NDTC ramps up IPTV service

North Dakota Telephone Company (NDTC), headquartered in Devils Lake, ND, is putting in place a carrier-grade IPTV headend to deliver local television stations to subscribers.

One of three equity partners in IP-video headend Dakota Video Network in Park River, NDTC will use the Optibase MGW 5100 to produce H.264, MPEG-4 Part 10 compressed video and audio content for distribution via ADSL 2+ and active FTTP networks. NDTC's Optibase headend will receive and process the local channels aggregated with 80 television channels of content transported from Park River via Ethernet over SONET OC-48 for local distribution to NDTC customers.

IPTV Update spoke with Rich Ellison, network services manager for NDTC, about the company's implementation of the system and where IPTV service is headed.

IPTV Update: Could you please describe your involvement with Dakota Video Network and how you plan to augment those services locally with Optibases's IPTV headend solution?

Rich Ellison: NDTC is owned by three other telephone companies. NDTC and two of our owner companies joined in purchasing a headend and a private transport network. Some programmers allow their content to be received and hauled on a shared headend network, and others won't. We use the shared headend network for the content that we can. Additionally, we each have separate smaller headends to receive the content of the programmers that will not authorize their content on shared facilities. We chose Optibase for ours.

IPTVU: Are you competing against cable operators for multichannel video service subscriptions in your service area, or is the competition primarily from DTH satellite?

RE: Though we have not yet deployed our video product, when we do, we will be competing with cable operators. We already compete with them in voice and data, so we do view them as our primary competition. We won't disregard the satellite providers, though, as they do have a large presence in the area we intend to serve.

IPTVU: Are any of the 80 channels from DVN or the channels you are adding high definition?

RE: Not at this time. There are still some issues with the equipment we need in order to deliver HD. We hope we'll be able to offer HD later in the year.

IPTVU: How much bandwidth do you plan to devote to HD transport? SD transport? And why?

RE: In our FTTH deployment, we don't have a big concern about the bandwidth we need for SD or HD in the future. Looking down the road to using our DSL platform to deliver video, we are taking steps to design our network to be able to deliver adequate bandwidth to do SD very well. HD will, of course, take some extra effort, but with MPEG-4 and the DSL improvements we're seeing, we should be able to do a good job with HD as well.

IPTVU: How extensive is your FTTH deployment?
RE: We started with our biggest exchange in Devil's Lake, which might be turning things around. A lot of people go on small exchanges to learn the ropes and then move on to their bigger ones. But that's where we were seeing all of our competition was in our biggest exchange.

We went in and put an active fiber to the home platform in place, and we're still in the process of converting to it. We've got probably a third of the plant we are installing turned up and in service now.

IPTVU: How important was MPEG-4 Part 10 H.264 in choosing to augment your video offerings?

RE: There are definitely some concerns with when STBs will be available. It sounds like they will be available soon. In choosing a headend, though, MPEG-2 wasn't a consideration. The investment needed in a headend is too great to go with anything but MPEG-4 at this time.

IPTVU: What in particular attracted you to the Optibase Media Gateway for your IPTV offering?

RE: A lot of things figured into our decision with Optibase. Our engineering consultants liked it and recommended it. The cost was very competitive. We were familiar with the product through one of our owner companies. Optibase had in their product and roadmap some features that we liked a lot. Most importantly, they took the time to show us they could back up what they claimed, and that built a high level of trust.

IPTVU: Some in the broadcast industry have expressed concern over a different expectation for quality of service between those in the telecom industry and those in the video business. Is that an issue for NDTC?

RE: Quality of service is always an issue. What quality of service is being questioned? I believe the quality of service the independent telcos have brought to their customer over the years has always been superior. It has been a point of pride wherever I have been and worked in the industry.

As for the quality of the product we deliver, that too has always been of a high standard. I don't see that our culture or integrity dropped as we went from the voice world into the data world. I don't see that it will change as we go into video either. Our customers trust us today, and I expect they will tomorrow.

If the question is of the telcos being able to preserve the quality of, and provide the security for, the content we get from the programmers, I think it's only natural that those concerns are there. I understand the value of the content and have every intention of keeping it secure. I want the programmers to understand I want them to trust me with their work. I think the reservations some of the programmers and creators of content have will lessen with time and prove that IPTV security is dependable and safe.

If the question concerns the network we have, what I am hearing from the vendors out there is that the reliability is there. We are taking a lot of steps to make sure that we have the redundancy that we need and that switchover, if there is a failure with one piece of equipment, will not be noticeable to the customers. That’s what we are really trying to do. Optibase, of course, says that the failover is short, and if perceptible at all won’t bother the customer. That is what we have seen.

We’ve lived with the five 9s (99.999 percent quality of service) in the telecom industry for many, many years. Are there guarantees? Absolute guarantees are very hard to accept or deliver, but you’ve got to go with what they say.

IPTVU: Is entry in to the IPTV business a defensive play, given the growth of voice over IP?

RE: If it was purely defensive, I don't believe we'd be as far as we are today. We have always tried to get the most use of our network and infrastructure. It seems to be a logical move to use the network we have in place to deliver video. Is it going to be a good defense against our competition and a decline in customers? Of course it is. Is it something we would have done even if we weren't facing competition? I believe it is.

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