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Digital TX Examines The IPTV/VoD vs ISP's Debate

Posted: 17th Aug, 2007 By: MarkJ
The BBC's new Video-on-Demand (VoD) iPlayer service shot into the headlines this week (here and here) after Tiscali and some other UK ISP's criticised its potential impact on their networks.

Naturally Alex Cameron, the IPTV/VoD expert responsible for Digital TX, has stepped in to offer his usually comprehensive overview of the situation:

The truth is that in the UK, the copper ATM network just isn’t capable of streaming media properly to a TV screen, unless it’s provided as part of an unbundled telecoms platform. We are massively behind other civilised economies despite having the most advanced TV platforms and audience in the world. So-called “Max” broadband is anything but. We cannot do live, real-time video delivery and won’t be able to for a long time. Even when we can technically-speaking, the economics will still prove too prohibitive. Usage-based tariffs are totally opposite to what is needed for video. Regional fiber connectivity pricing to exchanges is frankly, absurd.

What we can do though is push video content progressively “over the top” or through a private ISP circuit onto some form of hard disk storage, like a PVR, media player or desktop PC for playback later. The trouble is the vast majority of IPTV set-top box devices out there as we speak have been built for deployment in countries where real-time streaming is possible and already been in effect for years. Offering a TV guide based on XML data and HTML menus is easy with an in-built browser making requests to a web server somewhere. Getting 1GB video files down the line takes a lot more, even when you can cache the most popular material at the BT exchange at the cost of co-location fees.

Until capacity increases and the BT network becomes viable for delivering video, we will have to produce set-top boxes that progressively download DVD-quality media over the Internet that we have to wait for. As most “live” streamed Internet TV now uses Flash Video, set-top box vendors need to integrate the Flash codecs onto silicon to allow us to suck download material from Google Video and YouTube for offline viewing. Centralised playlists built using XML and stored on the Internet to be edited and managed through a web browser are also a compelling feature that again broaches the divide between the PC and the TV.

Naturally downloading video content “over the top” doesn’t solve the issue of ISPs footing the bill for content distribution. Net neutrality may very well just be coming to an end unless content providers contribute to the bandwidth costs their products generate. All we need to know for now is that the audience is there and there is significant demand. We have been too caught up in the guessing game of whether consumers will take what we give them digitally to focus on the true problems, like how on earth we get the material to them without making them want to throw the TV out of the window.

The full article is well worth a read and can be downloaded in Adobe .PDF format - here. However many may disagree with the notion of content providers helping to fund the bandwidth of ISP’s, it’s a tall order to say the least and ISP’s wouldn’t exist without content to deliver.

Certainly under the present network consumers may find themselves paying more for accessing greater degrees of content, that is the more likely outcome and is ironically nothing new since many people already choose their package based on a price/data usage flexibility balance.

Whether your ISP is clear about the limitations of said products is another matter and one reason why Tiscali is so frustrated, its affordable model simply can’t tolerate heavy content flexibility without service degradation. Speaking of which, unbundling (LLU) only gets you half way there, we need fibre and BT won’t be rolling that out nationally for years.
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