March 2009 | Volume 12/ Number 3
Delivering Video Services
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
The world loves video. Even though the Internet and wireless services were not originally designed to carry what is essentially multimedia, network operators, carriers and service providers the world over are revitalizing their infrastructure to deliver massive amounts of rock-solid bandwidth to satisfy customers hungry for video-related services.
For example, one great change in the viewing habits of many British viewers has resulted from the introduction of the BBC’s “catchup” service, the iPlayer, which enables users at their computers to view over the Internet many BBC broadcasts that appeared over the previous seven days. Indeed, the BBC has begun showing all of its programs live over the Internet via streaming, which causes a problem in a country where people must buy a license to watch broadcasts on their TVs (in the U.S. we don’t pay a license because broadcasting is supported by advertising). 25.3 million households pay the television license which supplies the BBC with operating capital of £3.37 billion. (About one in 20 households are deadbeats or manages to evade detection that they have a TV.) To watch BBC programs on their computers, the British viewers would still need to buy a license, but this is considered by most experts to be more difficult to enforce with computers than TVs.
Since its launch on Christmas Day 2007, some or all BBC programs have been watched 250 million times. One repercussion is that home broadband aficionados of the iPlayer and the new Internet streaming service have been advised that downloading/streaming large numbers of videos over the network may quickly exceed their ISPs' download limits.
Level 3 Communications (News - Alert) is a major network operator that has evolved beyond the simple transport of video. Level 3 offers video broadcast transport services through it’s Vyvx solution but also delivers live streaming and on-demand Internet based videos in High Definition (HD).
As an example, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention Level 3 provided an end-to-end single source solution for every aspect of the DNC’s video transport needs: Vyvx broadcast services, Content Delivery Network, transport services and video signal encoding to enable the first worldwide Internet audience to watch the convention via live High Definition HD streaming. Level 3 handles video service delivery for many major national broadcasts including the upcoming Superbowl and the Oscars.
Later, Level 3 delivered live television broadcast video and online streaming of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration ceremony for Sky News on January 20, 2009. It was the first live simulcast for Level 3 in Europe and the largest one-day spike in global Internet network traffic for Level 3.
Nuts and Bolts
The increased use of mobile broadband services, such as streaming live television, managed content and Internet video brings quality and backhaul issues to the fore. It suddenly becomes important for a provider to monitor each customer’s network access and allow subscribers to specify and customized amount of bandwidth to meet their specific needs. Once company that can help in this regard is Comptel.
Olivier Suard, Marketing Director at Comptel, says, “We’re seeing increased movement toward deploying video services, mostly on fixed broadband, by companies such as BT (News - Alert) and France Telecom. They’re beginning to offer video and TV services. They’re trying to compete against the traditional cable operators, and they now have the infrastructure to do so. It’s no longer a matter of when we deploy video services, it’s happening right now. We had an interesting case in 2007 involving the European soccer tournament in Belgium. Basically every country bids for the rights to broadcast these events. Belgium’s telecom operator, Belgacom (News - Alert), won the broadcast rights. Belgium is a specific area where cable is fairly strong because the country is very small and densely populated, so Belgacom has for the last few years has deployed fiber-to-the-home [FTTH]. Belgacom is one of the most advanced operators from that point of view. They’re literally competing against the media companies now, so it’s an interesting case of an incumbent telecom operator actually winning the rights to a major event. It shows that the technological ‘shift’ is really happening.”
“In the case of Belgacom we at Comptel supplied the network inventory solution that helped them plan to deploy their fiber-to-the-home solution,” says Suard. “By fiber-to-the-home I mean to the home but also to businesses. So, Belgium is a country that’s really ahead of the curve in some ways, mostly due to the geography. And in the U.S. there are operators such as Verizon (News - Alert) which is bringing fiber to the home. If these operators are going to become media companies and compete with the Time Warners of the world or the Rupert Murdoch SKY network. The only way the operators can win is if they have a similar level of infrastructure and when they do they begin to win some of these content purchases. They become exclusive providers of the latest TV series or whatever.”
“We also see that mobile broadband is rapidly gaining ground, certainly in Europe, but mostly in Asia” says Suard. “In Europe quite a few mobile operators offer USB dongle-like key devices that you plug into your laptop and you get a 3G communication link. They’re eating into a lot of the WiFi (News - Alert)-type of service providers, because it’s just so convenient – it can be based on a pay-as-you-go or prepaid model. You can buy 50 Euros or dollars of time for your dongle and then you can surf the net for as long as you can afford to. That’s becoming a really successful phenomenon. Even just looking around me at airports and places like that, the number of people who have these USB dongle-like thing hanging off of their laptops is quite incredible.”
“We see perhaps the most innovation in Asia,’ says Suard. “This leads me to a SmarTone story. A company or ‘associate’ that’s partly owned by Vodafone (News - Alert). They launched a mobile broadband offering in 2006. In 2007 they moved to HSPA and then launched. Now SmarTone Vodafone is based in Hong Kong, so they do have some advantages in that they cover a densely populated area, so their infrastructure can reach a very large population. What they do is quite exciting – they offer 14.5 Mbps download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed. That’s continuous wireless coverage, both indoors and outside, all over Hong Kong. So they have a huge advantage of the cable guys, because 14.5 megabits per second is a decent bandwidth. On top of this broadband they’re offering services such as something they call FoneTV, which consists of live TV and handpicked programs in high-definition wide format on mobile devices. [SmarTone’s FoneTV starts at HK$18 a month and for starters provides access to 12 channels including BBC, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg (News - Alert) TV and Cartoon Network.] So imagine watching TV on the move. You can watch in the underground [subway] because Hong Kong has signals covering the metro stations. You can watch the video on the bus or at home. They even include something called i-console which enables simultaneous TV viewing for channel selection and interactive features. [The i-Console works just like a TV remote. Just click and instantly watch the show of your choice - no missing part of the program because of a long loading time. You can even use it interactively to buy music and place bets – in Hong Kong, naturally.]”
