When Will IPTV Make Its Big Debut?

IPTV is the future of TV, say analysts, but adoption has been slow. When will the technology finally hit the big time?

November 28, 2005

4 Min Read
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IPTV is the future of TV, say many analysts, and deployments are just beginning. Television signals delivered over the Internet is already a reality in Roseville, Calif., Kelleher, Tex., and a few other communities, and many more deployments of the technology will be launched in 2006, according to telecom experts.

However, growth of the technology itself will probably remain small until more fiber is deployed throughout the country and GPON (gigabit Ethernet) becomes a reality here. Though fiber and GPON aren't absolutely necessary for IPTV, they provide the higher bandwidth that the more advanced features of IPTV require. Those advanced features include interactive communications and HDTV, just to name a couple.

"We feel [IPTV] is here now," says Bill DeMuth, vice president chief tech officer, SureWest Communications, Roseville, Calif., which has more than 20,000 fiber-to-the-premise customers and additional IPTV customers who receive service over copper wire. "We're at the early part of the curve, but we feel that it's rapidly accelerating."

The competitive local exchange carrier started offering IPTV in January of 2004. The company's fiber now passes 80,000 marketable homes, according to DeMuth. Those customers can receive more than 200 channels, video on demand, Internet and voice communications. Incumbent local exchange carrier customers that want the IPTV service from SureWest, but voice communications from the incumbent, receive their service over copper pair.

However, when HDTV becomes available in the area, which is expected to be sometime next year, only those with fiber will receive it."HDTV isn't doable over copper," DeMuth says. However, interactive services, like ordering featured products immediately (i.e., products placed in programs or movies) and unlimited content, rather than HDTV, will be the killer apps that drive IPTV, according to DeMuth.

The telecom technology providers see this coming as well. At the recently concluded Telecom 05 trade show, there were far more IPTV-related displays than a year earlier, according to DeMuth.

Motorola, which was among the companies partaking in the show, has joined with Verizon to offer IPTV in Kelleher and a few other parts of the country. Verizon and other telecom providers deploy more fiber and increased areas with IPTV in 2006 as they seek to compete with cable companies, says Floyd Wagoner, senior manager wireline marketing for Motorola. But he doesn't expect "hockey-stick" curve adoption, as happened with many other technologies, until GPON becomes a reality in the U.S., probably sometime in 2007.

Some of Motorola's acquisitions in the last couple of years were designed to position the company to benefit from the increased demand for IPTV, Wagoner adds. The company provides Verizon with set-top boxes that can work with IP or RF signals for video.

"IPTV has a lower cost and a more advanced platform [than other video delivery methods]," says Quentin Orr, director entertainment & media for PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York. The viability of IPTV was shown when Google streamed the comedy "Everyone Hates Chris". It marked the first time that an episode of a new show has been offered on Google Video. Rather than being limited to the scheduled broadcast time, viewers using Google Video could download the program for four days.

This scheduling of shows around the viewers' desires rather than around a pre-determined network schedule is one of the advantages that IPTV users have. For the most part the difference between this and cable or satellite is unnoticeable to the average user However, the in order to provide higher bandwidth services, IPTV providers may decide to provide only a handful of streaming channels at a single time, unlike cable, which broadcasts all channels at all times, Orr says. So the video watcher using a remote to change channels may notice some latency if switching among anything but the most popular channels.The latency will be minor, Orr adds, liking it to the early days of VoIP communications and video on demand services offered by cable companies. Eventually, as more fiber is provided, compression technologies improve and other technologies improve, Orr expects there to be no noticeable difference between switching channels on IPTV compared to cable or satellite.

Streaming channels a few at a time will help broadcasters make better use of bandwidth, Orr adds. Digital broadcast also offers better compression that analogue broadcasts.

Orr foresees IPTV providers in the next few years being offered in much the same footprint as cable is today. Consumers in more dense urban areas will have the ability to choose between cable, satellite and IPTV.

If the telecom companies are successful with IPTV -- SureWest officials say that portion of the business is profitable for them today -- then cable companies themselves may start considering IP as preferred delivery mechanism for television, Wagoner adds. But that, as well as IPTV to the mass majority, is a few years away.

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