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IP&TV World Forum 2012 preview

If last years theme was OTT (after a Multi-Screen show in 2010), how are we going to put 2012 into a nice neat box?
I’ll gamble on the 2012 theme being something like “IPTV is dead long live OTT!”
I doubt the never-ending rumor mill on AppleTV will have an impact yet in 2012, so Apple Google & Microsoft will wait for 2013 to be main themes…
Back to the present: see you here in a few weeks to find out if I was right for 2012 at least.

 

2012 is set to be a very full and well attended event judging by the number of people I know that will  be there. The conference tracks have become so dense that you need a day to study the program before deciding where to go. I’ll just play it by ear on the day. The number of companies to see on the exhibition floor is so big anyway, that I might not be able to attend much.

 

IPTV has grown into a big show so there are getting to be more parties and extra add-on events.

I’ll be going to the 
Verimatrix “English Breakfast” on the first day which has a mini-conference on advanced video deployment (but at least I admit it it’s the English sausages that attract me).

Mariner Partner are a Canadian IPTV quality-monitoring specialist. They have a drinks party just after the first day, this year I won’t need to gate-crash as I was actually invited.

The Red Bull event later in the evening will probably be packed as usual and I’ve only got one of the tickets that are valid “until capacity is reached”, so maybe not…

On day two Irdeto is hosting a morning OTT strategy event. But I probably won’t make that one, not least because they didn’t invite me )-:

Of course day two wraps up with the glitzy prizes, this year at the London Film Museum. I went to the first 3 events as a judge, but there’s no way I will fork out £300 needed when you don’t have an invite.

I’m sure there are many more events but that’s what I’ve spotted so far.

 

From the list of speakers and potential prize-winners, it is clear that there will be plenty of Operators in London.

I’ll be looking to catch up with some news from Malaysia Telecom that are one of the first Huawei IPTV customers outside of China.

There’s a wrath of interesting people from Orange so I’ll be looking to get the latest form some ex-colleagues there. Also from France, I’ll try to catch up with Bouygues Telecom, which has had an amazing success story as a mobile challenger getting towards a million subs in three years. 
Swisscom is one of the European Telcos that is still happy with the Microsoft’s IPTV solution
 so I’ll tray and get some of the story there.

Paul Berriman, the veteran CTO of PCCW who launched one of the worlds first IPTV deployments in Hong Kong

 will be there too and it’s a while since I’ve caught up with him.

From the trade floor my selection of vendors whose product demos I want to see include:

  • Whoever has cool Android boxes to show (Echostar who impressed in last year don’t seem to be present).
  • Then Harmonic & Envivio to try and really understand how they differ.
  • Rovi, to actually see the demos of what I’ve been talking about for a while.
  • Then there is
 Siemens, where I want to see how their video flicking solution has fared in the market.
  • Zappware is a middleware alternative to NDS & Nagra. As I missed the later two at IBC I’ll try to see those demos that everyone was raving about in 2011.
  • Red Bee have acquired TV Genius since last year so I’ll try and find out how that’s going. There is also a new kid on the block from what I gather with Shazam moving into TV recommendation also.
  • I haven’t been to see Cisco in a while and they seem to have their house in order with Videoscape now so I’ll try and get an update on that too.
  • Ineoquest were talking a lot about ABR for OTT last year, before any of the other monitoring companies and I’d like to learn if they’ve had any success with that (as usual I, then you, will have to read between the lines because they won’t actually say directly).
  • I need an update on the chip maker’s roadmap and ambitions in the STB space so I’ll be visiting one or more of Intel, Sigma Designs & / or STM.
  • I suppose you can’t blog on an event like this without talking to some of the connected TV app developers like WizzTivi.
  • The OTT market is already showing some results in the diaspora market so I’ll also catch up with Live Asia TV if possible.
  • Finally I’m due for an update on what SoftAtHome are doing.

