IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is the new generation telecasting system whereby television services are delivered via the Internet Protocol route by means of a fast and reliable Internet connection. To put it simply, viewers can access TV channels on their computers using a broadband Internet connection. Transport streams are sent over IP networks from an outside source that is then drawn directly by users in much the same way as a telephone or Internet connection.
Major telecom companies across the world have laid thousands of kilometers of optic fiber to meet the expected demand for IPTV. According to TDG Research, global IPTV revenues could top $17 billion by 2010.
As of now, IPTV service providers cannot determine the end quality of the delivery. This is because real-time data transmission is done using the Internet Protocol, the system is sensitive to packet loss and delays if the Internet connection is not fast enough, and may result in break-up of the graphic elements if the streamed data is not reliable. This issue gets accentuated when streaming video across wireless links. Work is afoot to improve existing wireless technology and equipment to overcome these hurdles.
IPTV caters to multicasting or live telecast of TV programs, as well as to video on demand (VOD), which involves telecasting from stored video files. Users can receive IPTV programs, through their personal computers or have a set-top box installed with their TVs. Compressed video content in MPEG-2 (or the later MPEG-4 H.264 codec which is replacing MPEG-2 codec) is sent in a transport stream and delivered via IP multicast (live TV) or via IP unicast (Video on Demand). The term IP Multicast refers to the simultaneous sending of information to multiple computers.
IGMP (vers2) is used in live TV for connecting to a multicast stream and for changing streams that is how TV channels are accessed and switched from one to another. Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) is generally used for VOD.
IPTV capability offers several distinct advantages over the traditional form of telecasting. It allows for the integration of television with other IP-based services like high-speed Internet access and VoIP. The convergence of services whereby a range of services is delivered seamlessly is fast gaining in importance. For instance, it is possible to have an on-screen Caller ID on your TV monitor with call handling features incorporated. With IP-based convergence, users can gain anytime-anywhere access to content via their televisions, PCs and cell phones, and the ability to integrate these services.
Businesses can benefit hugely from these services as they obviate the need to run a parallel infrastructure to access video services.
It is possible to deliver a lot more content and functionality in an IPTV enabled system. Consumers can select the content they choose to view from the network, and this feature frees up bandwidth, making the delivery of services significantly more efficient.
Unlike cable TV, which is a one-way communication, IPTV allows for a two-way communication between consumers and service providers. The television program viewing experience is rendered much more personalized and interactive in the IPTV system as compared to the traditional satellite TV- cable based version. For instance, viewers get to search for program content by title or other key word searches even as they are watching a program. They may want to have control over the camera angle while watching a football or basketball game. It may soon be within the realm of possibility for IPTV subscribers to access photos or music (stored on their computers) on their television screens, schedule their favorite programs through a wireless phone or even view the interior of their apartment to check for possible intruders while they’re away on vacation.
Video on Demand
With VoD, consumers can choose to have a playback option in respect of a selected program or movie to watch at their leisure or convenient time. The playback starts at the appointed time. When the customer clicks to select the program of his choice, a point-to-point (Unicast) connection is established between the customer’s Set Top Box or computer and the streaming server meant for delivery. Real Time Streaming Protocol (RSTP) is used to signal for the trick play functionality: pause, play, rewind and fast forward). MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and VC-1 are the codecs typically used for VoD.
Status in Asia and Europe
Demand for IPTV in the Asia-Pacific region alone (excluding Japan) is estimated to cross 20 million subscriptions by 2009. According to Siemens, the global market for IPTV technology could be close to $1 billion by 2009. In India, IPTV is being launched in Mumbai and Chennai this year. Airtel already offers voice, data and broadband services to over 1.2 million customers across the country, and hopes to exploit their unique two-way service applications like time-shifted television, video-on-demand and interactive-gaming.
In Europe, IPTV is well past its infancy. TV analyst Daniel Schmitt has authored an elaborate report titled European IPTV: Market Assessment and Forecasts To 2009. The large scope for Pay TV and plethora of opportunities for IPTV operators in sixteen European markets have been studied in depth. The key findings of the report are that the number of subscribers to European IPTV services had increased by 66% even within the first six months of 2005; France is the biggest of Europe’s IPTV markets and will continue to dominate even in 2009 by which time there will be 2.4 million subscribers.
The number of households subscribing to Internet Protocol (IPTV) services in Western Europe was estimated at 3.3 million by 2006 and set to reach 16.7 million in 2010, according to new forecasts from Gartner Inc. UK probably has the smallest number of IPTV subscribers in all of Western Europe with a subscriber base of only around 75,000 in 2006. With the entry of British Telecom’s BT Vision, subscriptions are expected to reach 1.9 million by 2010.