July 2007 | Volume 10 / Number 7
Delivering Video overIP
By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Whether it’s watching high-definition IPTV or receiving the latest call over your Packet8 Tango Video Terminal Adapter (VTA) or Worldgate’s Ojo Vodeo Phone, you may have noticed that high quality video has forged new paths over IP networks.
The only inexpensive video technology that seemed dependable until recently had nothing to do with videoconferencing or videophones - it was the broadcast TV sitting in our respective living rooms.
Today, the situation has completely changed. A new generation of users are dabbling in video and like what they see. On the pay-TV home front, IPTV is bringing the ultimate video experience to us old, jaded, former NTSC-format viewers. And the long-awaited videophone is finally appearing in business and at home.
Take for example the revolutionary new Packet8 Tango VTA464 from 8x8 (www.8x8.com). This Video Terminal Adapter (VTA) takes the concept of traditional VoIP analog terminal adapters (ATAs) one step further by incorporating a high resolution 5-inch LCD color display and 180° rotating camera.
With the Tango VTA and its built-in router, you can enjoy Packet8’s low cost unlimited local and long distance Internet phone service to any U.S./Canada phone number, and you can conduct face-to-face video conversations with your friends and associates.
Bryan Martin, Chairman and CEO of 8x8, says, “We introduced our Packet 8 Tango video appliance at CES. It targets consumers who want to easily add video to their VoIP calls in one or multiple locations throughout the house. We’re now ready to launch a business version of this service enabling the desktop phone in your office to be used with our virtual office services. This will obviously bring videoconferencing into play. We also have some video bridging capabilities in the sense that we can do three-way video calls between multiple locations. We’ll also roll out some features that focus on business productivity tools. For example, we have Outlook integration included in the device, so you’ll be able to interface directly with your Outlook calendar and contacts. We also have a digital still picture application built in there and some other functionality which we’re working on.”
Martin continues: “We’re attacking the business space by saying, ’You’ve already got this very useful business phone service. It’s a replacement for your existing PBX or it takes the place of the PBX that you didn’t have to buy. We’re looking for applications that will enhance the business use of IP involving video’. You now have a really high-definition screen sitting there that can display a great deal of information for you and, if nothing else, can display your family pictures on your desktop when you’re not using it.”
“People will like the fact that with us they can make a video call on-the-fly without having to buy a $5,000 piece of equipment,” says Martin. “Right now we’ve got the street price on these devices down to about $99. So you can get our IP phone for $100 or $199 with the appliance. This other device on your desktop, the VTA, will enable not only videoconferencing but also these various other applications and we think this will be a way to unlock a little more volume in the traditional videoconferencing space.”
Worldgate Communications (www.wgate.com) has also tackled making videophones both simple and commonplace with their Ojo Personal Video Phone (www.ojophone.com). The sleek, futuristic, Ojo relies on broadband to deliver a decent 30 fps and well-synchronized audio. It’s $299 or $399, depending on the model, plus a $10 monthly fee that grants you unlimited Ojo-to-Ojo communications, worldwide.
Jim McLoughlin, Senior Vice President at Worldgate, says, “We began developing the Ojo in 2003 and in 2004. Our objective was to do a broadband videophone at relatively affordable consumer and wholesale prices. We think we’ve achieved that. We had a couple of engineers here who were quite brilliant when it came to video codecs. With the advent of H.264, SIP and some of the other voice codecs, we found that making an affordable video phone using the emerging concept of broadband was quite doable. And so we did it. We’re now talking to just about every service provider in the digital voice business around the world and at this point there’s considerable interest.”
Video for the Masses: IPTV
The imminent decline of standard definition analog broadcast television is spurring major development and deployment of another kind of video-over-IP, high definition IPTV. Such a transition is not a minor matter. For example, IPTV has security concerns.
Steve Bannerman, Vice President, Marketing and Product Management at Narus (www.narus.com), says, “If you think about the security implications of a real-time IP-based service such as video, they’re very similar to VoIP. Security can be broken down into three different buckets: The first is the notion of authentication. Are you who you say you are when you’re requesting one of these things? Sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter whether you’re requesting a video from YouTube, but if you’re trying to join a confidential video call, then authentication matters. We at Narus don’t generally play in the authentication space.”
“The second security area involves maintaining the integrity of the content itself,” says Bannerman, “making sure the content as it leaves the encoder or streaming server is the same content that is received. In this case, I’d say that it’s probably more difficult to hi-jack a video stream and do something nefarious with it than it is to grab a voice stream, since with voice you can use man-in-the-middle attacks. Still, protecting the integrity of the content matters in video.”