“Internet mobile gives you the true Internet experience on mobile devices,” says Suard. “That includes full Internet video services live on the mobile. It’s as if you are running your laptop and you can do everything that you can do on a laptop. And then SmarTone has a sort of wireless fixed-line service. This is where your home phone experience becomes wireless. It includes a Skype (News - Alert)-like application where you can make free Internet calls without a PC. So it’s quite literally taking broadband and making it fully mobile. It’s a very exciting prospect. There are operators in the world talking about doing similar things, but very few have actually delivered such services the way SmarTone has.”
From Billions to Trillions (of Bits)
ECI Telecom (News - Alert) supplies the networking infrastructure for carrier and service provider networks worldwide. From tier-1 national network operators to city carriers, ECI's equipment is the platform for key applications including business services, voice, video and wireless backhaul.
Ron Levin, Associate Vice President, Product Marketing, says, “At ECI we supply the networking part of the IPTV (News - Alert) value chain. We deal with the networks from the customer premises all the way to the metro core. We are not a full IP vendor. We don’t provide middleware, conditional access, DRMs, head-ends or video servers. We do provide the networking part which includes, aside from access side – CPE modem, residential gateways, DSLAMs [Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers] and MSANs [Multi Service Access Nodes] and OLTs [Optical Line Terminals] up further into the network with MSPPs [MultiService Provisioning Platforms] which are transport platforms that can provide SDH [Synchronous Digital Hierarchy] networking, optical capabilities such as WDM [Wavelength Division Multiplexing] and ROADM (News - Alert) [Reconfigurable Optical Add/Drop Multiplexer] capabilities as well as Carrier Ethernet capabilities. Also, for the transport part of the network, we provide our CESRs [Carrier Ethernet Switch/Routers] which are pure Carrier Ethernet devices, which are also integrated with optics.
Levin continues, “Within all of these offerings, in speaking about video delivery, what we try to provide is, first of all, a very high capacity, so looking across all of our platforms, we offer pretty much a market-leading platform in terms of throughput capacity. On the access node, on the MSAN, we’re talking about 800 Gbps switching capability, with a multiple 10 Gbps uplinks and multiple 10 Gbps downlinks, which can really support a high-capacity fiber-to-the-home [FTTH] deployment. Looking back into the transport networks, we’re talking about 10 Gbps and 40 Gbps connections via optical gear and about 1 and 10 Gbps links up to a full capacity of 1 Terabit on our CESR platforms. Capacity is the first prerequisite when you want to provide video services. But that’s not enough, obviously, so on top of the capacity itself we also provide across all of our platforms the network intelligence needed to deliver video. One example is our multicast capabilities or IGMP [Internet Group Management Protocol] capabilities, which exist in all of our platforms. This enables a video delivery solution to do hierarchical or optimal multicasting and really duplicate the video stream at any point in the network, according to the demand and optimize bandwidth usage. So all of our platforms have IGMP snooping and IGMP proxy capabilities.”
“Next comes Quality of Service [QoS],” says Levin. “Again across all of these platforms are very flexible and very granular QoS capabilities to really enable our customers to define exactly the type of QoS they need for their video delivery service, and also to do it dynamically, ‘on-the-fly’, again, to optimally support the video services. Incidentally, we develop in general multi-technology networking products. That enables our customers to evolve their respective networks at their own pace into something that can handle the services they want to offer. So if an operator is starting to roll out an IPTV service and they need to reach the customers and deliver 25 Mbps of bandwidth to them to allow a few streams of video plus some voice and high-speed Internet, they obviously don’t have a 100 percent IPTV take-up rate from Day One. So what our equipment allows them to do is to start the deployments with perhaps lower speed connections to most of the subscribers and then because of our multi-service and multi-technology, they can actually upgrade the technology as they need to. Take an access node in a neighborhood for example. If you have a 10 percent take-up rate for IPTV you can provide ADSL services as ADSL+ at about 8, 10 or 12 Mbps guaranteed for the whole neighborhood, but for specific customers are paying for IPTV, we can let you use VDSL to provide the greater bandwidth. And you can grow that number of users, because we let you mix-and-match any technology on our multi-service access node. You can replace ADSL with VDSL. The same thing goes for GPON [Gigabit Passive Optical Network] or Ethernet fiber access in the future.”
“The same rationale and design principles also applies to our transport platforms that can support multiple technologies and multiple rate interfaces, and these platforms can adapt and grow as customers,” says Levin. “For example, one of the biggest migrations taking place in the transport network is migration from TDM, SDH or SONET-based technologies to Carrier Ethernet. One of the biggest drivers for this transition is video distribution. Looking forward, Carrier Ethernet, from a total cost of ownership perspective, is the most cost-effective technology for transport networks. But you don’t want to go to a full carrier Ethernet solution from Day One, because it involves spending a lot of money up front. With our multi-service and multi-technology equipment we can actually allow the customer to migrate or evolve at their own pace.” IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
BBC – (www.bbc.com)
Comptel – (www.comptel.com)
ECI Telecom - (www.ecitele.com)
Level 3 Communications – (www.level3.com)
SmarTone Mobile Communications – (www.smartone-vodafone.com)
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