Importance of monitoring multiple networks to grow, says Kareem

At NAB2008, IPTV Update had a chance to meet Arif Kareem, Tektronix’ new VP and general manager of the Video Product Division, and briefly discuss the evolving test and measurement challenges facing telcos as they deploy IPTV networks.

Kareem, who comes to the new position from the company’s Communication Division, offered a few thoughts and suggested a follow up conversation after the hectic trade show.

This week, IPTV Update speaks at length with Kareem about those challenges and how Tektronix is helping to meet them.

IPTV Update: Arif, you moved to your new position as VP and general manager of the Video Products Division at Tektronix less than a year ago after working at the company’s Communications Division. Having worked in the Communications Division, you must have a good grasp of the challenges facing telcos. How do you assess where Tier 2 and 3 operators stand today in their IPTV deployments in the United States, and where they need to be headed?

Arif Kareem: The business drivers and technology challenges for Tier 2 and 3 telcos are markedly different from many Tier 1 organizations. In some organizations, home video delivery is seen as a way to mitigate declining voice revenues. For many Tier 2 and 3 telcos, the voice market is less competitive, and IPTV may be seen as a supplemental revenue opportunity. As a result, the speed with which they roll out will be determined by different market dynamics.

Because many Tier 2 and 3 IPTV markets are smaller, the complexity of the technology rollout will be significantly reduced. In many instances, these organizations will not face many of the scalability issues experienced in larger markets. Scalability as it applies to infrastructure as well as T&M solutions will likely be less of a hindrance to the process.

The smaller telcos may be able to take advantage of service offerings akin to “head-ends in the sky,” which provide turnkey content delivery services to the local head-end. A single head-end solution may serve a complete Tier 3 market, making the infrastructure much simpler.

The key benefit of Tier 2 and 3 operators is reduced risk associated with scalability. When their business model requires it, they will be able to simplify the deployment process significantly.

IPTV Update: A regularly recurring theme voiced by IPTV operators and vendors is the need for integrated eco-systems with proven reliability and scalability plus the ability to integrate best-of-breed solutions as desired. What steps is Tektronix taking in the T&M arena to assist them in identifying desirable performance criteria for these eco-systems and best-of-breed add-ons in their IPTV deployment?

Arif Kareem: For some of our clients, it’s important to get an end-to-end solution from a single vendor. For others, it’s critical that they create a best-of-breed solution from a wide variety of resources, define it in house, validate and optimize it for their specific space. Tektronix provides significant value in both scenarios.

First, we are working with leading systems integrators, equipment manufacturers and Tier 1 operators to develop the right test solutions and products. Our 60-year history has been focused on video testing, and the industry recognizes that. We are being proactively sought out and asked to assist our partners and customers succeed in their implementations of IPTV.

Second, a number of key suppliers are building IPTV-ecosystem proof of concept labs, and we’re working as an integral third-party to help design and define the test environment needed for systems integrators as well as for Tier 1 operators.

In both instances Tektronix is seen as an independent third-party expert with tools to ensure QoS and maximize operational efficiency for our users.

IPTV Update: Could you describe the challenge you face in developing IPTV T&M equipment at a time when standards for IPTV are continuing to evolve?

Arif Kareem: Evolution of standards should not be a hindrance because T&M companies will constantly face a changing technological environment and need to be able to adopt and evolve tools to support emerging technologies.

For IPTV, many of the underlying technologies for the physical layer transport and video compression are reasonably mature. Tektronix has invested strongly to develop leading solutions for these key underlying technologies to help keep our customers ahead of the deployment curve, i.e. UDP, RTP, MPEG 2, H.264, etc.

The variety of standards and formats available to manufacturers and content delivery organizations changes regularly, reflecting the latest advances. We offer the broad —across multiple standards and video layers — and deep — in-depth generation and analysis — test capabilities for digitally compressed video.

Our products’ architecture and platforms have the flexibility of software applications to easily extend support for new technology standards and to evolve our products in a timely manner to meet the needs of our customers.

IPTV Update: What areas are the most fertile for T&M procedures and products to help IPTV operators reduce their truck rolls today?

Arif Kareem: You need to find the root cause of where a problem lies — isolate a problem in the core network, headend or at the edge so you reduce truck rolls.

Tools that help our customers reduce time to insight, identify the source of a problem and then apply the correct resources to fix it will be most attractive in an evolving environment like IPTV.

Depending upon how a customer decides to deploy technology within an operation, there could be a number of physical layers and compression technologies that must be managed across non-homogenous network environments. Deciding whether a visual problem experienced by a viewer initiated in the source material or if it was the result of an RF or IP problem could be key to assigning the right technical resource at the right spot in the process to correct the problem.

IPTV Update: Look into the future over the next two to three years. What are the major IPTV-related T&M challenges IPTV operators will face?

Arif Kareem: A key challenge will continue to be scalability of monitoring multiple networks.

As new tools are defined for monitoring and diagnostics, they will become more specialized to specific service requirements and heavily dependent on workflow.

Developing technical talent is also another area that will continue to be a challenge — video expertise versus IT expertise. We continue to focus on developing products to help enable the transition by making the video expert more IT aware and the IT expert more aware of the video side.

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

Arif Kareem: Video networks ostensibly are running separately from the core network. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. Network requirements to optimize video QoS differ significantly from those for voice and data. Network management tools will likely remain discreet. The challenge then becomes how to facilitate monitoring across the video network to find root cause then deploy resources to solve any problem.

Video QoS T&M requirements vary also as you move along the network from the central office to the home. The closer in to the office, the more critical it is to ensure the quality of the video. Once final manipulations are made to the content at the video headend, errors seen in the content as it exits the network are likely to have been network-induced. At the edge, you need an IP-centric monitoring probe and at the headend, you need video-centric monitoring capability.

While absolute “convergence” of physical networks may be a long way off, the need for our customers to manage a converged workflow is a real challenge. Tektronix video and telecommunications network management and diagnostics domain knowledge is both broad and deep, positioning us to support the convergence of voice, video and data workflows.

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