept up through a series of steps forward at various times that are not directly related. These include deeper fiber penetration, encoding/compression advances, techniques such as vectoring that improve performance of copper access loops, and the ability to extend the benefits of IP multicast right to the home and within it to multiscreen devices such as phones and tablets.

Taken together these developments mean that IPTV is no longer the poor relation of satellite, DTT or cable when it comes to quality of service or capacity for multichannel HD services. With vectoring, for example, VDSL2 technology can enable bit rates of 100Mbps over copper at distances up to several hundred meters, while at the same time fiber deployments are shortening the copper lengths to within this range in the case of many broadband access networks.

This liberates IPTV operators to tout some of the platform’s advantages over satellite and terrestrial, especially in terms of interactivity, and ability to harmonize with second-screen activities. IPTV services are also in a position to exploit some of the developments that are improving QoS for OTT distribution over unmanaged IP networks, notably adaptive-bit-rate streaming (ABRS). Even though IPTV networks are managed, they still experience some variations in available bit rate and so can benefit from the ability of ABRS to adapt continually to changing network conditions and deliver the highest quality possible at all times. This can be especially useful within the home for delivery to connected devices over Wi-Fi, which is effectively an unmanaged OTT extension of this service and subject to varying network conditions. ABRS could help deliver consistent quality over Wi-Fi while also catering for varying device capability to decode and play the video. Ability to provide consistent high QoS to multiscreen devices could be a significant differentiator for IPTV operators.

Another interesting development for IPTV operators on the multiscreen front was actually unveiled at IBC 2012, which was the nano CDN technology from French CDN specialist Broadpeak. This turns the home gateway or set-top box into the end node of a multicast CDN, so that a channel only has to be streamed once right to the home, even if multiple connected devices are viewing it. This will avoid having to upgrade the access infrastructure further to support multiscreen services in the home.

The arrival of HEVC (High Efficiency Coding) could also be said to be part of the IPTV 2.0 story, even though its benefits will be enjoyed by all the platforms. It is a particular fillip for many IPTV operators because it will extend the eligibility of their services to larger numbers of users. Orange in France, Europe’s largest IPTV operator with almost 6 million pay-TV customers, has stated that extending the reach of IPTV further out from the DSLAM is one of the principle benefits of HEVC and a reason for early adoption. For a number of IPTV operators it will double the number of households within their catchment area for multichannel HD services.

IPTV 2.0 is a patchwork quilt of components rather than a coherent standard, but the advances represented are real enough. Essentially they increase the range of IPTV outside the home and its penetration inside.