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SES Astra Tips Sky UK to Focus on Ultra HDTV via Satellite Instead of Broadband

Monday, May 21st, 2012 (11:27 am) - Score 2,296

Global satellite operator SES ASTRA has tipped BSkyB (Sky Broadband) to be one of the first in the world to deploy the next generation of Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV) services (aka – 3840×2160 pixels or “4K” / 7680×4320 pixels or “8K“) into homes, possibly by 2015, which could call into question the future competitiveness of over-the-top (OTT) style broadband TV (IPTV).

The news is significant because UHDTV marks a huge leap beyond the current standards for HD Television (HDTV) and also represent an important glimpse into the not too distant future, yet to deliver such a service over fixed line broadband connectivity instead of Satellite would, at least in the UK, pose a huge challenge for much of today and possibly even tomorrows infrastructure.

Romain Bausch, CEO of SES, said (Advanced Television):

U-HDTV is still in its early days but NHK’s approach is for full 8K [transmission] but the other U-HDTV is 4K and we see this as being more commercially focussed and could be a reality only two or three years from now. We are very confident that U-HDTV will happen. BSkyB lead the introduction of HDTV in Europe so do not be surprised if you see us partnering with BSkyB in order to pioneer the introduction of Ultra-HDTV in the next two to three years. We are in close cooperation with our customers on their plans.

This is important because many have predicted that broadband ISP connectivity would slowly give rise to a new breed of TV (IPTV), delivered more dynamically and flexibly over the fixed line telecoms infrastructure. A recent study by Nagravision even suggested that using internet-based Content Delivery Networks (CDN) for TV would, by 2021, become cheaper for BSkyB in the UK than Satellite and thus foster a refocus upon IPTV.

The problem is that Nagravision’s study was based on yesterday’s requirements and failed to fully reflect what might be demanded in the future. Content quality is always improving and that’s important because most studies, such as Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), have shown that video streaming content typically accounts for the majority of all internet data traffic.

At present both the UK government and Europe hope to make superfast broadband download speeds of at least 25-30Mbps (Megabits per second) available to everybody by 2020. That’s all very well for a few HD video streams and multiple SD (Standard Definition) streams but it’s not going to cut it for UHDTV, where speeds of 200-640Mbps could be required (the standard is still being refined and future improvements could change this).

A BSkyB spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk that satellite remains “far more efficient at delivering high bandwidth video into the home (having the potential to support very many HD feeds simultaneously)” than broadband. Indeed the media giant could have all 10 million of its home customers watching multiple HD channels at the same time and it would “make no difference to our distribution costs“, claimed Sky. Likewise SES Astra claims to have plenty of capacity available for future UHDTV services via BSkyB.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Sky has a hybrid distribution platform which harness satellite, IP and local storage. This allows us to deliver the best possible experience for our customers, whether that’s high bandwidth services like HD and 3D, the flexibility of on demand, or the convenience of Sky+.”

Suffice to say that this poses a problem for IPTV, which for UHDTV would be restricted by heavy capacity costs (some of which can be resolved by multicasting / CDN’s etc.) and the physical limitations of UK telecoms infrastructure. Many people have argued that only true fibre optic connectivity (FTTH etc.) is capable of scaling to meet future demands like UHDTV, although convincing a heavily indebted government and the private sector to spend billions more isn’t so easy.

Admittedly this is all still a long way off but it is important for telecoms operators and governments to recognise that neither content quality nor technology stand still, what you plan for today could be out-of-date by tomorrow. At present nobody really needs 100Mbps, 300Mbps or even 1Gbps connectivity, but just 10 years ago 2Mbps still looked unnecessarily fast.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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