Lack of broadband critical mass, content aggregation plague Tier 2, 3 IPTV deployment

UTStarcom, which offers an integrated IPTV solution dubbed RollingStream IPTV, has been building momentum in the international market, most recently with the announcement late last year of its third IPTV contract in Asia.

The company describes the RollingStream IPTV solution as “an open system, single vendor, end-to-end approach” that offers the flexibility to work with third-party components if a telco so desires. Given concern on the part of some telcos that best-of-breed approaches can be difficult to implement, manage and scale, IPTV Update thought it made sense to speak with Manish Matta, director of marketing for UTStarcom, about how UTStarcom approaches the market.

Specifically, IPTV Update wanted to learn Matta’s perspective on how IPTV roll outs in the United States compare with international deployments as well as how UTStarcom’s single-vendor, yet inclusive, approach is playing out.

IPTV Update: Given your involvement across the globe in IPTV deployments, what is your perspective on why IPTV deployments by Tier 2 and Tier 3 telcos in the United States are lagging?

Manish Matta: The United States has the luxury of rich television content — whether it be through broadcast TV or VOD. Tier 1 operators in the U.S. have had a difficult time deploying and provisioning a scalable solution that is feature-rich and competes with the current TV offerings from cable and satellite operators for various reasons, and Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators in the U.S. face similar obstacles — intense competition from existing cable and satellite operators, scalability issues, etc.

However, there are two major obstacles in the path of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators. One is the lack of critical mass in terms of the number of broadband subscribers on their networks, and the other is content aggregation at an effective cost that would make the business case profitable.

IPTV Update: How would you assess deployment in the United States by Tier 1 telcos, and do they face some of the same hurdles confronting IPTV deployment by smaller players?

Manish Matta: Tier 1 operators have the critical mass to make the business case profitable. However, the problem faced by the Tier 1 operators is one of scalability and network architecture. These issues are well documented by analysts and media. The problem arises in scaling the network at a cost-effective manner and ensuring voice network-like reliability at all times. This has proven to be a daunting task for the Tier 1 operators in the U.S. Besides that, competition from cable and satellite operators continues to be a major hurdle. The inability to truly differentiate their offering and provide the revenue-generating applications and functionalities that go beyond table stakes has been another significant problem.

IPTV Update: How serious of an impediment to successful IPTV deployment is integration and interoperability of software and support from multiple IPTV vendors?

Manish Matta: That is a very interesting point and something that UTStarcom identified at inception. Because of this issue, we decided to go with an open system, single vendor, end-to-end approach for our RollingStream IPTV solution, which means that while we provide and position the end-to-end system capability right from the STB to the encoder to our customers, we are also willing and capable of integrating a third-party preferred vendor for any operator for specific parts of the network if they ask.

For instance, in some networks, we have incorporated a preferred vendor’s encoder in our end-to-end system. This is enabled via our open system promise. However, the difference in our approach is that we are the single point of contact for any issues for our customers. We provide the integration of our solutions whether they are 100 percent our products or if we have integrated some other components from other vendors. Our underlying common network management solution provides the management capability for all of our solutions whether it be NGN, IPTV or broadband, which ensures, among other things, significant OPEX savings for the operators. We are the single point of contact for our customers, and this is one of our inherent value propositions.

IPTV Update: What is being done internationally to enable IPTV operators to achieve greater control over their networks and maximize bandwidth?

Manish Matta: To offset bandwidth limitations in the network, we have always adopted the most efficient codecs available at the time — from MPEG-2 when we first started deploying our RollingStream IPTV system with international operators to MPEG-4 Part 2 for some more recent deployments and then, of course, we now provide MPEG-4 Part 10 to our customers to minimize the bandwidth consumption and guarantee superior viewer experience.

The objective is to minimize the packet size and optimize the network performance. Today, we are enabling superior IPTV service over ADSL and ADSL2 networks. On the infrastructure side, we support RPR functionality in the network and also support FTTx for enhanced higher bandwidth applications in systems throughout the world.

IPTV Update: As telcos make their initial deployments of IPTV networks, what steps should they be taking to futureproof their systems to ensure they support new advanced entertainment experiences consumers may seek over time?

Manish Matta: First and foremost, the operator needs to choose the right vendor. This choice is critical because it is often the difference between success and failure. The vendor should be the operator’s partner and develop and provision the network to the individual requirement of the operator.

From a technical perspective, the network for IPTV needs to be able to scale — not for thousands but for millions of subscribers at the same time — to provide a superior user experience. The network should be optimized for increased unicast traffic because, often, the complexity is in the unicast and on-demand traffic.

The other question to be answered is in the context of the network evolution. For instance, does the solution assure migration to mobile based applications seamlessly or not? A streaming architecture assures a migration path to mobility since the content is being pushed from and stored at the network. It takes the onus of content storage away from the end user. Finally, the IPTV solution should be able to support value applications like HDTV, personalized/interactive content, 3-D effects, online purchase, etc. that will generate revenue for the operator.

IPTV Update: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Manish Matta: The choice of the IPTV partner is as imperative as the choice of the voice network partner for the operator. The operator and vendor need to be partners that understand the needs and priorities of each other very well and work towards a common objective that is a win-win for both — and ultimately provides the best user experience.

This is critical because a lot of deals are transactional in nature and price-driven. The difference between a successful and failed venture is in the effort put in at the onset to establish the partnership nature of this relationship. An IPTV network lays the foundation for future applications, which will be revenue generators for the operator. IPTV is just the framework for future applications.

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