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All you want to know about IPTV

21 January 2009

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Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), referring to TV delivered through broadband services, is hotting up in India. Read about how this new technology is set to change the way people watch TV and access the net.

Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services are hotting up in India. Many big telecom operators have already started IPTV services in various parts of the country.

In simple words, IPTV refers to TV delivered through broadband, a technology that was earlier used to provide only internet access. The IPTV services are still in the nascent stage in the country but are being seen as a potential threat to the existing cable and satellite services. Here's a quick primer on this convergence technology.

What is IPTV

You are used to TV being delivered through traditional cable formats or the latest direct-to-home (DTH) services. IPTV or Internet Protocol Television is different. Via IPTV, television content is viewed through technologies used for computer networks.

IPTV is a system where a digital television service is delivered using Internet Protocol (IP) over a network infrastructure, which includes delivery by a broadband connection.

The term 'IP' in its name stands for internet protocol and refers to a method of sending information over a secure, tightly managed network that results in a superior entertainment experience.

Building IPTV capability into a network allows a service provider to deliver voice and data as well. Companies providing IPTV services send television content to consumers through a broadband net connection.

What all it can do

Simply put, IPTV makes your television experience more interactive and personalised. Interactivity is much easier to perform with IPTV than a normal cable, satellite or broadcast TV system.

Today, if a TV channel asks you to participate in game shows, you cannot use the remote to reply. With IPTV it is possible.

IPTV Diagram
Image credits: Indiatimes Infotech / IPTV diagrammatic representation

IPTV can offer video on demand that allows you to request movies, TV shows and much more at your own convenience. Also, instead of being bombarded with over 100 channels (like in the case of cable TV), in IPTV you only get content that you opt to receive with a much richer experience.

Additionally, people who are separated geographically can watch a movie together, while chatting and exchanging files simultaneously. 

What all a user needs

With IPTV, your TV will connect to a set-top box that decodes the IP video and converts it into standard television signals.

If a modem is added to the set-top box, it will provide a range of interactive services, including email, betting, games, shopping, information and even Internet access.

In India, as per IDC, the number of subscribers is likely to reach 966,000 subscribers by 2011 at a CAGR of 156.8 percent during 2006-2011. IDC further expects 15.9 per cent of all residential broadband subscribers in India to use IPTV by the end of 2011, up from less than 1 per cent of all broadband subscribers in 2006.

How is it different from Internet TV

Internet protocol TV is different from Internet TV given that the user experience is bound to their living rooms and set-top boxes. The quality, though, will be superior since the content is digital (unlike most of the traditional TV content). IPTV, unlike Internet TV, is primarily a TV experience rather than a PC experience and is meant as an alternative to cable and satellite.

Triple play

IPTV can easily be bundled with broadband Internet service and VoIP services to offer what is popularly known as Triple Play.

The commercial bundling of IPTV, VoIP and Internet access is referred to as a Triple Play. This means with more players bringing IPTV services in India, the service is all set to pose a significant challenge to the established cable and satellite services.

In US, Triple Play services are offered by cable television operators as well as by telecommunication operators. Triple Play implies high-speed Internet, television (Video on Demand or regular broadcasts) and telephone service over a single broadband connection. With wireless, it's called Quadruple Play and grouped services (triple and quadruple) are called multi-play.

Why this low penetration

Reasons for poor subscriber base of IPTV include lack of customer awareness about the benefits of the IPTV service, low broadband penetration, slow Internet access speeds and high set-top box cost.

One of the biggest reasons why IPTV never took off earlier in India was slow Internet connectivity. However, with faster broadband speed now there is every possibility that IPTV will take users by storm.

IPTV uses a two-way broadcast signal sent through the service provider’s backbone network and servers, allowing viewers to select content on demand, time shift (allows you to watch what you want to watch and when you want to watch), and to take advantage of other interactive TV options.

To take advantage of this, viewers will need a broadband connection and a set-top-box to send and receive requests. Traditional cable TV has the capacity to deliver hundreds of channels simultaneously to each subscriber. This creates limitations on the number of channels offered and can contribute to bandwidth shortages and quality degradation. IPTV, by contrast, sends only one programme at a time.

When a viewer changes the channel or selects a program, a new stream of content is transmitted from the provider's server directly to the viewer's set-top box. 

Current players in India

The companies offering IPTV services in Indian include public sector telcom giants MTNL and BSNL and HFCL. Presently offered in select cities, the IPTV services are delivered in collaboration with content delivery company like Aksh Optifibres and Goldstone.

Recently, Aksh started offering IPTV connection without a broadband connection to encourage the penetration of IPTV among the masses.

Speculations are rife that the segment may see entry of several large telecom players and others into the business of providing broadband access. Globally, many of the world’s major telecom providers are exploring IPTV as a new revenue opportunity from their existing markets.

How will businesses benefit from IPTV

Companies can use IPTV to deliver television content over corporate LAN and business networks. The customised content delivery enabled by IPTV means reduced opportunities for theft of content.

Also, since the network is extremely secure, IPTV provides a good platform for businesses. In fact, as advertisers get better at understanding the behaviour of consumers, they will have a significant opportunity to decrease the use of low-impact broadcast ads and increase the use of personalised ads that drive meaningful business results.

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