Vendors Scurry To Prep IPTV

Cable, satellite and telecommunication carriers are poised to enter the home this year through IP-based television (IPTV) with a long list of digital services from basic VoIP to entertainment, news, movies, and sports.

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

January 5, 2006

3 Min Read

You want your IPTV? Microsoft and a slew of others are just about ready to serve it up.

"Software is working to create an individualized video feed to the screen you're watching," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, during the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.

Cable, satellite and telecommunication carriers are poised to enter the home this year through IP-based television (IPTV) with a long list of digital services from basic VoIP to entertainment, news, movies, and sports.

Microsoft tested the software to enable Internet television in 2005. This year, AT&T and Verizon will roll out the services to customers. "During the course of this year these deployments will scale up into large numbers and that is when you'll start to see the innovation," Gates said. "It will blow away the previous video platform."

For years, AT&T Inc. (formerly SBC Communications Inc.), Time Warner Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc., have poured billions of dollars into building converged networks capable of delivering traffic on the Internet. Now they're racing to fill these networks with profitable services that combine data, voice, and video with help from companies such as Microsoft.

But Microsoft isn't the only vendor lending a hand. Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Nortel Networks, Thomson Inc., and many others have offerings as well. Thomson, for example, is working to develop an advanced MPEG-4 video compression format meant to reduce the bandwidth required to deliver video over the network. The compression format is more sophisticated than the H.264 standard used today, said Alan Stein, manager of Thomson's Broadband Systems IPTV Research and Development Group.

IBM is laying the foundation to become a gateway for "triple play" services. It holds reference designs for MPEG 4 transport technology, and has been working with customers in the Asia-Pacific region to manufacturer lower-cost set-top boxes. It has also been working with software providers Microsoft Corp., Minerva, and others "to get their IPTV application layer to run on IBM WebSphere software," said J.D. Zeeman, director in IBM Global Services' Digital Media Worldwide division.

Others are jumping into IPTV platforms, too. Utility companies are looking to broadband over power lines (BPL) technology for additional revenue. CenterPoint Energy Inc.’s electric transmission and distribution subsidiary CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric LLC is exploring the possibility of automating monthly meter readings and billing for gas and electric consumption.

IPTV-switched video technology also is opening doors to interactive television and new applications from online gaming, offered by companies such as Microsoft, to home security to video blogging. Home networked set-top boxes could provide a method to turn on or off home lights remotely from a mobile device or a PC. "If you're getting IPTV from your telco, or someday from your utility company, you're going to get a specific video stream just for you, not shared with anyone else," Zeeman said. "The interactivity will offer-up new revenue opportunities."

Nearly 69 million digital subscribers will have interactive platforms by 2009, representing more than half of the television households in the U.S., according to Kagan Research LLC.

The technology supporting all this growth isIPv6. The new Internet standard, when fully deployed, will provide quality of service (QoS) to ensure content is consistently delivered quickly. There are tools and techniques in IPv6 to support QoS that don't exist in IPv4.

"Simple things like end-to-end delay and whether data gets to the recipient in the order in which it's transmitted," explained Mahesh Balakrishnan, vice president and head of business development, acquisitions and investments at Thomson’s technology division. "It matters a great deal, otherwise you have delays in delivery and it's like in the old radio days when you had to say 'out' after you said something, so the other person could respond."

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