ZTE's IPTV Evolution Strategy

2008-09-25     Liu Feng

IPTV can help operators provide a wide array of services including live TV, VoD, online shopping, information, games and communications services, which will enrich people's lives. When properly designed and deployed, IPTV can become the killer application that the operators are seeking after.

Designing a Future-Oriented Architecture
A proper IPTV architecture can meet the current service requirement and comply with the future trends. From ZTE's point of view, the following are the key factors in designing IPTV network architecture:

Integration
In fact, IPTV is not TV over IP, but an integrated service platform. Comprehensiveness and integration represent the future of IPTV, i.e., making IPTV a convergent service platform that hosts a variety of value-added services including information portals, games, video telephony/conferencing, TV-commerce, photo or video hosting, and karaoke. Furthermore, the IPTV network will be converged with NGN/3G mobile networks in the future to deliver more convergent services.

Cost-effectiveness
Compared to traditional TV and other broadband services, IPTV has a more complex technical architecture, higher initial deployment costs, and newer operation modes. In addition, the IPTV operator needs longer time to cultivate the user's habits. A cost-effective IPTV solution will show its significance when the IPTV operator launches promotional campaigns to drive take-up of the IPTV service.

Fast customization
Fast customization allows the IPTV operator to reduce the risk of the service becoming obsolete, to add new features and services easily, and to reduce initial and long-term deployment costs. More significantly, fast customization enables the operator to provide highly differentiated services, which will increase customer loyalty.

New trends
Besides the key factors mentioned above, there are some popular new trends in the IPTV business: integration with IMS and Web 2.0; digital home hubs; proliferation of P2P end nodes; high definition contents. A proper IPTV architecture should follow these new technical trends.

ZTE's IPTV Evolution Strategy
Since it takes a long time to attract users, test the technology and accumulate operation experience, building the IPTV architecture will also be a long process. The IPTV architecture will develop through different phases with corresponding key targets in each phase.

The evolving IPTV architecture should have some common features: open and centralized service provision platform; centralized control; Content Distribution Network (CDN); higher bandwidth access; and convergence of multiple terminals.

In ZTE's opinion, a rational IPTV architecture will evolve through the following phases:

  • Phase 1: Basic IPTV deployment
    The phase 1 IPTV network, based on the existing IP backbone and broadband access networks, provides basic IPTV services such as Live TV, TSTV, VoD and PVR.
    The basic IPTV services and some value-added services logical modules can be deployed together, constituting the initial centralized service provision platform.
    On the service control layer, a middleware system including CMS, SMS and EPG will be deployed as the initial centralized control platform, and a universal user portal.
    On the CDN layer, a hierarchy based on the Content Distribution Network (CDN) will be built. 
    The existing DSLAM/MSAN can be upgraded and the access points can be moved closer to user to support multicast applications.


  • Phase 2: Higher QoE
    Since "content is the king", High Definition Television (HDTV) can be used as a differentiator over free Internet videos.
    Therefore, in Phase 2, it is proposed to deploy HDTV and more differentiated value-added services that enable users to enjoy higher Quality of Experience (QoE).
    As HD content consumes more bandwidth, xPON/FTTx solution can be implemented in the access layer. Based on the optimized access network in Phase 1, it would be much easier to deploy xPON/FTTx network, to move fiber closer to users. When ample bandwidth for end users is available, more video services such as video call, video conference and monitoring can be deployed on the service layer.
    In Phase 2, it is also proposed to set up an independent IP core network for IPTV services and to further optimize DSLAM/ MSAN for better multicast control.


  • Phase 3: Convergence via IMS
    In Phase 3, IMS core and Fixed and Mobile Convergence (FMC) services will be the key targets.
    Although at present IMS is still under test, it would be very easy to introduce IMS core into the existing control layer when the IMS standard gets mature, because the centralized control architecture was established in Phase 1. After that, the operator can uniformly control IPTV, fixed and mobile networks to reduce OPEX. And more convergent services such as Mobile TV, universal monitoring, unified messaging, and multi-party video call can be provided via the universal service platform to improve ARPU.


  • Phase 4: Optimization via P2P
    In Phase 4, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology will be introduced into the IPTV architecture.
    P2P network is a typical distributed network where contents stored in any terminals can be shared by other terminals in the whole IP network, thus enabling efficient content sharing.
    Uncontrolled P2P delivery consumes bandwidth without generating revenue; controlled P2P delivery saves costs and ensures scalability. The P2P deployment can be divided into two steps to avoid uncontrolled P2P delivery.
    In the first step, the CDN will support P2P. With the maturing of the independent IP core, P2P technology can be implemented in the CDN first as an internal dispatching policy, so that P2P applications will become controllable. The legacy CDN will become a P2P-based CDN through a software update. A P2P CDN will definitely reduce equipment cost when there is large-scale increase of IPTV users.
    In the second step, terminals will support P2P. With the maturing of IMS, we can also implement P2P client on terminals. If the users keep registering with the IMS core, the IMS, with its powerful resource location capability, would be able to locate the users and the service stream offered to them so that P2P streaming between the users could be controllable, manageable and chargeable. The P2P terminal will definitely improve user experience.

Conclusion
When building a future-oriented IPTV architecture, we should consider the following factors: integration, cost-effectiveness, fast customization, and new technical trends. Properly designed, the IPTV architecture can evolve through four phases, driving revenue and subscriber growth for operators.

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