“The third security area is the notion of maintaining not exactly the quality of service [QoS] of the content, but the experience that the user gets when they actually watch and interact with the content,” says Bannerman. “You need to maintain the integrity of the path that the stream takes from its origin to its destination. That’s where Narus has the most impact and that’s what we really care about.”
Pierre Ehsani, Narus’ Senior Project Manager, says, “The products we have are the NarusInsight Secure Suite and our NaurusInsight Discover Suite. These products are about ensuring the integrity of the content’s pipes and path, such as ferreting out anomalies that suck up bandwidth or cause a poor user experience. We give carriers the tools they need to tier their services to be able to understand which customers have signed up for their Platinum packages and make sure that they’re routed to the networks that have the most available bandwidth, and matching the resources to the users. That’s really our focus. We leave the authentication and integrity of the content to other vendors.”
Security concerns may loom large in the world of video-over-IP, but there are still many technical considerations that pop up too, especially as the public network becomes larger and more diverse.
At Inlet Technologies (www.inlethd.com), a provider of advanced encoding and quality control solutions for new media including content over IP, John Bishop, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Product Strategy, says, “Not all IP distribution problems have been solved. We at Inlet Technologies are focused on getting these new media formats out over the new networks - and by that I mean largely IP-based networks. About 10 or 15 years ago, the content creation world was really simple. We all dealt with MPEG-2 compression, and that was it. The content was formatted for one type of viewing device, the television. Things have definitely changed.”
“The quality of experience that can be delivered over the Internet, mobile phone, media center PC, Xbox, or an IPTV service is very compelling,” says Bishop. “At the same time it presents a huge challenge for those creating content, because it’s no longer a one-format, one-viewing device world. With the new networks being the Internet and anything IP, we know that all broadband is not created equal. At my house I’ve got an 8 Mbps broadband connection; my neighbor about a half-mile up the road gets about 768 Kbps. Delivering content over IP means different things to different people, because the connectivity issue is still something that’s being fleshed out. We’re getting better at it here in the U.S., but many in the international community are ahead of us, particularly when you look at mobile phones.”
Good old fashioned testing (or rather new-fangled next-gen IP Communications testing) is always called for when there are concerns over a user’s Quality of Experience [QoE].
At Spirent Communications (www.spirent.com) companies use Spirent’s lab test solutions to evaluate the latest technologies, from wireline to wireless to satellite. As new services and applications appear, Spirent’s tools for service management and field testing are used to improve troubleshooting and quality. Spirent also helps enterprises and governments to secure and manage their networks.
Spirent’s Director of Business Development, Mike Soos, says, “The industry often gets caught up with bits and bytes. But the subscribers are more concerned over whether or not they have a good picture and sound on their TV. So we help get the quality of experience for service provider customers to be at the level desired by the typical individual subscriber.”
“With us, things start in the lab, in our ’pre-deployment phase’,” says Soos. “We determine whether a given device and technology will scale. Is the basic configuration correct? What happens on Super Bowl Sunday during the half-time show, when everybody switches to the Victoria Secrets Bowl? Can the system handle that?”
“This leads us into the provisioning aspects with which we’re involved,” says Soos. “In the early days of IPTV it took between one and four visits to get a subscriber up and running. So we focused on how to get the Day One scenario right. You’ve got to get it right the first time. You can get things right in the lab, but a misconfigured DSLAM can cause things not to work.”
“Members of our mAX-IP product line hook right off of the DSLAM and you can test all the way through the copper segments to the subscriber and make everything work right the first day,” says Soos. “Our solutions also help providers fix things quickly. It’s a matter of watching the network, seeing when services are starting to fade out or are not quite right, and if they do break, how does it get fixed and fixed quickly.”
Details from the Edge
At Openet (www.openet.com), CEO Niall Norton says, “Openet develops products and delivers solutions to telco operators in the network edge space, which involves providing software solutions between the network equipment and the large, downstream IT applications – for example, the classic billing or CRM systems. In that area, we take responsibility for the collection of network activity and traffic and the formatting of that traffic from multiple input platforms, whether that’s a CDMA wireless platform or a WiFi or broadband platform. We can aggregate all of those transactions into billable records, thus enriching the traffic information with subscriber details or linking very disparate transactions on different platforms together so that if there are various policy of pricing decisions to be made, we can enrich the activity records and then pass the traffic to downstream applications, such as the billing system, or even outside to a third-party system, particularly if there are third-party content purchases.”
“So, we provide operators with the ’network intelligence’ or ’transactional intelligence’ where we furnish the operator with a way to extract value at the network edge from activities performed by their customers,” says Norton. “Sometimes that will include cost savings because we’re able to provide a standard for very simple usage collection functionality across many different types of network technologies, whether that involves different radio frequencies or indeed conveyance types altogether such as broadband and wireless. There’s a lot of convergence going on, and I don’t mean that in the prepaid/postpaid sense, but in terms of the convergence of a lot of service types being delivered to customers. We’re able to facilitate that too.”
