By Carol Wilson
Jun 21, 2007 12:00 AM
Products help service providers evolve a slow U.S. market.
Although IPTV is moving into the U.S. market at a relatively slow pace, the technology underlying the service is continuing to evolve, giving service providers ample opportunity to update existing services or deploy new ones that are more highly differentiated.
At NXTcomm this week, those improvements include more vendor interoperability, better set-top boxes, improved access and transport gear, tighter security options and closer ties between Internet video and the TV set.
Calix, for example, may be known for its broadband access gear, but it is demonstrating broadband video, using the Apple TV platform to show how high-definition (HD) content can be sent directly through the Internet and doing video downloads as well to a Microsoft Xbox game system.
The company will have its access gear on display as well, focusing on showing delivery of IPTV over multiple platforms and protocols, including providing HDTV over a 2.4 Gb/s passive optical network, over VDSL 2 and over ADSL 2+, said Geoff Burke, director of field marketing for Calix. But the company also is showing the ability to remotely troubleshoot and provision equipment, using its Calix Management System (CMS), based on the DSL Forum’s TR-69 standard.
“We have moved beyond the technology ‘science experiment’ stage into the actual execution and efficiency stages,” he said. “With our CMS, we are reaching all the way from the access system into the set-top boxes and looking at the whole home network and doing remote provisioning. We will also be doing some work around mapping technologies that allow you to look at an individual area of the network and be able to identify and map those areas that are video-capable and those areas that are not.”
Comtrend, a maker of modems, residential gateways and IP set-top boxes, is focusing on live demonstrations of multiple access methods for IPTV, including ADSL 2+ over bonded copper lines, delivering 48 Mb/s over two copper pairs, and VDSL 2. The demos will show HDTV over both set-ups.
“Many carriers are faced with a couple of challenges—infrastructure and deploying over great distances,” said Andrew Morton, general manager of Comtrend. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest in bonded ADSL 2+. We have more than 30 trials in the U.S. right now. It gives carriers the ability to use their existing infrastructure without deploying remote terminals or fiber.”
As dial-up lines have decreased, there is actually more copper available for delivering IPTV, he added.
Amino Communications, a leading global set-top box maker, is introducing a new member of its AmiNET family, the AmiNET 530, which adds personal video recorder (PVR) capabilities to its existing AmiNET 130 set-top box with HD. The company will have its full product line on display.
“Our customers are trying to bring HD and HD PVR to the market, along with a good channel lineup, to offer more channels than either cable or the satellite guys can,” said Rick Sailor, vice president of sales for Americas at Amino. “They are trying to put packages together where you can get the triple play from them for less than you pay individually and drive that from a competitive standpoint. We find the smaller telcos are doing just fine with their video.”
One advantage for Amino is that it provides a generic set-top box that can work with multiple middleware players, including Kasenna, Minerva, Myrio, Orca and Thomason, and multiple conditional access/digital rights management partners as well. “We are based on Linux software, which means we can offer choices,” said Antonio Gimeno, marketing communications manager for Amino.
Another stand-alone set-top box maker, Entone, is highlighting its Hydra IP Video Gateway, which eliminates the need for multiple set-top boxes in the home, saving $300 to $500 per home in installation costs, said Steve McKay, Entone CEO.
“It uses the existing cable in the home,” he said. “Our contention is that ninety-five percent of homes already have at least three networks—power, telephony and coax. The big problem for IPTV is that it requires a fourth network—Ethernet throughout the house. That takes four to six hours to install, which kills the business case.”
The Entone box will work on either HomePNA technology over phone lines or Multimedia over Coax Alliance over coaxial cable lines.
“We are using NXTcomm to show a couple of new products—one is the HD version of Hydra that is going extremely well, and also the PVR version,” McKay said. “This is a whole-home PVR from a single gateway device, that can be viewed from any TV in your home rather than having to be at the TV that the PVR is connected to.”
In addition, Entone will be showing a wireless version of the product. “We believe if there is going to be a fourth network in the home, it should be a wireless network, not another hard-wired network,” he said.
With all the HD and PVR services proliferating, there is actually going to be major demand for bandwidth inside the home, which is why CopperGate is demonstrating Home Phone Network Alliance 3 (HPNA3) technology using its Copper Stream chipset to deliver up to 160 Mb/s capacity over home phone lines, said Richard Nesin, vice president of marketing for the company.
“Service providers are talking about delivering multiple streams of HD into the home and having whole-home PVRs as a big feature of their triple-play services,” he said. “That means there will be more streams of HD inside the home than outside.”
