European operators are taking varied approaches to over-the-top delivery, with some exploiting it just to add value to existing customers by providing access from multiple screens and different locations, while others are adopting it as part of their primary infrastructure. Among those in the second group is Telecom Italia, which has decided not to invest in expanding its dedicated IPTV infrastructure and instead going over the Internet to increase its footprint and aim for new customers currently beyond its network. Telecom Italia did this by introducing its Cubovision hybrid broadband/DTT box, delivering broadcast channels over the terrestrial network, but on-demand content over the Internet. This is similar to BT’s Vision IPTV/DTT service in the UK, but with the difference that the on demand content is available via any ADSL broadband link, rather than just over the telco’ own infrastructure as in BT’s case.
Some operators are even looking at the model adopted by Australian telco Telstra, whose Big Pond TV service delivers linear broadcast channels over the Internet using live adaptive streaming based on WideVine technology. This is available on a range of devices including TVs and Blu-ray players from LG Electronics and Samsung, and now also HD content via its T-Box set-top box. Since the T-Box was only launched June 2011 to bring premium content to TV sets, it is early to say whether this model can match the quality of broadcast HD over satellite, cable or dedicated IPTV infrastructures, and some European companies such as BT are taking the view that it cannot. BT is instead building its own dedicated video infrastructure to deliver content directly from the headend to exchanges, and then on via its own DSL access infrastructure. BT argues that HD broadcast quality can only be provided over dedicated virtual infrastructure with in-built monitoring, even if the actual physical network is shared with other services. This means carving out dedicated bandwidth for video within a given physical network.
But unless there is massive over provisioning at excessive cost, it is impossible to guarantee that packet drops or temporary increases in latency will not occur on an IP network, threatening quality of service for video. Therefore, effective embedded monitoring will play an increasingly important role in service assurance for OTT and IPTV services. We are starting to hear monitoring being cited in marketing collateral from some operators such as BT, and we can expect more of that over the coming year.