Those of us who have been around our industry for a while may remember “the future with four anys.” It was the shining future of TV: anywhere, anytime, over any access, to any device. Now that this future has become a reality and many of the technology opportunities our industry pursued over the past decade (and longer) have been fulfilled, what next?
The latest article by David Price and myself, posted on Videonet, look at the evolution that got us here, including a major disruptive event that not everyone was prepared for, and its impact on the all-important topic of video security. All the while hoping that the next decade isn’t one where disruption itself doesn’t become the new normal.
China has more IPTV subscribers than any other country in the world, and IPTV is available to millions of households nationwide. At the 2016 Huawei Global Analyst Summit this Spring, Mr. Jie Feng, CTO of China Telecom Sichuan Branch, explained how its own IPTV service has changed the DNA of his organization.
Traditionally, competition among communications carriers in China has been about providing bandwidth at the lowest possible price. On the mobile side, the three major mobile carriers in Sichuan Province are in a price war: the price for 700mb of data plus 200 minutes of voice service from Sichuan Mobile is equivalent to US$14/month, while Sichuan Unicom and Sichuan Telecom were at US$12 and US$13 respectively. The result is low customer loyalty and greater customer retention costs. In 2011, revenue was growing at a rate of more than 13 percent, but by mid-2013, growth was down to just over 8 percent.
The management of China Telecom Sichuan Province decided that a different approach was needed. Instead of joining the voice and data price war, it would focus its attention on providing Video First. Broadband has long been a national priority in China, not only for the benefit of consumers, but also to attract private investment and accelerate industrial growth. Because China Telecom has rich experience in the fixed broadband business, the company already had the foundation to differentiate itself from its mobile competitors by bringing video to as many consumers as possible.
To accomplish this Video First strategy, a new “Zero, One, Two” business model was put in place, where there is Zero cost for video as a basic service, Internet access over One fiber connection to the home, plus Two smartphones. Unlike the competition, Zero, One, Two enables China Telecom to appeal to the entire household, all for a single price. To support the transformation toward video as a basic service, China Telecom also transformed its organization by combining its TV Broadband, Multimedia, and New Media Operations departments, and placing them under unified management and operations.
By 2015, China Telecom had deployed a full optical network with 90% coverage. Traditional local exchange switches have all been shut down, and voice is all over IP. It took just 330 days from Sichuan Province to go from one to 21 fully-optical cities. In September 2015, the Sichuan government held a ceremony celebrating that it had become the first fully optical province in China. While some construction still remains in remote areas, coverage in cities in 2016 was greater than 98%.
At more than 9 million subscribers, China Telecom Sichuan Branch operates one of the largest IPTV deployments in the world. To provide high definition television, 4K ultra HD and Blu-ray video content, the operator built its ultra broadband metro networks to support 100mbps access. China Telecom also decided that CDN was integral, so it could accommodate not just traditional broadcast video, but also streaming video over the Internet. A three-tier CDN architecture was built, at the province-wide level, in municipalities and in areas that had marginal coverage. To meet the demands of its consumers, China Telecom Sichuan Branch opened its network platform to business partners. Content includes live TV such as China Central Television (CCTV), as well as video on demand, music and games.
Devices are also an important element. Before China Telecom Sichuan Branch placed video in its list of basic services, the operator certified full 4K set-top boxes, a first for any Telco worldwide. Then, there’s a feature called Home & Love. While consumers in other cultures tend to communicate mobile-to-mobile, China Telecom recognized that many younger Chinese consumers rely upon video to communicate with family members far away, so Home & Love enables video calling from Handset-to-Handset, Handset-to-TV, and TV-to-TV.
“We know there are high requirements,” said Mr. Feng. “If there are interruptions or pixilation, we will get calls. So over the past 3 years, we have been developing an end-to-end system for video quality maintenance, from user through the operator’s network. We also are striving for zero configuration of the home gateway and set-top box, and zero verification of quality. We have automatic fault-finding: currently our system can find errors in the home, in the optical modem, and in the network, so it’s an end-to-end system.”
China Telecom’s rigorous standards have been paying off. Installations have increased by four times. Fault isolation has increased by 10%, and customer satisfaction has gone up 12%. The company knows that customer satisfaction can increase greatly if they can identify and deal with problems before customers see them.
