Telcos must reorient thinking, methodologies when it comes to IPTV

This week, IPTV Update concludes its two-part conversation with Danny Wilson, president and CEO of Pixelmetrix.

Wilson sees a fundamental clash of cultures between television and telephony, which is responsible for some of the missteps and problems IPTV has experienced in its initial stages.

However, work Wilson and others are doing at the ITU is helping to deliver some guidance to telecoms as they roll out their IPTV service offerings.

IPTV Update: At least three companies are now aggregating programming for IPTV operators — especially the smaller operators in the United States — and delivering their offering as a sort of virtual IPTV headend. Will this approach help ameliorate this culture clash you’re describing?

Danny Wilson: This opens up a totally new business segment and a danger for content aggregators. It’s a master distributor sort of arrangement. They have lots of lawyers; they’ll go to Hollywood and buy all of this stuff. They package it together in a nice bundle, and they pass it forward.

Of course, the IPTV operator still has this question of “Did I get what I paid for? I’m not buying discretely; I’m buying in a block.” In that case, they’re at risk for really not knowing what you are buying.

Television is a very politically sensitive area. It’s highly regulated. Foreign companies generally cannot own the TV station in a country. The terrorists and the revolutionaries always take over the TV station first when the revolution comes. It’s part of the revolutionaries’ handbook or something.

There’s stuff you can and cannot say. There’s the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV, and Janet Jackson’s boobs. There’s regulations about stuff like that.

IPTV Update: So an IPTV operator could unknowingly run afoul of the law in such circumstances?

Danny Wilson: Right. You are buying your content from an aggregator, the content consolidator. You’re not really sure what you are getting — stuff like the metadata tags and the rating codes. If I’ve got pornos switched with the kids’ channel in the morning by mistake because the program guide that I got didn’t get set by the content aggregator, whose fault is that? More importantly, who is going to go to jail?

In some countries, if you have that problem, the police will come and arrest the engineer. In some countries, the police will come and arrest the CEO. It’s a serious, serious problem.

As a telephone operator, you can say anything you want. I can call you and say anything I want, and it’s not their business. But now they are buying and reselling products, and the product has to meet tightly regulated government rules. Who’s going to be responsible for that? It’s all part of the quality of experience. I’m expecting cartoons; it’s got to be the right kind of cartoon.

IPTV Update: Shifting gears, how do you approach providing the tools to assess quality of service?

Danny Wilson: In the end, you are using the same kind of headend, the same kind of L-band to get content from a satellite, the same kind of encoders. It’s all the usual suspects in the delivery chain compared to cable.

If you look at cable backbone today, it’s all using Cisco IP routers and Juniper routers, just like the telephone guys. The only real difference is in the last mile, where again you have the square plastic connector or the round metal connector.

So from that respect, much of the quality control processes that have existed for television still apply today. The product has to come into your business on one side, and you have to know did I get what I paid for, and it has to go through the network and come out on the other side. It’s a very basic thing. And by the way, it better be the right product.

The thing is that the telcos from an IPTV environment don’t know anything about television. They certainly don’t know about television troubleshooting and management and delivery.

IPTV Update: Can you provide an example?

Danny Wilson: The troubleshooting methodology for them is backwards. If you have a problem and your phone doesn’t work, you use another phone and call for assistance. They’ll come and check your phone, and they check the telephone pole and they check the local office. They work backwards from you to find out what’s causing the problem because their core network is going to work.

When you have a problem with a telephone, it’s that my phone won’t work. It’s never that I can phone everybody; I just can’t phone John. That problem never happens. So, either you can phone everybody, or you can’t phone anyone. If you can’t phone anyone, it must be the phone, so let’s work backwards from the phone.

That doesn’t work with television. Here’s a really good example. An IPTV operator in America was doing an in-house trial. The CTO was at home trying to watch TV, and one of the channels was all blurry and couldn’t be watched.

He decided to test his system and phoned his help desk and told them he couldn’t watch TV. They had sent 14 trucks to his house over time. They checked the DVD player and checked the edge gateway and checked the home set-top box. They are working backwards because they’re a phone company. They checked the DSL line the DSLAM and the edge router. They’re backing up.

It was the autumn, when it rains a lot and the leaves fall off the trees. Satellite dishes tend to point up and they call it a dish because it’s shaped like a bowl. They have a drain hole in there. The hole got jammed with leaves and the dish filled up with water. A dish full of water, and there’s no radio wave in there. They don’t even have a radio wave coming down into the dish. Of course, there’s no content coming out in the guy’s house.

The methodology is backwards, and that is what you have to change. Luckily, from the work we’re doing in the ITU, we are establishing a framework for managing television for these guys.

We established the monitoring points where you do need to monitor along that transmission chain. There’s kind of a matrix that shows along each point the kind of measurements that make sense. Obviously, at the front end of the chain, do I have a radio wave? If there’s no radio wave, you don’t need to check IP packets. That’s enshrined in our End Game service assurance platform for IPTV. That’s in full alignment with the standards body about what points need to be monitored.

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