Staid old television broadcasts give way to interactive television, a service for which MTNL has opened its bookings in Mumbai and New Delhi. By Paresh Shah, assistant director, sales engineering, India sales and marketing, UTStarcom.
A new exciting entertainment technology, currently being deployed in various countries, debuted in India last fortnight, with MTNL announcing the launch of IPTV in Mumbai and New Delhi. The deployment of Internet Protocol Television, to give IPTV its full name, is all set to enhance television viewing for its users.
(See: MTNL to offer India's first internet TV service in Delhi, Mumbai from November)
MTNL's IPTV services, which are due for launch in November, will utilise MTNL's existing broadband infrastructure to deliver IPTV to users. Its content partner Aksh Optifiber Ltd will manage the IPTV infrastructure and set top boxes as well as content acquisition and management.
MTNL will function as the service provider and take charge of operations, marketing and revenue collection. The content delivery network will be powered by UTStarcom's Rolling Stream solution.
Given their price plan, which is similar to that of the direct-to-home services being offered by TataSky and Zee, and comparable set top box rental fees, it is apparent that MTNL and Aksh are counting on taking IPTV to the masses.
Aksh, on its part, has mentioned that it has already addressed several challenges, including price sensitivity of the broadcast TV market and broadband penetration. Aksh is planning to roll out additional fibre to home or fibre to building service using PON or Metro Ethernet technology that will provide the very high bandwidth required to deliver IPTV to a home. The system is also CAS-ready and does not require a separate CAS set top box.
IPTV v/s DTH
IPTV provides limitless interactivity, compared to the limited interaction possible through DTH. For instance, IPTV allows customers to surf the internet via TV sets; view caller IDs of incoming calls and with a click on the remote, even make a phone call and; purchase a product while it is being advertised on the TV.
With IPTV, users can also stream TV programmes to their mobile or to an office computer rather than being restricted to viewing them on TV sets alone, a feature that rival technology direct-to-home (DTH) lacks. IPTV users can also schedule their TV programmes and also set reminders from their PC's at work using the IPTV network.
Because IPTV uses standard networking protocols, it offers a flexibility to alter the packets and insert valuable information in between the transmission of TV signals both ways, unlike DTH.
Since DTH transmission is satellite-based, localisation of content is not possible, while IPTV can offer localisation and customisation of content up to the user level.
Another feature unique to IPTV is its ability to offer Quad Play - voice, video, data and mobility, which is unfeasible with DTH technology.
MTNL's announcement comes even as other service providers in India are seriously evaluating technical and business feasibility of delivering entertainment over this technology. Some others have publicly announced their intention to commercially launch IPTV services.
So what is IPTV? IPTV is a technology that enables the delivery of digital quality broadcast TV and on-demand entertainment over high-speed broadband connection. Service providers are wiring up millions of homes with broadband technologies such as DSL and PON, which allow services like IPTV, high speed internet access and voice (telephone) to be delivered over a single wire coming at home. A viewer will also be able to watch all channels that are currently available through traditional cable systems or DTH.
In comparison to traditional cable TV (CTV) and direct to home (DTH) systems, which deliver broadcast TV channels to a TV set, and are a passive medium for viewers, IPTV allows the delivery of a host of 'on-demand' applications - video on demand, music on demand and infomercial on demand.
The biggest advantage with IPTV is that it will offer consumers the ability to integrate television broadcast with other IP-based services, such as high-speed internet access and voice-over-internet - all through the television set! Video-on-demand, with a library of thousands of movies, can now be beamed onto a television set at the push of a button; booking of movie tickets can be done with the television remote, online chats are possible - the applications are unlimited.
Being an open platform, IPTV will also allow creation of thousands of third-party applications that can be offered through the system - from placing orders for mithai and flowers to trading of shares while watching a business news broadcast channel and even advanced tele-medicine for which the remote centre would only need an MTNL line and a television set.
Even at home, IPTV would add a visual dimension to a plain old telephone call - imagine the photograph of the person calling you on your landline flashing on your television screen. Imagine, yet again, being able to answer the call not by picking up the hand set but by clicking the TV remote button, even as one is watching a riveting programme.
This is why IPTV has the potency to change the way we use television. It will free us from the so-called 'appointment television' where viewers are bound to TV schedules defined by the channels. IPTV, on the other hand, offers 'time-shifted' TV, where viewers can rewind and forward live broadcast TV. Imagine watching one's favourite TV programme or sports event at a time of one's choosing, instead of being dependent on the channel's schedule.
IPTV enables service providers to store live TV, or broadcast TV, content in their network for weeks, thus allowing viewers to watch programmes that they had missed out on. Service providers will also be able to store popular Hollywood and Bollywood titles, past cricket matches, popular TV shows, which viewers will be able to access on demand.
Rather than a platform for just watching TV programmes or accessing entertainment services over broadband, IPTV will have to be looked upon as a delivery platform for value added services and applications, given the fact that it lends itself for several applications that are currently feasible, including video calling, karaoke, T-chat, T-commerce, T-mail, etc.
With the country's emphasis on rural telecom connectivity, IPTV can also be used for socio-economic development, with projects like telemedicine or for delivering educational programmes to remote villages.
Also, with the deployment of IPTV, consumers will now have a choice of TV service providers, being able to select between cable, DTH and IPTV service providers. They will no longer be dependent only on cable service providers.
According to the current trends, only telecommunications service providers are rolling out IPTV service. They are also establishing protocols for measuring customer satisfaction and focusing on delivering services and products that are of a high quality.
Keen to increase the returns on their investment from their fixed lines, telecom companies are currently offering broadband internet and traditional telephone service over a single copper line connection coming into the users' home. With IPTV deployment, they will now be able to offer "triple play services" (telephone, internet access and IPTV) on the same copper line, thereby increasing their average revenue per user (ARPU).
However, going ahead IPTV still faces some challenges. For instance, India has a very low broadband penetration, as a result of which, this new technology will be accessed by a handful of the population.
Television services broadcasters also view IPTV as an opportunity as well as a threat. On the positive side, IPTV technology is inherently secure and can enforce precise reporting of viewership figures, unlike cable connection figures that can always be manipulated. IPTV. therefore, would help broadcasters and content providers improve their revenues.
On the flip side, flexibility of viewing recorded broadcast programmes anytime (via VoD or time shifted TV) could lead to erosion of prime-time advertising revenues by simply eroding the concept of prime-time programme viewing. Content providers, would also have to accept the commercial implications of losing out on sales of their content as IPTV could eat in to the sales of sales of CDs and DVDs. India is also a very cost sensitive market.
Hopefully, these challenges will give birth to innovative ideas and solutions and IPTV will go on. With video call, on demand television and internet services, IPTV is all set to cross the threshold and bring convergence to homes through the television set. It is certain that a successful deployment of this service will change forever the way the Indian consumer communicates.
also see : MTNL to offer
India's first internet TV service in Delhi, Mumbai from