“If we can become pro-active, not passive, and forecast the user experience before the complaints come,” said Mr. Feng, “it will help a lot. We will continue to push the border of our video services and become a global leading operator.” China Telecom Sichuan Branch is already well on its way.
The Tizen software platform has been flying slightly below the radar for a couple of years now, but its time has come. Tizen has a common core, plus four profiles: Tizen Mobile, Tizen TV, Tizen IVI (in-vehicle infotainment), and Tizen Wearable. Tizen also has some very significant board members and partners. Tizen’s lineage includes Samsung’s Linux platform and the LiMo (Linux Mobile) operating system.
Watchers of the mobile and connected TV device categories might remember MeeGo, an open-source operating system that was a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin platforms. MeeGo was used by IPTV set-top maker Amino Communications in its Intel Atom-based set-tops in 2010, though they later abandoned it. In 2012 Intel changed its focus and joined Samsung in Tizen, which in effect, made Tizen MeeGo’s successor.
Samsung raised some eyebrows with Tizen at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in February, positioning it as a potential replacement for Android in Samsung smart phones and wearable devices. At the 2014 Tizen Developer Conference, which happened to coincide with Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco last week, Samsung demonstrated that its own Tizen transformation was well underway.
Last week, Samsung also introduced the Samsung Z, its first Tizen-based smartphone; and Galaxy Gear 2, a Tizen-based wearable. Tizen was even on TV: the Tizen Developer Conference had several Tizen TV sessions, and a cloud-based content repository for mobile users called Tizen Cloudbox, was being demonstrated on a Samsung smart TV. And also last week, Multichannel News reported that the TV browser and middleware provider Espial was collaborating with Samsung on an RDK-based solution (although the article said nothing about Tizen).
Is Tizen good or bad for the TV technology space? It depends on what the definition of “TV” is: a set-top box with a TV attached, versus a connected smart TV that has no set-top box. Presumably, Samsung’s existing smart TV app development platform, which supports HTML5, CSS3 and adaptive streaming standards, will be under Tizen. On the pay TV side, now that Liberty Global has joined Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the RDK venture, a Tizen-based STB wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility (assuming that the RDK were to be ported to Tizen). Liberty Global’s Horizon set-top uses Samsung hardware. But a Samsung Tizen STB is only a matter of speculation.
Another interesting direction for Tizen is in the Connected Car, where it could stand to challenge iOS, Android and Microsoft – just as it is doing in smartphones. Tizen is available through the GENIVI alliance, which provides a Linux-based environment for automotive IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) systems.
All of this begs two questions. First, is there room for “yet another” TV software platform? I think, yes. It certainly won’t hurt the TV software space: there are tens of middleware providers, and these days, large operators are tending more toward custom-built set-top software environments using components from multiple suppliers, rather than monolithic single-vendor stacks.
Just today (June 9), Accedo, which provides an application platform for pay TV, connected TVs and the Microsoft Xbox, announced that it was joining the Tizen Association program. Clearly, Accedo sees a market opportunity – the question is whether it’s for Accedo in Samsung smart TVs, Samsung smartphones and tablets, or in pay TV set-top boxes (where Accedo has numerous customers). Accedo positions itself as a provider of “…HTML based video and music streaming applications for connected devices.” So perhaps it’s all of the above. Actually, given what Accedo does, they must also recognize that they can ride Tizen’s coat tails into two new categories, wearables and cars.
The other, broader, question: “Is Tizen good for the industry overall?” Again, I think yes. It could have a huge and positive impact anywhere Android is sold. Unlike Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia, which have near negligible mobile device share today, Samsung is the largest provider of Android devices. So an across-the-Samsung-board switch to Tizen will displace a significant percentage of Google’s Android base. Assuming that Google cares, this potential for disruption could force Google to make Android better. (I’m skeptical, since Google’s history is to abandon every iteration of its products and platforms as soon as a replacement becomes available. Ask Logitech about Google TV).
There’s one caveat: any effort by Samsung to force-replace Android with Tizen in devices already in the field may be met with some resistance. While Apple’s fiercely loyal iDevice users squaked about the changes made by iOS 7, the underlying Apple ecosystem did not change. By contrast, the act by Samsung to replace the entire Android ecosystem with one of its own is a much bigger move. Ask yourself as an Android user: what would you do if you turned on your device one morning and found Tizen there? Or as a Mac user, what if MacOS X suddenly disappeared and were replaced by Windows?