“The flip side of the coin is the enablement of new services on those platforms,” says Norton, “and video-over-IP is actually a good and relevant example. Again, using the transactional intelligence concept, we enable operators to roll out a very relevant service very quickly.”
Digital Content to Your
VeriSign’s (www.verisign.com) Jeff Richards, Vice President, Digital Content Services, says, “We really made our foray into broadband in Q1 of 2006 with our acquisition of Kontiki, whose Kontiki Delivery Management System [DMS] is a software platform for peer-to-peer content delivery. At the time, Kontiki had about 25 million clients in the market and arguably was the lead ’legitimate’ player, unlike BitTorrent and others that were out there helping people to share files illegally.”
Richards adds, “Customers of Kontiki include the BBC, Channel Four and Sky in the U.K., and AOL here in the U.S.; AOL’s video site in the U.S. also runs on the VeriSign/Kontiki technology platform.”
“Today, in terms of video-over-IP, we play in three areas: First, we have customers such as the BBC that use our technology platform to distribute content in their own network. Second, we have an enterprise team that helps companies such as Coca-Cola, GM, Ernst & Young and Charles Schwab, share video technology over IP. Third, we have the content delivery network which was launched in January 2007, which also is picking up many large customers. Four years ago this content business didn’t exist at VeriSign; now we’ve got about 800 people working on it,” beams Richards.
Enea (www.enea.com) provides the standards-based software components that enable companies to deliver a flexible, high performance software architecture for high availability applications. The Enea Platform can be found in various next-gen network products including media gateways, session border controllers, radio network controllers, and softswitches.
John Smolucha, Enea’s Vice President of Global Product Marketing, says, “In terms of delivering video-over-IP, I see most of the market investment being made in IPTV. I’m interested in how people will get the proper quality of experience that matches the expectations of we consumers. It’s different than a lot of emerging technologies. Mobile phones are a relatively new technology with no built-in ’experience’. But we’ve got more than 50 years of being accustomed to a certain level of video quality.”
“We’ve had some interesting rollouts at the industry’s leading edge,” says Smolucha. “Take Hong Kong. They’re a couple years ahead of the U.S. in terms of delivering and they have some interesting characteristics that make it easier for them. The housing developments in Hong Kong’s urban center have very short local loops, so the ’last mile’ is easier to control and it helps them get to a higher quality of service. But in North America and Europe, the last mile is still a challenge for many because of the distribution networks. PCCW in Hong Kong started experimenting with video-over-IP on ATM networks in 1997. In 2003 they finally got to their first IPTV platform. From 2003 to 2007 they progressed to a million subscribers. That’s a pretty long evolution. In this country, telcos such as AT&T have underestimated the challenge.”
Beefing Up the Infrastructure
Although the “fiber glut” is still with us (at least for the time being) allowing for large gobs of video to be sent around the world, the increasing complexity of the network and the emergence of new applications and services such as HDTV, multiplayer online gaming, and video conferencing, are driving several new requirements known as “manageable scalability” which means that the network infrastructure must get a facelift with some new, more flexible devices.
Fujitsu Network Communications (www.fujitsu.com), for example, recently introduced their new Fujitsu Flashwave® 9500 Packet Optical Networking Platform (Packet ONP), a whole new class of optical networking system that can deal with next-gen, media-rich networks. The Flashwave 9500 Packet ONP can deal with connection-oriented Ethernet, ROADM and SONET transport technologies in a single, addressable optical network class element.
Rod Naphan, Vice President of Planning, Fujitsu Communications, says, “Our focus is on the infrastructure for transporting video over IP networks. That includes optical platforms such as our Flashwave 9500. It speaks to the direction of the network. Today, Fujitsu provides the optical transport for the largest video networks from carriers in North America. The Flashwave 9500 platform will take these carriers in a direction that allows them to converge even more of their services onto that network. If they make a very large investment in a video infrastructure, that same investment then would be leveraged to include additional services on top of that network. That’s really to focus on where we’re going with the Flashwave 9500 Packet Optical Networking platform.”
In other areas of the network, companies are retooling their wares, such as ECI Telecom (www.ecitele.com) that offers its IP DSLAM/MSAN for the delivery of video like IPTV and VoD services along with voice and data to offer triple-play capabilities. Recently, ECI announced for its Hi-FOCuS platform IMS (IP Multimedia Subsytem) capabilities at the access layer.
Thanks to the efforts of these and other vendors, the networks will be ready for video and video will undoubtedly become the most popular service to run over IP networks. IT
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.
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