I have some catching up, discovering to do with people that will be there without a booth. I hope to meet MediaMelon a US based CDN supplier specialized in OTT and my friends from 3 Vision, thebrainbehind, MediaTVCom, OnCubed, AppMarket.tv, etc.

Now I need to go to sleep for a couple of days, to charge up the batteries so I will actually be able to get through at least some of that  … report coming soon.

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IP&TV World Forum MENA report Part 2/2

This second report form this year’s IP&TV World Forum in Dubai covers in detail the Selevision solution for OTT and operator branded IPTV services. There is also a description of Mariner Partners xVu product demonstration and Anevia’s adaptive bit rate solution.

Selevision
I visited Selevison’s booth, the largest on the floor except of course for Etisalat that had its own section. Selevision is a Saudi-based company with a complete TV solution for operators and also a B2C offering aimed at 15 Arab speaking countries. The core TV product has all the latest bells and whistles for an STB based solution but I didn’t see any multiscreen on the booth.

Bilal Abo Alul, the Bahrain project manager for Selevision, was my guide.
The main product on display that he showed me was a hybrid DVB-S / IP HD box with 2 tuners. The device is manufactured by Strong and has the Oregon media browser on board. Push and pull VoD are available and the PVR supports time-shifting with its 250GB HD.

An unusual feature is that the circular time buffer stored on the disk is 3 hours long instead of the usual 1 hour and more importantly, it isn’t reset each time the channel is changed. I’ve often cursed my live-TV rewind because it couldn’t do just that. I suppose the ultimate solution would then be – to somehow link this with a record and a catch-up feature. You could then zap all over the place looking for the best movie, once found, hit the start-over feature or store it in your library. I know some platforms do bits of this but it’ll be quite a while until the seamless user-experience I just described can be delivered, if ever content-owners allow it. Selevision pointed part of the way at least.

The box gives access to a content catalogue aggregated by a third party, Grey Juice Lab. The VoD store already has over 200 titles with 500 being the short-term target. The Technology is assembled in house with components developed in France by Vianeos and Hyperpanel.

Selevision has already sold 20k boxes in Saudi Arabia. The box comes by default with VoD and Free To Air channels, and users can also subscribe to Al Jazeera sports and Abu Dhabi media packages. Bilal told me that OSN the leading TV platform in the region should be coming soon to the box.

On the IP side, Catch-up services over 7 days are available for 10 channels. Currently this is on an all-or-nothing basis per channel which could prove problematic in the future as some stations agree for only parts of their programming to be made available in this way.

Other interesting features I was shown included RSS feeds and the unavoidable YouTube App. Note that for the latter, no censorship is required because the IP feed is local and therefore supposed to be censored itself. Surprisingly content can be put on an external hard disk. Basic media-centre features are also available to consume content from a USB stick.

Bilal also showed me the STB and service that they put together for the Bahrain telco Batelco based on an IP-only version of the same middleware. 160 live TV channels are available (3 FTA and the rest within different Pay-TV packages). Also on the Selevision booth was a customized version of the box for KAUST (University) on a Motorola platform. 10k users are deployed currently on this slightly older version.

Dubai Studio City

Dubai Studio City had a booth that was promoting the free Zone providing office space and other logistics and legal aid for companies wanting to come and do business in Dubai. In the same booth, Rufoof (which means ‘shelves’ in Arabic) was also showing its wares. They are a 10-person start-up claiming to be the first local platform to assist publishers on electronic distribution on the latest devices. They do the software development and Content Management system and if I understood correctly, they even act as an Electronic publishing house themselves.

Anevia

This French company that was here to talk about … [drum roll … wait for it] OK so you guessed: OTT & Multiscreen. I say talk about because they didn’t bring a demo, it was just PowerPoint. However their solution seemed interesting and you can tell that they have been thinking hard about the whole adaptive bit-rate issues for a long time. I’m actually a bit miffed that their CTO brought out a white paper on the subject just before the one I authored for Verimatrix and Harmonic came out last year.