If successful, can it mean that Samsung is more powerful than Google? Perhaps Tizen means that Samsung has finally decided that its product is not a product at all: it’s a relationship, and not just the next device. Google has to decide the same thing: if Google only cares about ad sales, at the expense of a trustworthy experience with the Android brand, then it will be a matter of time before Google’s Android OEMs go looking for alternatives. Samsung may be only the first to do so. I’m encouraged: despite Tizen’s Samsung ties, device competitors Huawei and LG are on Tizen’s board while ZTE and Panasonic are members of the Tizen community.
The report provides a thorough examination and analysis of the TV Service Delivery Platform (TV SDP) category, and of the SDP offerings available to pay-TV operators from 17 different suppliers. It provides a comprehensive resource for operators that are evaluating new TV service platforms, as well as for those seeking to understand the latest capabilities through which they can enhance their existing offerings or take them multiscreen.
Recognizing that Huawei’s IPTV solution supports more than ten million households in China alone, it’s difficult to challenge Huawei’s claims that it is a global IPTV market leader. But because Huawei (and ZTE, the other large Chinese network supplier) has been the target of much speculation in the West – much of it negative – Huawei will continue to have just a limited presence in the US.
For now, Huawei’s US presence will largely be through its Devices division. Read the rest of this article at Telecompetitor Plus (Premium Content).
This week, Ericsson announced that it will be acquiring the Microsoft Mediaroom software platform, confirming a rumor that had been reverberating in the business press for a week prior. The transaction will add to Ericsson’s TV infrastructure portfolio, which already consists of video compression and distribution infrastructure, video asset management, video-related professional services and a video partner ecosystem. A Microsoft official said it would enable Microsoft to “commit 100 percent of its focus on (its) consumer TV strategy with Xbox.”
(Note: A longer, more analytical, and less opinionated version of this post is at Telecompetitor)
There’s no delicate way to say it: Mediaroom has been an increasingly big boulder in the IPTV stream, and all the operators adopting it have already had to row around it for some years. That boulder will recede into the background as the operators move downstream to implement multiscreen and other new features. The biggest thing that will keep Mediaroom alive is the operators’ sunk investment in STBs. Unless someone at Cisco (and other Mediaroom set-top suppliers) invents a clever way to flash new operating systems onto these boxes in the field via remote management.
I think Mediaroom and its ecosystem of proprietary parts will be around for many years, just like Motorola DCT2000 set-tops were in the US cable industry. Someday, the rest of the major content providers will have relented and allowed multiscreen/cloud distribution in-home and out-of-home without the need for set-tops. Already the Tier-1 pay operators offer online on-demand programming, and allowing 75-90 live channels over in-home IP distribution to tablets, so it’s really just a matter of time. Which makes Mediaroom all the less relevant. A lot of time and money was put into Mediaroom and operators will build around it until it’s all amortized and then finally decommission it. There won’t be any hurry, in my opinion.
We all replace our mobile phones and computers every few years, not to mention our cars and many other high-ticket items in our lives. But TVs are different. They’re supposed to last for ten or twenty years, aren’t they? But our first-generation Google TV device has reached its half-life. Read the entire article on Telecompetitor!
At CES 2013, Cisco held an event which included demos of Cox Communications new Cisco video gateway, a Cox TV app on the iPad, and a new EPG. DISH Network launched a new version of its Hopper whole home DVR and AT&T held its 2013 Developer Summit. Read the rest of the article on Telecompetitor…
At CES 2013, Verizon Communications showed off a variety of updates for its FiOS TV service, as well as a demonstration of the forthcoming Redbox Instant service from the Verizon-Coinstar joint venture. Read this article on Telecompetitor…
AT&T recently hosted its 2012 Consumer Industry Analyst Conference in Atlanta, the company’s first such event. Attendees received updates on the latest AT&T services and devices, including its U-verse TV IPTV service. AT&T also briefed us about several recently-announced “beyond TV” service initiatives – some of which are poised to launch during 2013 – as well as a peek into the near future. Read the entire article on Telecompetitor….