Adopting a hybrid approach – whereby satellite and terrestrial IP networks are combined – is allowing an increasing number of broadcasters to respond flexibly to evolving market conditions, writes David Davies.
For broadcasters plotting the future of delivery, these are challenging times. Not only are new linear and OTT services adding to their workload, there is also increasing interest in multiscreen – witness, for example, the recent introduction by Sky in the UK of Sky Q Multiscreen and a ‘true Sky multi-room option’, which makes it possible to watch different TV channels in different rooms in the house, all at the same time.
The picture of bandwidth availability is still extremely varied globally, so it follows that the adoption of IP delivery lags considerably behind the roll-out of IP on the contribution side. In large parts of the world, satellite remains king – and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. But in territories where bandwidth access is improving – to a sizeable extent fuelled by the implementation of fibre – IP delivery is making more of an impact, often as part of a hybrid approach that also includes satellite.
Ariel Nishri, vice-president, product development at satellite and ground communications provider SES, believes a combined approach makes a lot of sense at this point: “The key for broadcasters is to adapt to market conditions as they evolve. This is why a hybrid approach is key as it provides the flexibility the industry needs moving into the future.
“By combining satellite and terrestrial IP networks in their business models, broadcasters are able to benefit from the unparalleled reach of the former and the viewing convenience enabled by the latter. Our ‘Satellite Monitor’ study shows us that in Europe, SES satellites feed channels to 34.4 million IPTV households, which represent more than 90% of all European IPTV households.”
‘Finding the right combination of solutions’
As a manufacturer of video delivery components for a wide variety of services, Broadpeak is well-positioned to track the changes in the market. According to vice-president of marketing Nivedita Nouvel, the “satellite industry is still at the beginning of transitioning to IP. Broadcasters want to address trends such as multiscreen to be successful, and that requires using IP technologies.
“The good news is that broadcasters know they have some unique assets – including extensive coverage, guaranteed quality of service and low latency – that is inherent to their technologies. The challenge is finding the right combination of solutions to address all use cases.”
Hence, a current focus for Broadpeak is to provide satellite operators with a solution that allows them to extend their reach to multiscreen. Using its nanoCDN multicast ABR technology, operators can deliver live multi-layer adaptive bit-rate content to the home through the satellite link.
“Satellite operators will continue migrating to IP and will leverage advanced technologies in order to address the growing consumer demand for multiscreen content.” Nivedita Nouvel. Broadpeak
Nouvel explains: “A nanoCDN agent, located in the STB [set top box], transforms multicast into unicast and then sends the streams over wi-fi to mobile devices in the home. The technology can also help carry live ABR content on contribution networks in multicast, keeping latency low and preserving bandwidth resources.
“nanoCDN comes with a VOD pre-cache feature that caches VOD content through a satellite link either in edge servers or directly in the user STB. Broadband connection usage can be limited based on end-user rights in this case.”
Invited to make a couple of predictions about delivery over the next few years, Nouvel suggests that “satellite operators will continue migrating to IP and will leverage advanced technologies – such as local caching, 5G and multicast ABR – in order to address the growing consumer demand for multiscreen content.”
‘Operators want data so it can be monetised’
Andy Warman, director, playout solutions at video delivery and cable access solutions leader Harmonic, agrees that we are in a period of transition, but it’s evident he expects IP to assume ever-growing importance as real-time viewing declines in favour of more fragmented patterns of consumption.
“The satellite business is under extreme pressure to maintain revenue with dwindling subscribers as metro fiber and rising cable bitrate delivery have led to a shift in viewing habits from live to NVOD, with IP delivery penetrating TV,” says Warman. “There is a hybrid play, but it is complicated since real-time viewing – streaming or otherwise – is also declining as consumption of live video content transitions to NVOD on smartphones.
“Operators want consumer data so that it can’t be monetised, and satellite can’t take advantage of that opportunity. That’s where IP delivery offers a clear advantage. Hybrid services allow operators in the unconnected world to engage with subscribers.”
The outlook for hybrid delivery systems will be shaped to a significant extent by STB design and related material costs. “The commodity cost of these hybrid products is most in line with family incomes around the world,” explains Warman.
“Operators want consumer data so that it can’t be monetised, and satellite can’t take advantage of that opportunity.” Andy Warman, Harmonic
“Hybrid content delivery to the home is a growing trend, and if the services are separated into discrete components – for example, satellite-only – neither case can stand up alone. Going forward, the number of STBs that include advanced features such as hybrid delivery will increase over time as consumers demand more capability.”
Meanwhile, the Harmonic offering continues to evolve and includes “a range of IP-enabled solutions that handle contribution, playout and delivery – all of the key parts of the video delivery chain. We cover deployment options ranging from on-premise appliances to cloud-based solutions.”
‘Implementation seems to be speeding up’
Nishri is among those to cite the efforts of the SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) Alliance as being potentially crucial to the adoption of IT-based delivery. Surveying the current situation, he observes that “IP has become a common standard for news contribution, and now we see it expanding into live sports broadcasting. This contrasts with the delivery side, where change is happening at a slower pace. [However] the SRT standard may change this, and its implementation seems to be speeding up.”
Originally developed by Haivision, SRT helps minimise the effects of jitter and bandwidth changes, while error-correction mechanisms are incorporated in order to minimise packet loss.
- Read more: What next for IP?
Tate at which IP-based delivery will be adopted worldwide remains a matter of conjecture. But Thomas Wrede, vice-president, new technology & standards at SES and president of hybrid service-promoting the SAT>IP Alliance, is clear it will be a vital part of the mix as broadcasters work to introduce innovative new services.
“The integration of satellite broadcast delivery protocols inside OTT applications will lead to new IP-based innovations that will deliver the best result for the consumer,” says Wrede. “Ideally, the consumer will not notice whether certain services or service components have been delivered via satellite or via broadband. The end-consumer will only notice the premium quality and content made available to them, irrespective of bandwidth availability.
“The pending launch of 4K, and even 8K, channels make SAT>IP an attractive option for the delivery of premium content to every subscriber – something that current OTT-only distribution methods don’t necessarily have the capacity for.”
Until such a time as large and robust internet bandwidth is available everywhere, it seems certain that varying configurations of IP and satellite will underpin the present phenomenal growth of TV services worldwide.