FEATURE: NAB 2006: An IPTV Curtain Raiser

NAB 2006: An IPTV Curtain Raiser

Next week, the Las Vegas Convention Center will host the high-profile National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2006 show--including a track covering the emerging business of IPTV. IPTV started getting some mention at NAB a couple of years back, but this is the first time ever that IPTV has been featured.

It's a great time to kick off an IPTV-focused conference. The list of IPTV implementations is growing rapidly--a recent Multimedia Research Group report found that 370 telcos worldwide have deployed IPTV--and carriers are eager to learn how they can grab their piece of this growing market.

IPTV giants like Motorola and Alcatel are not making any major IPTV-related announcements at the show. Still, IPTV World is an important moment for smaller players like Tut Systems, which makes IPTV head-end equipment for operators.

Tut, which has participated in the show for the past seven years, now earns 70 percent of its revenue from IPTV. The company will be showcasing its MPEG-4 AVC HD compression capabilities for the first time at IPTV World. "The telcos attending the show are serious about IPTV and are not just browsing," says Keith Wymbs, the company's strategic marketing director.

What's Hot

With the transition to digital TV becoming mandatory for operators as of February, 2009, operators have little choice but to dig in and prepare to invest in high definition (HD) TV. Jeff Heynen, Directing Analyst, Broadband and IPTV for Infonetics Research, predicts that IPTV World will feature a gamut of HDTV products, ranging from video cameras for recording and broadcasting to encoding devices that will make delivery of HD video signal efficient.

Lots of content deals are in the works, and user-generated content should be a particularly hot area. Ozgur Aytar, senior analyst with Pyramid Research, says interactive service applications--such as technology allowing users to play games with other users--are of great interest to carriers, as they tend to reduce customer attrition.

Another important topic of discussion will be Internet TV, and how telcos will leverage, and not conflict with, delivery to TV, PC and wireless. Tut's Wymbs believes that the "slingbox" functionality-which allows the consumer "sling" content off from TV to PC or a cell phone--will inevitably be embedded into a set-top box. While the slingbox has faced legal challenges, it's likely that it will find a place in the entertainment sector soon, and show visitors may find some slingbox-friendly technology on display.

Mobile video should also generate a lot of buzz. IPTV content is sourced from satellites and local channels from the local market, is aggregated and offered in a closed environment to the subscribers, mobile content sourcing is a completely different ball-game. For one thing, it would require most consumers to buy new handsets with new capabilities. A growing number of video-capable handsets will hit the market in the upcoming months--and some may be announced during the show.

Also, expect to hear some announcements from the Service Delivery Platform vendors catering to triple play services, with offerings ranging from subscriber access rights to billing. These back-end elements, which will compete with Microsoft, are not sexy but are required to make money. At the same time, home networking deals will likely be struck at IPTV World, as a strategic move against cable and satellite providers.

Meanwhile, as the RBOCs roll out IPTV ventures, cable operators aren't sitting idle. To fight back against telco incursions into their market, cable operators are likely to announce enhancements to their network, such as DVR functionality via a network-based architecture or updated VOD capabilities.

All told, IPTV World promises to be an exciting show which should spark many an interesting deal. If you're going to be there, I wish you the best of luck with your trip--and encourage you to tell me what you saw!

- Leena Deshpande, Editor, FierceIPTV