Over the last 20 years or so, fixed telecoms service providers have undergone fundamental changes in the way they operate. Late into the 20th century, they were still focused on delivering one thing and one thing only to customers: telephone services for voice communication. You only need to take a look at the names of many of these companies — Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) in Japan, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) in the United States and Telefónica in Spain — to understand their singular focus.
The current telco landscape looks vastly different and there are numerous reasons why. Firstly, deregulation measures were introduced across several countries, which meant that the providers who previously enjoyed a monopoly within the voice industry began to face fierce competition. Next there was the growth of mobile communications, which slowly came to dominate the market and resulted in consumers using their home landline telephones less frequently.
Last but not least, there was the mainstream popularization of the Internet, which enabled OTT voice services such as Skype, for example. Unencumbered by having to create and maintain a network infrastructure and by regulatory overheads of the traditional telcos, these new players won over consumers through the simple fact that they were cheaper to use — and often completely free.
In a relatively short space of time the telecom industry was turned on its head, and the traditional companies within it had to reconsider their business models and cost structures. They did this by focusing their efforts on data transport (for both consumers and businesses) and the provision of content (for consumers), while rebuilding their networks using IP technology to provide the versatility and cost-effectiveness necessary. The move proved an overwhelming success, with many telcos now formidable forces across various industries and mediums. IP was a real enabler of this transformation.
Strangely enough, the broadcast industry is currently faced with almost very similar challenges to those that the telcos overcame at the turn of the century. With new entrants to the market threatening to disrupt the revenue models that traditional broadcasters have relied on for so long, broadcasters are now choosing to adopt IP technology in order to stay relevant and continue thriving.
The adoption of IP has already largely happened in the wide area network (WAN) contribution field — the long-distance transport of video/audio signals from a sports stadium to a main broadcasting center, for example — but that is largely because that part is typically handled by telcos. However, broadcasters are now looking to also utilize IP for data transport across their local area networks (LAN) within the production facilities, for cost and flexibility reasons, including the need to support ever greater picture quality (including UHD/4K and HDR).
However, unless there are already individuals within these companies that have expert knowledge of IP, many will struggle to leverage the technology effectively. This is why, when considering how to leverage IP, there are many lessons to be learned from looking back at the telecoms journey and analysing how these companies embraced the change.
CONSIDER TELCOS AS PARTNERS IN THE JOURNEY TO IP
Telcos have gained a wealth of experience and knowledge in running carrier-class networks and data centres over IP — the kind of things that used to be considered strictly IT expertise. This is exactly the kind of knowledge that will prove essential to broadcasters as they begin their journey towards an IP-based future. So it could make a lot of sense for broadcasters to partner up with telcos to leverage their expertise and learn from them directly.
Most broadcasters have already outsourced all their IP WANs requirement to telcos. As we see IP slowly being used to transport signals across LANs, we will no doubt see these outsourced for the very same reason.
BE FEARLESS IN TAKING RISKS
Broadcasters have been slower to adopt IP than telcos, and this is largely due to the industry’s conservative outlook towards technology, as well as a tendency to consider their own requirements as superior. Many are concerned that a move towards IP could inadvertently result in a huge loss of revenue if their networks were to ever fail, both during and after implementation. However, it is foolish to assume this is a problem exclusive to broadcasting — banks, telcos and plenty of other industries face similar risks.
These concerns should not stand in the way of IP adoption. The ability of the technology to transport huge amounts of data across long distances with minimal latency has been proven many times over by now, and the broadcast specific layer that sits on top of IP to make it work in facilities (e.g. the SMPTE 2110 standard) is also quickly coming on stream.
SEE IP AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO EVOLVE
Just as we witnessed with telcos, IP technology can often prove to be the catalyst that allows businesses to evolve and expand. There’s no better example of this than British Telecom. Around 20 years ago, like many other telecom companies, it focused solely on delivering telephone services to its customers, but it now encompasses broadband network connections and original broadcast content via its BT Sport channels. Broadcasters now have this same opportunity, and so they must reconsider who they are, what they do and how they can expand their services to the public.
Despite the continued hesitancy from some broadcasters towards IP, the opportunities available through the technology are undeniable. For a better chance of leveraging IP to the best of its abilities, broadcasters could do far worse than learn from the telcos that have been on this journey before, and learn how to reap all the rewards that lie at the end.
Olivier Suard is vice president of marketing for Nevion.