[Warning technobabble coming ⇒] The architecture they presented was more resilient and scalable that most of what I’ve seen so far. The ABR multiscreen solution uses a circular buffer just before the chunking takes places and the Origin server gets its feed. That way Anevia can easily implement a scalable catch-up TV and NPVR or Time-shift feature in the network. The Edge servers in their complete solution are offered by default with 10 GB of storage so that up to 10k subs (assuming 1Mb streams) can be supported at each edge server. They also recommend putting their Balancer at the edge for load-balancing and edge-based failover.

The Anevia in-house monitoring solution uses data collected from the Origin server, the edge servers and the load-balancers, and also from optional probes that can emulate user behaviour to capture real Quality of Experience.
[⇐ All clear – end of technobabble warning]

Although so far Anevia has sold all the separate components of the complete OTT, multiscreen solution in various combinations, only one instance of the complete solution is being deployed. This showcase operator deployment will be announced soon.

Mariner Partners

This Canadian company was showing off the latest version of its xVu product. Mariner is a company born out of an operator with founders that understood that the traditional Telco QoS (Quality of Service) approach to TV would not cut it. QoE (Quality of Experience) is the mantra of many of the suppliers in this space, but Mariner brings an interesting touch. They approach the issue from the Customer Experience angle.

All the QoE vendors have something to offer to all Telco stakeholders, but Mariner’s approach is different in that their xVu product is also designed from the outset for the customer support teams as well as for the Network Operations Centre (NOC). The impetus here is first on preventing and fixing a bad customer experience more than running a smooth network. A typical feature that illustrates this approach is the ability to make sure the technician doesn’t leave the customer premise before he receives the green light, so if there must be a truck-roll at least it has the best chance of fixing the problem.

The main constraint on the Mariner solution is that all the devices in the network must either use Microsoft Media room, Cisco’s VQE (Video Quality Experience), Minerva Middleware or be compliant with the latest TR-135 protocol. If none of these criteria are matched, a software agent must be embedded in the STB. I theory this is relatively trivial, but real world project have a tendency to veer away from theory. The demo shown in Dubai was impressive and seemed to make this constraint worth the effort. I was shown how operators can drill down from a global network view through all the layers of the topology to a specific customer STB that has an issue. One unique feature of this monitoring approach was the ability to identify on the silent errors: in IPTV architectures that include packet repair, customer quality may seem satisfactory, while the packet repair is actually burning the CPU faster and faster. The operator is able to fix such silent issues before customers complain.

Dune HD
Sometimes I just don’t get it. What did Dune HD hope to get out of the show? On their booth, this German manufacturer was showing Hybrid STBs and media players. They come from the retail sector and I think I understood that their products’ USP is that they can also be used stand-alone. Hmm, maybe they should then present at a CE show. Anyway their key customer for managed services is Kartinal TV in Germany.

Dune HD claims to develop only hardware and software. Their devices “don’t need” middleware. The low-level (i.e. non-HTML) aspect of the UI means it’s pretty nifty even on low-end chipset. As usual with this kind of setup, only one chipset manufacturer is supported; in this case it’s Sigma designs. The boxes run under Linux and are made in Taiwan.

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UAE incumbent goes OTT – IP&TV World Forum MENA report – Part 1/2 – Etisalat

This year’s IP&TV World Forum in Dubai was another show that could easily have been called the OTT forum – which begs the question of whether it’s worth going to the show with that title: as all the TV related gigs have gone over the top. In Dubai this year, most of the presentations during the conference and almost all the booths were full of it.

To learn what was talked about at the conference, check the #IPTVWFMEA hash tag on twitter or follow me @nebul2. My highlight was Thierry Fautier’s enthusiastic presentation of MPEG-DASH and my “”OMG what’s that?” moment arrived just before the close when we had an evangelical presentation from JOY LUXE IPTV in a gospel style on the 10 stupidest things not to do with apps. I was so amazed I stayed till the end, but don’t remember a single thing that was said.

