Where TV and telecom collide, there too should be a secret decoder ring

Without it, says Tektronix’ Ian Valentine, differences in language and orientation can hinder the identification and correction of errors in an IPTV network
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Speaking at an NAB2006 press conference, Tektronix director of marketing for video products Ian Valentine mentioned the language barrier that sometimes prevents telecom and broadcast personnel from understanding one another, which can be more than a nuisance when IPTV is involved.

According to Valentine, the differences in language and orientation can hinder operations when seeking out and attempting to correct errors in the distribution of video content via IPTV and triple play networks.

What’s needed, he said, is a secret decoder ring to bring the two spheres together. Certain that the ring can’t be found in a cereal box, IPTV Update spoke with Valentine after the convention to find out more about it and where to find this IPTV Rosetta Stone.

IPTV Update: At NAB2006, you mentioned the difference in language and orientation between telecommunications and broadcast professionals. That would appear to be a problem with the two spheres melding with the advent of IPTV. Could you elaborate on the differences?

Ian Valentine: Having spoken to people in both the telco and broadcast industries I have discovered it is difficult to understand the different languages spoken without a secret decoder ring.

In the telecom world, it is all about the network and the evolution that the network is experiencing. Conversation revolves around the ISO 7 layer model that came long after broadcast started. You will hear network staff talking about “being interested in what is happening between layers 4 and 7.” Although you could apply the model to broadcast systems, I have never heard it referred to in this way. Telco personnel talk about the data, control and the network planes and the numerous protocols associated with them. These can be completely alien to broadcasters.

Standard broadcast networks are unidirectional. Content is pushed to the end user. The telcos have been in a bidirectional world from the start. They talk about the correct ways to establish connectivity, the protocols required to achieve this, the management policies that need to be implemented and then how to tear down these pathways. Unless you are comfortable with these approaches it takes time to start to talk the same way.

IPTVU: As IPTV becomes a factor, will these differences be a concern to broadcasters, or will these two operations exist independently, with the exception of where broadcasters hand off a channel to a telecom company?

IV: Experience tells me the answer is no. The two sides can’t work in isolation and they need to learn each other’s language. We’ve seen technicians from a broadcast background being asked to find a fault on IP networks, and we’ve seen network technicians being asked to diagnose video problems. The two sides must coexist and to learn to interpret each other’s language. The world is full of different languages but we all need to communicate with each other.

At NAB I spoke about Tektronix being in a unique position to interpret the needs of both sides. We have the secret decoder ring, and we are working out how best to enable both sides to work together.

IPTVU: Could you elaborate on the secret decoder ring?

IV: The key to this is our depth of experience in both network and video tests. We have a team of people in Richardson, TX, who develop solutions for telco networks. They are comfortable talking about control planes, data planes, network planes and the protocols and measurements associated with triple play and IPTV networks. In Beaverton, OR, and Cambridge, UK, we have a team of people who have been leaders in video test for the last 50 years. Between those two businesses, we are working to interpret the languages and needs to define the test tools needed to solve the problems of a converged world. That experience allows Tektronix to continue to build and shape that decoder ring.

IPTVU: What are the unique test, measurement and monitoring needs of IPTV?

IV: Those responsible for the system face a three-part problem: Can the “IP Pathway” be reliably set up and torn down? A triple play network needs to assure availability of network resources and bandwidth to deliver video services. However, video is bandwidth intensive, so it is equally important to ensure that pathways that are no longer required can be torn down successfully. This requires test equipment capable of establishing and testing the IP pathway and providing statistics on network jitter and packet loss. These needs also apply to the provision of VoIP services. Tektronix offers the Spectra2|VQM for testing the IP pathway.

Is the video right at the source and destination? Once the IP pathway is established it is then essential that the video data that is pushed into and received from the pathway is correct. This requires the monitoring and analysis of the transport streams at the output of encoders, multiplexers and the headend. At the receiver end, similar monitoring and analysis is required to ensure there has been no degradation of the video as it passes through the system. We offer the MTM400 and MTS400 products for this task.

Lastly, is it a great customer experience? As the number of IPTV subscribers increase, one major concern will be the response time to user requests made from their remote controls or “zap times.” These are heavily dependent on the network performance and response times for handling numerous simultaneous requests. The Spectra2|VQM product is suited to this application.

IPTVU: Is there a difference between what broadcasters and telecomm view as acceptable quality of service?

IV: I would say those two worlds are coming together rapidly. The telecom world talks about the five 9s: i.e. network reliability of 99.999 percent. They tend to work on a threshold and as long as they are beating that threshold, everything is OK. In the video world, only 100 percent will do for the user experience to be acceptable. Increasingly, telecom people are talking about both quality of service and quality of experience. The latter reflects the bi-directional nature and lossy nature of these networks.

The telcos are realizing video is intolerant to the five 9s approach. It needs to be 100 percent. The user experience is everything.

IPTVU: To what degree can Tektronix automate the test, measurement and monitoring of all of these parameters in IPTV?

IV: The industry is in the early deployment phase of triple play. Most customers are looking for point monitoring and analysis solutions. Tektronix’ offers the MTS400 and the Spectra2|VQM for these applications. These products make the required measurements and display the information in a way that enables rapid fault diagnosis. It’s our see-and-solve approach.

As the market evolves there will be a shift to network-wide monitoring. The tier one telcos, such as British Telecom, are unlikely to trust the monitoring of their networks to niche solution providers. They need confidence that whoever takes this on can deal with the size of the task. Ultimately, video parameter monitoring will be rolled into those systems already monitoring voice and data. Our Unified Assurance Group are leaders in this type of monitoring. Our MTM400 has also been widely deployed in automated broadcast monitoring systems. So, Tektronix offers tool sets to get customers through early deployment, and then we are well positioned to move to full network monitoring where much of the automation will come in.

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