Shantanu Kr. Sharma, Technical Head (Digital Head-End), SMR Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.

IPTV, which stands for Internet Protocol Television, is a technology for delivering digital television service via a broadband connection using Internet protocols. Designed to compete with cable and satellite technology, IPTV is broadly deployed in Europe, especially France, and is gaining momentum in the US and Asia-Pacific markets. It is often confused with Internet television, but actually both are different services.

IPTV is the digital television service delivered over a closed IP network while Internet TV is delivered over public Internet.

The main advantage of providing IPTV services is that operators can offer Triple Play Services, i.e., TV, Internet, and telephone services, all for one competitive price.

In India, IPTV is still significantly more costly over local cable and DTH. Viewers need a dedicated set-top box, modem, and broadband connection. They will also need to install a camera to make it an interactive TV. Once installed, however, IPTV can support some work processes usually carried out on a computer. The TV can receive phone calls, stream web videos, and provide digital TV channels. IPTV has the distinct advantage of a back channel that can be used for deploying services like video-on-demand (VOD) more effectively.

The true future of IPTV lies not in its basic television content, however, but more in its interactive feature capabilities. Unlike cable TV service, which is a one-way delivery system to the user, IPTV is a two-way directional system, allowing the user to interact with the services. The method of delivering content to the user is also different. Cable TV systems deliver all channels to all users over the pipeline going into the home or business, with the set-top box used to select what channel is being viewed. This method requires a fairly large bandwidth being delivered to every user. IPTV maintains content on the network with the system delivering only the channel selected by the user over the pipeline to that user, with the set-top box still being used to select the channel to be viewed. As bandwidth needs increase for new services and capabilities, the IPTV providers may have an advantage over cable TV counterparts, but it may be short lived. Cable TV operators can modify their network infrastructure to allow them to offer IPTV services, or new technologies supporting the data-over-cable service interface specifications (DOCSIS) could become ubiquitous, allowing for channel bonding, in which two or more network interfaces are combined to increase network throughput.

Technically, when the customer selects the movie, a point-to-point unicast connection is set up between the customer's decoder (set-top box or PC) and the delivering streaming server. The signaling for the trick-play functionality (pause, slow-motion, rewind, etc.) is assured by RTSP (real-time streaming protocol). Video-on-demand (VOD) permits a customer to browse an online program or film catalogue to watch trailers and to then select a selected recording for playback. In an attempt to avoid content piracy, the VOD content is usually encrypted using DRM (digital rights management), which refers to access control technologies used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices. For example, a film that is chosen may be playable for 24 hours following payment, after which time it becomes unavailable.

In the Indian market, IPTV will provide a level of interactive service never before possible with traditional cable TV – capabilities to allow the user to directly contact advertisers or businesses offering products to view locally inserted advertisements, order goods, and get product information, all while watching TV. This can open up many opportunities for both small and large businesses to reach a much larger audience or to reach a smaller, more targeted audience. Acceptance of IPTV will also lead to a greater expansion of the digital home market, to the use of social networking, and to the use of videoconferencing. And while many applications will be initially utilized in the home, they will eventually propagate into the corporate world as more and more remote workers push for the use of these capabilities throughout the workplace. This, in fact, may be one of the prime reasons that enterprise businesses need to monitor development in the IPTV space – so that they are prepared to implement them in their corporate network.