However, overall the conference was of a good quality with variety and much local issues addressed. As last year, the MEA version of the show brings in a small, but a very focussed and powerful crowd with quite a lot of decision makers up to CEO level. Together with the genuine 5-star location, that lends a feeling of importance to the event. Decisions seem to take a long time in the Middle East and I heard it quipped that that was why the big guns had to come several times.

The exhibition floor

This year, I only stopped by in booths I haven’t visited before, leaving out for another time the likes of Motorola, Bridge or NDS that I have written about before. This first installment only covers Etisalat. Selevision, Mariner Partners Anevia and some others will be covered in part two.

The Etisalat booth took-up about a quarter the complete show floor space and it also housed small demo pods for a dozen key suppliers making up both its IPTV and its OTT ecosystem. These include suppliers large and small like Harmonic (encoding), SoftAtHome (middleware), Phxx (OTT solution developer), Airties (device manufacturer), Consona (OSS/BSS), Alfalak (Integrator), Pace (STB), etc.

I asked Jamal Bnari, one of the key project stakeholders to give me the guided tour of the Etisalat OTT demos.

Jamal first joked with me about how little IPTV there was at the show despite its name. The vast Etisalat booth echoed his feeling just like the rest of the show floor, with OTT occupying most of the space and pure-play IPTV relegated to only a few small booths.

Jamal explained to me that Etisalat’s new OTT services were initially planned as new commercial services to run alongside the existing IPTV service. The OnDemand service available on the web is actually the IPTV VOD library made available outside of the traditional IPTV suite (Live TV, Catch-up TV, etc.). The intent is to allow non-IPTV Etisalat subscribers to consume high-quality VOD content. Since this is still a managed network service (the service comes from the ISP), these customers are provisioned for IPTV but not allowed access to the other services in the IPTV except for VOD of course. This approach overcomes the usual QOS issue with OTT.

For Jamal, the business benefit is this – “OTT either adds real value (ARPU) to existing TV subs or perceived value (stickiness)”. It also enables Etisalat to upsell heavy broadband users towards the complete TV story including the core IPTV solution. There’s a parallel here with big DTH platforms that use VoD primarily as a recruitment tool with extra ARPU providing a nice secondary benefit.

The OTT eLife service called OnWeb is already commercially deployed in the UAE and available to subscribers of all ISPs. Of course, there’s no guaranteed QOS here.

We then whizzed through all the eLife OTT demos (eLife is the brand used for all new services delivered over fibre). Jamal was adamant that Etisalat is going to be selling services NOT devices with this new approach.

The goal is to have the same user Interface on all devices (simplified but not changed on smaller screens). We discussed whether a same navigation paradigm can actually work for devices as different as a smartphone and a 47” HD screen with a remote control. My feeling was that it’s more about capturing a similar user experience than providing an identical interface.

For all OTT services, customers must setup an account with a few required parameters. The same credentials and payment options are used for all devices. The account is then hosted in the cloud. For now one user equates to one account and multiple devices, which works fine for individual devices. But for family TVs some enhancements will be needed.

The demo of eLife OnWeb was being shown on several STBs, importantly, none with the Etisalat brand. Third parties, who choose to include eLife OnWeb with their STB services, provide the devices. On display at the show there was a Humax branded box, an Abu Dhabi media device (Broadcom, Linux), a Kaon branded Android box, a pure IP box from Humax, an AirTies box and an LG SmartBox/Upgrader to make dumb TVs smart (exclusive to Etisalat and not available in the retail markets in the UAE). If nothing else, that impressive line-up shows that integrating Etisalt’s OTT services can’t be all that difficult.

When you fire-up the service, you are presented with a Video Dashboard promoting: Featured, Most-popular, Most-recent and My-favourites.
The TVOD menu is sub-categorized with: Featured, Latest, Popular, Browse (alphabetical), Arabic, Genres (leading to a sub-menu of a whopping 13 genres) and a menu item labelled “Content-Provider”, which I’m guessing will confuse many a user. The Movies menu has the same basic layout as the TVoD one.