The HomePNA organization also will be displaying its members’ products at NXTcomm to demonstrate the versatility of systems.
Service providers also want to differentiate their services with additional features, and Integra5 has been working with multiple companies to enable cross-platform services that link voice and wireless technologies to IPTV, said Meredith Flynn-Ripley, CEO of Integra5. At NXTcomm, the company announced it is broadening its reach into the IPTV space, to include “a larger initiative around partnership and establishing standards so middleware providers can easily add to their platforms,” she said.
Integra5 made announcements this week with two middleware providers, Minerva and Seachange, with which it will be working.
“Middleware providers realize that converged services bring a new level of expertise and a partnership with us is a way to extend the platform and allow all IPTV providers to launch new services,” she said.
Integra5 has been deploying caller ID on TV, e-mail message waiting notification and voice mail waiting notification and is offering a sneak peek at short message service on the TV at NXTcomm, although that service won’t be available until later this year.
As IPTV is more widely deployed, the industry is developing the kind of tools required to ensure the service operates properly and to troubleshoot problems. Because IPTV is a video service, it is important to be able to determine the end-user’s quality of experience.
To do that, “you have to be able to monitor all the way to the set-top box,” said Keith Cobler, marketing manager for Tektronix. “A lot of those measurements are subjective, but the industry needs to try to adopt test and monitoring strategies that will give you the highest quality of experience.”
Tektronix has been working with both service providers and network equipment manufacturers to develop functional tests to stress the network and measure its reaction, he said. “At the net ops lab, we are fully testing integration, and making sure everything works together,” Cobler said.
The Tektronix exhibit is highlighting the company’s work in this area, particularly in combining quality of service measurement with quality of experience measurement in the IPTV realm, where services are more vulnerable to packet loss, he said.
“On content verification, we have our Cerify product, which fully automates the process of verifying … content files before they are transmitted, and on the network monitoring side, we have our GeoProbe and Unified Assurance products for real-time end-to-end monitoring,” Cobler said.
IXIA also is focused on IPTV test, but it provides the ability to emulate hundreds of thousands of IPTV clients for the purpose of testing functions such as video-on-demand (VOD) delivery and fast channel-change, said Deepesh Arora, product line manager for data, security and video.
“We can create a very realistic model in which IPTV and VOD can be mixed together and interspersed exactly as they would be in a full-scale deployment,” he said. “We can work in great in-depth statistics that can help the provider or end user know what they are seeing and how it would affect the end-user’s experience.”
At NXTcomm, Ixia is announcing its partnership with Opticomm, which will provide a full reference model for IPTV testing.
“In a zero-reference model, you look at the video in the wire, but you don’t look at the source code, you make assumptions based on the codec you are using, and arrive at a [mean opinion score]-like number,” Arora said. “With a full-reference model, I need to look at all the good metrics I was seeing before, but I want a deeper analysis based on the source video and comparing the two—the video on the wire to the source. Opticomm is our partner for providing that.”
Security is a major ongoing concern for IPTV providers, and several companies are providing security solutions both in the hardware and software realms.
Verimatrix is showing an integration of its VideoMark digital watermark technology with all the major system-on-a-chip vendors of set-top boxes, showing the wide availability of the system, said Steve Oetegeen, chief sales and marketing officer for the company. The digital watermark lies within the content but is invisible to the human eye.
“It is a unique ID embedded within the video stream itself that identifies the set-top box the content was played on and the date and time and ID number from our control system,” he said.
If someone makes an illegal copy, that copy bears a mark that says the copy is being distributed illegally, which will deter further piracy, he said.
Verimatrix is also showing its Video Content Authority System (VCAS), initially deployed in 2003 and now up to Version 2.1, with support for the broadcast network standards and the ability to use a secure player to turn any broadband-connected PC into an IPTV player.
Widevine is demonstrating its Cypher Virtual Smart Card technology, a renewable security client that can be restored, if compromised, without replacing hardware. The company is also showing its PC solution, already selected by three major broadcasters for their online downloads, said Matt Cannard, vice president of marketing for the company.
“We view the PC environment as a very open and untrusted device that the consumer acquires,” he said. “Anyone can use piracy tools to capture the video once it lands on the hard drive. We needed to develop an additional level of protection, so we have developed a Cypher PC client. … It looks at the way [content] is traveling through system, and if it detects piracy from any number of tools, it will shut it down. That’s a requirement that studios like to see.”