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 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.
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.
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….
For us “industry folks,” the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas marks the final jolt back to reality after the holiday season. As everything has become connected, as telecommunications carriers and pay TV service providers have become mainstream exhibitors – and especially because the multi-screen world of anything anytime to any device is now a reality – CES has become a must-attend event. Both to see what’s new, and to meet with associates, clients and friends.
I was fortunate to receive an invitation to today’s AT&T 2012 Developer Summit, where AT&T made a number of significant announcements:
- Cloud Architect, a cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering for developers to host the operation of their apps.
- An AT&T API Platform that opens up AT&T’s service platform to HTML5 mobile apps and provides tools to develop multi-screen apps
- AT&T AppCenter, which provides a consumer-facing go-to-market merchandizing resource for HTML5 and Android apps.
- AT&T Application Resource Optimizer (ARO), a diagnostic tool that helps developers reduce device battery drain from inefficient use of device memory and processing resources, and to bundle requests from apps to the AT&T network.
The event was keynoted by an all-star cast, including Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who ended with his trademark cry of ‘Developers Developers Developers!’); and Nokia president Stephen Elop (who is positioning Nokia’s upcoming Windows Phone-based Lumia as Nokia’s re-entry into the U.S. market). My personal favorite moment was toward the end of HTC CEO Peter Chou’s presentation, when he trailed off into “This is my personal device. It’s really really good!” while showing off HTC’s new Titan II LTE model. Senior executives of Sony, Samsung, and Pantech each introduced a variety of new smartphones and tablets that run in AT&T’s LTE mobile network; some of which established new form-factors.
Toward the end of each presenter’s pitch, it was mentioned that “oh yes, we have an SDK.” It left me wondering what the “Uber-SDK” might be for all of this, given that each vendor’s environment has proprietary elements, and surely no developer wants to enter into ten or more separate parallel developer streams (which is really the situation today). AT&T’s announcements represent one step in the evolution toward “One Ring to rule them all,” where, in this case, the AT&T network is the common denominator.
Although the event was predominantly oriented toward mobile, lo and behold, there is also an AT&T U-verse Enabled SDK! This was what convinced me to stay beyond the keynote session for the breakout sessions, and I can report that the SDK is a good first step. Like the rest of the solutions at this event, the U-verse Enabled SDK was oriented toward mobile application developers, so functionality was somewhat limited. Developers can create mobile second-screen apps that associate devices and apps with individual U-verse receivers (set-top boxes), issue commands (such as channel-change), detect state-changes (such as acknowledgements that the command was executed).
The ability to develop or modify the TV UI itself was out of scope, as that is the domain of Microsoft Mediaroom. Left unsaid was the notion that separating the U-verse Enabled SDK from Mediaroom provides AT&T with the flexibility to use it for other TV middleware platforms. (Apple was also absent from this event; AT&T directs Mediaroom and iOS developers to their respective vendors’ own programs).
Having been around IPTV since its infancy, I still have to pinch myself when I see all the advances. In October of 2011, AT&T introduced four new social TV apps for its U-verse IPTV service:
- Miso, which enables U-verse TV users to follow what one another are watching, and leveraging U-verse TV metadata so the user doesn’t have to type in the name of a show with the remote control
- Buddy TV, a U-verse remote control replicated on a second-screen device
- Splat Interactive’s TV Foundry, an app that uses program metadata of the show you’re watching to retrieve related content from the Web, such as trailers, previews and reviews; and share them with friends via Twitter and Facebook
- Wayin, which presents polls, games, and trivia that is associated with a program that you’re watching, so you can opt-in and play
These apps were built by independent developers in collaboration with the AT&T Foundry, a network of development centers in the US and Israel that’s currently hosting more than 100 active projects with third-party developers. After today’s event, more developers are likely to join in. It will be interesting to see what these projects produce as they come to market, especially as it further enriches the IPTV and multiscreen experience.