The final elements available through the user interface are an unclear concept of “Channels”, an “other videos” category and a confusing second “Movie” section separate from the main movies menu, begging the question of where I should look for movies. The final menu structure contains “Premium” packages and Pay-Per-View, which made me completely lose track of what to look for where.

So after getting off to a good start the demo’s menu structure left me a bit confused. On the upside, the Phxx people on the booth (Phxx are the software developers) said that the menu structure is easy to simplify. Also they told me that menus are created dynamically so if, say a film category contains no assets, the associated menu item will not be displayed. Maybe in the future the EPG/UI could become even more intelligent and merge genres – like Action & Adventure when the total in both genres was of user-friendly size.

The breadth of content and service ambition of Etisalat is huge. Restraining the scope will provide one easy key to simplification of user experience. As services start to rollout with real content for real users, I trust things will get simpler on their own, focussing on where real demand meets Etisalat’s ability to satisfy it with content.

After looking at all the OTT STBs, Jamal took me over to their range of tablet devices. Samsung Galaxy tabs were on display in 10” & 8” sizes with an almost pocketable 6” device from Huawei. All these tabs were of course running Android. The live demos used 3G for video streaming because the exhibition area was over-saturated with Wi-Fi traffic from most of the booths. The streaming worked impressively over 3G using both progressive download (PDL) and adaptive bitrate (ABR). But the 6” Huawei screen illustrated the limits of the one-size fits all approach to user interfaces. I didn’t have a magnifying glass with me so I couldn’t read any of the smaller text.

The iPad suffered the feared “demo-effect” crashing a few times before we could get under way. Because of iTunes licencing issues, the interface under iOS is different with a system of “buckets”. This content-provider-centric approach to the UI is extremely simple with a list of 12 content provides per page and three pages at launch. Categorization is also available with genres within each “bucket”.

The Connected TV demo showed a UI similar to the iOS one and used a 2-level menu structure. Jamal assured me that an upgrade is in the works to make this identical to the tablet and STB versions. Etisalat provide an LG Smartbox to upgrade non-connected TVs so they too can be smart.

The Web portal provides the same user experience as the Connected TV. This approach only makes sense for geeks that hook their PC up to their TV. Normal human beings lean forward while using a PC or Mac, and lean back in front of the TV, which requires a different paradigm. Jamal reassured me that the web portal will be replaced with a ‘busier’ version similar to today’s typical video aggregation site.

The smartphone demo was given on an LG Android device. The UI I saw was simplified to the extent that it contradicted the single UI mantra that Etisalat is trying to implement. But the Phxx guys told this part was still very much “work in progress”, so perhaps I’ll have to come back in a few months and look again.

Jamal told me that some devices are in the shops already and that the whole line-up of everything I saw should be commercially available by the end of the first quarter 2012. By then more devices like Xbox, Roku or Boxee will be announced.

Etisalat’s OTT initiative can only inspire awe and admiration for its breadth and depth of ambition. If they succeed, they will reinforce their service provider nature as the network gets commoditized. The confusion I saw in the UI demonstrates the need to make the strategy completely clear to implement something something a la Apple. The ecosystem they put together is made up of some of the most reputable and innovative suppliers in the market. As there are about nine of them, I can not help thinking of the saying that nine midwifes cannot deliver your baby in one month, However, I look forward to meeting this child as soon as mother and baby are ready.

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Why I’m going to IPTV world forum – March 23rd 2010

I’ll be staying for the three days at the event next week. I always spend long moments hesitating whether such a time commitment is reasonable. I thought I’d share my thinking in case it helps you make your mind up (and helps me decide whether to fork out a couple of k€ to go to NAB next month or not).

