IPTV: The Next Big Thing?

by anil on April 12, 2007

As a concept IPTV has been around for a while. Everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to subscribe to IPTV service. But companies are yet to wet their hands. Those who are new this new method of television content delivery can check out the Wiki page.

Players in India

All those companies who extended a piece of wire (“last mile” connectivity) to homes can be a potential provider of IPTV service in its broadest sense. So your cable provider, wired/land phone service provider or even the state electricity board can enter into IPTV business.

Telecom companies such as Reliance which doesn’t have last mile connectivity to homes are fast lying fiber connections to homes these days. They are preparing for the IPTV market.

Actually these companies are looking at a broader spectrum of services called “Triple Play” (combining voice, data and video) or even “Quadruple Play” (where wireless communications is introduced as yet another media to deliver video). This way one provider can cater all communication needs of a home all by themselves (and get all possible revenues).

In India, predominantly land phone service companies (BSNL/MTNL, Reliance, etc.) and cable service providers (Hathway, Asianet, Sify, etc.) are the potential players. MTNL in Pune and BSNL in Calcutta have already launched IPTV services on experimental basis. Reliance, with their newly laid FTTP (Fiber to the Premises), seems to be ready to follow.

What IPTV Provides

With IPTV, subscribers can expect to get what they are currently getting with their normal cable TV/CAS system. In addition to that it can provide Video on Demand (VOD). Those who subscribe to Triple Play providers can enjoy broadband and VoIP as well–all through just one connection and one IP device. All from a single provider.

Which Player has the Advantage?

BSNL is far ahead of the rest in terms of number of homes and coverage/geographical area. But coper pair has its own limitation in terms of the bandwidth it can carry.

One channel at SDTV resolution will take up to 1.4 mbps with fairly good compression. Simultaneous delivery of channels is necessary to keep user demands. For example, this is required if a subscriber is using a DVR which can record one channel while another channel is being viewed on the TV. Sometimes subscriber might prefer to use picture-in-picture which, again, needs multiple channels to be delivered simultaneously.

BSNL employs ADSL. ADSL can carry 2mbps which is too inadequate to support this. I’m not sure what technology they are using at Pune and Calcutta. One technology I can think of is ADSL2+ which can deliver up to 25mbps. But this bandwidth reduces substantially as the subscriber distance increases from the DSLAM.

Cable providers has an advantage here. HFC, theoretically, can carry up to 4.5gbps of data. It is a lot more than required to deliver multiple channels simultaneously even at HDTV resolution. So cable operators has a an edge over BSNL which uses coper as last mile.

Who Can Ride the Wave

Though people are waiting for the rollout of the service to sign up, business viability of IPTV service is yet to be proved. But if people receive it, IPTV can be a lucrative business. (It is possible to build several business models based on the viewer demography information IPTV system can provide. No such thing is possible with conventional cable.)

Those operators with HFC has the advantage of bandwidth capability. But HFC installations which are originally laid for analogue cable TV may fail to carry digital signals without quality degradation. Reliance with FTTP closely follows the above lot. Though their home count is less compared to that of cable TV operators, Reliance can provide better quality service due to obvious reasons.

Local cable operators are another category who can enter into this business. And thus they can move higher up in the value chain. Local cable operators can provide more localised content. They can stream targeted ads. But one thing which may prevent them from doing so; entry barrier of IPTV business.

High entry cost of IPTV business is constituted by IPTV/networking equipment costs and media rights. But local cable operators can buy media rights jointly. Equipment costs will continue to remain as a real entry barrier.

One good thing that can happen is the commoditisation of IPTV equipments including CMTS. If chip manufacturers can come up with solutions which are based on PC architecture, for example, rather than using specialised electronics (which drive up cost), this would become possible.

TRAI may consider unbundling BSNL’s last mile in future. If this happens local players can lease BSNL lines to run their business on.

Let’s wait and see.


In laymans terms, why IPTV is not possible in a wireless world? Why do we still need “last mile”? Is nt the “Triple Play” possible without wires?

by Vijayakrishnan on May 3, 2007 at 10:08 am. #

Imagine carrying your Laptop at the airport and logging into your Cable TV network! Is that possible – Anil?

by Vijayakrishnan on May 3, 2007 at 10:20 am. #

That’s a good question. The answer is that there is no wireless technology which is good enough to replace a wired last mile for IPTV or triple-play, as of now.

Of all the wireless technologies we know of can provide bandwidth only in the sub 1mbps range (WiFi exempted which is not useful as a last mile). Widely used technology for last mile now is EDGE/GPRS. It cannot provide this much bandwidth. But WiMaX is an un-coming and promising technology.

There is an inherent problem with wireless: the devices connected are getting a shared bandwidth. For example is 100 mbps avail in a sector and there is only one user he will can get all the 100mbps. But if there are 100 users, each one will get only 1mbps. This is yet another problem to be solved.

by anil on May 3, 2007 at 7:33 pm. #

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