When I worked at Orange, heading international IPTV deployment, I gave one of the first talks from a major IPTV player at one of the first versions of the show in 2005 or thereabouts. It was about the technical challenges of IPTV deployment from a Telco perspective. IPTV World Forum holds a little sense of nostalgia for me.

In the early days Junction ran the show, and I remember it feeling like a special occasion. It’s probably the nostalgia speaking or maybe the fact that as it wasn’t yet mainstream we all felt a bit more leading edge. I suppose I can replace “feel good” factor from being a pioneer then to a “feel good” factor from knowing I was here first. To illustrate the newfound importance of the show, big decisions now get initiated at Olympia and the IPTV WF awards get fought over more and more.

We’re not supposed to decide which show to go to based on the quality of the tea and biscuits (no don’t pretend you never do). In this respect IPTV WF is pretty good on logistics, except maybe fort the A/V equipment that forces me to sit in the front rows if I want to both see and hear.

The main reason I’m going is networking. There’s only so much you can do with LinkedIn & Co and face-to-face meetings do make a difference. I know at least half the companies exhibiting and over a dozen speakers so it’ll be worthwhile just to catch-up. I also need to generate some new leads for my consulting business (;-€).

I’m looking forwards to awards ceremony at the end of day one. Only the English can make a pompous event fun as well (mind you the great food & drink helps). As I’m a judge, I can’t really talk about that till the results are out … but there were loads of good entries this year.

There will be demos of some really new things I want to see at the exhibition. This year I’m looking forward to seeing the BeeSmart free middleware that’ll be launched during the show. I’m also hoping ROVI will show their new promising looking EPG offerings. As I missed the NDS widget demo at IBC I was hoping to catch up on that but I can’t see them on the exhibitor list :o( – maybe I’ll have to go to the NAB show after all.

I wrote an blog entry here on the rosy future for the IPTV Monitoring market so I’ll be asking all the vendors like Mariner, Bridgetech, Ineoquest, Agama and the new kid in town from India called First Media what they think about that i.e. do they too see a blue ocean of opportunities?

I hope to do a post-show blog on the future of interfaces so I’ll also hop into booths from some middleware people like Dreampark and Nagravision.

Many of the usual suspects from the STB arena will be at the show so I’ll be checking out where they are in terms of chipsets & new deployments (although these tend to boringly all be confidential). But the ecosystem is constantly changing as the box makers move upwards or sideways in the ecosystem so I’ll be looking out for any exciting demos from booths like Netgem, PACE, SoftAtHome, Echostar, Awox and Amino.

I’m a bit disappointed in the content recommendation supplier line-up. Recommendation is still a stumbling block that we haven’t fixed. Hopefully Gravity R&D will have a better demo than they showed at the Prague show. I don’t know why the more mature suppliers like Jinni aren’t coming to the show. That’s food for thought for another in depth analysis.

I always drop into the Edgware booth not only because it’s invariably one of the nicest but mainly because they are a surprisingly interesting company to talk to; they have a real vision.

Oh and I’ll make a point of having a proper talk with the Canadians from Evertz because I kind of botched it last time in Prague and have heard they deliver a monitoring good job for Sasktel in conjunction with Mariner Partners who btw will also both be presenting at the show.

With over 100 exhibitors I expect it will take me at least a day and half to see everything I want to, and As I’m chairing during day one I’ll be there the whole time.

There’s some luck involved in choosing the best conference to listen to unless you know the speaker beforehand. Most speakers do go to the trouble of writing interesting fresh slides and are really worth listening to. However as with any mainstream conference, some vendors that pay a lot to get to say basically what they want amazingly get away with too much sales pitch. You should complain to the organizers if you see this. I certainly do. Telcos with big IPTV deployments who also get red-carpet treatment sometimes go around with the same slide deck from conference to conference; I’ve identified the speakers by now, but it’s always worth listening to them if you haven’t heard it before.

In the end I clearly do recommend going (twitter me @nebul2 to meet). If you decide not to come, several of us will be reporting from the show on Videonet.