Vendor CTOs: abstract expressionism
Welcome to our second annual roundtable of CTOs from the vendor segment of the industry.
If you want to know what is going on in technology, from macro trends to specific innovations, and how they interrelate, CTOs are the people to talk to. We interviewed each of this year’s participants individually, presenting them with an identical set of topics. We’ve edited the responses for brevity, and arranged the responses by topic.
CED: Among the topics that have got the most attention in the last year were software defined networking (SDN), virtualization, the cloud, and the ongoing transition to IP. Would any of these things be happening if they weren’t all happening at once?
Brad Ferris CTO, Ericsson: They are complementary – cloud, IP, and virtualization. We look at the cloud and virtualization from a standpoint of the control plane.
Compare and contrast to where things were 15 years ago where you had individual headends servicing metropolitan areas to now where services are being brought up into the cloud.
Ron Brockman, CTO, ActiveVideo: SDN is very specific to layer 2 of the network. SDN is looking to avoid dealing with legacy equipment in a network infrastructure. You’re trying to avoid hard-coding stuff you’ll then have to live with forever.
With the cloud, you’re extending the idea to the UI layer. We’re virtualizing CPE, so it’s analogous. The main goal in both instances is flexibility, a more efficient operational model. It’s all getting away from functions that are hardwired.
Nick Thexton, CTO, service provider video software, Cisco: Virtualization and cloud and elastic use of resources in the network has less to do with video, it’s about IP infrastructure in general. Video is still occupying 60- to 70 percent of all IP traffic. If we’re in the business of the Internet, then video is going to be a very large part of it.
Ferris: These approaches give operators greater economies of scale and the capabilities to virtualize services and move a lot of the intelligence back from where it used to exist at the set-top box, and move it further and further back up into the network. We reduce the cost at the edge, by reducing the cost of processing power within the set-top and the storage in the set-top, and bring it up to the network.
It allows operators to deliver those personalization capabilities, it makes it easier to deliver the converged experience, whether it’s over the set-top box or the iPad or the PC. It enables the ability to use lower-cost boxes and deliver the experience to alternative devices. That’s the distinct advantage of the cloud and virtualization.
We’ve seen the explosion over the last five years to deliver content over the unmanaged network, whether that’s over LTE, or your broadband network with a DOCSIS cable modem. That’s all enabled by IP.
It helps simplify the access network, which we think has become complicated. Using cloud and virtualization helps to pull all these things together, helping to make a little more sense out of this complex world that’s emerged over the last five years.
Thexton: NSV [network services virtualization] captures an awful lot of new applications, and things like media ingest and media delivery no longer has to be dominated by transcode functions. There’s a big move in the market with virtualizing encode, transcode, 4K and the like.
Also, you’ve got great peak problems in video transport.
At different times of the day, an infrastructure may be delivering 10 to 100 times less video than at peak times. When you scale to peaks, which is what you had to do, the attraction to moving to the cloud, or to virtualized services, becomes massively compelling.
Brockman: We do television user interfaces, and the load of that is focused on the evening, and certain times in the evening, so you can share that same infrastructure with daytime processing. You can use the elastic cloud here, and believe it or not, you could potentially deploy our service with no additional infrastructure costs.
You’re using the evening-hour machines that are already in the data center.
That’s changing the game. If you can do that without purchasing servers, installing them, provisioning them, and so on – this all becomes, potentially, scripting. That’s a huge plus for agility.
I’m a last mile kind of guy, but virtualization extends to network components as well. You literally create centralized data centers. Traditionally, a cable company’s headends were relatively close to subscribers, and you had many of them, but now those are being consolidated. Now we’re giving more to the media center. Everything essentially becomes configurable and soft.
MSOs are building out their own private clouds to host media services in IP in a more flexible way. Rather than racking and stacking new servers every time there’s a new service to deploy, and like I said, it becomes scripting.
Steve Reynolds, CTO, Imagine Communications: We’re taking that SDN approach all the way into the video network. It’s not just about the CDN, we’re extending SDN all the way down into the video bit flow. The great thing about SDN is that it gives you a way to virtualize a physical topology.
You think about a broadcast center today, the topology is all defined by wires – this output plugs into that input, and that’s the way it is. If you can move that to a virtualized approach, where elements in the network can now be represented as IP addresses, and every processing node has an address and a port assigned to it, and you can select the routes you want to use in order to move things between those ports.
You can define the inputs and the outputs in the network in terms of multicast addresses or unicast addresses.
Now you start to build some real power.
Now you have the flexibility for defining what your network looks like, defining what your workflow looks like, and for making changes to that as the business model evolves and as business needs evolve.
That’s the power of SDN when you boil it down. It gives you the ability to change the way you do things from a console rather than having to rewire something.
Thexton: You get the ability to stand up services a lot faster. And if you virtualize some of these things, you can bring them up much quicker, and it becomes easier to experiment.
Reynolds: If you walk into a broadcast center today, you’ll see a lot of equipment that works the way the broadcast center has worked for the last 15 years, since the beginning of digital.
You’ll see a lot of baseband, you’ll see a lot of SDI, you’ll see a lot of monolithic equipment that’s used for creating and processing signals.
Thexton: The more advanced companies have already moved to workflows with the ability to do capture directly to the cloud. I saw in London people with an infrastructure to take video straight out the back of a Sony HD camera, and even on location the video was going straight to the cloud, then editing was done more or less through the storage infrastructure.
They were using standard tools, but all with cloud infrastructure.
Obviously that’s an opportunity for cost reduction, but it’s also an opportunity for standardization in workflows.
Reynolds: What we think is going to happen is that over the next couple of years, a lot of that will transition to IP.
The networks themselves – the guys who own the content – are looking for new ways to launch new services, to launch new channels, and really compete with what we see happening with Internet video. In order to do that, they’ve got to get on the same playing field. They need to be in an environment that is software defined, that is more modern. It’s all running on off the shelf hardware, connected by standard IT networking gear.
Everyone is trying to get away from the proprietary way of doing things, and towards things that are a lot more open and lot more standards-based.
Brockman: Considering where we are in the IP migration and where we want to be, the whole thing can take, 7-, 8-, 10 years. I believe there is a way to get that done. Cloud will play a role. That’s the end game, it may take 10 years to get there. IP will be the common denominator for that.
Thexton: Operators are all feeling their way.
Comcast is blazing this massive trail; they’re a proof point of what you can achieve. Others will get a taste of that.
Some of the people in the operator community look at me critically and say “we’re not moving to the cloud.” But we have two big examples with Comcast and the X1 platform, and in Europe we have LGI moving more to a cloud-based infrastructure.
The question is: how fast will be the transition? Will it be like Comcast, with everything moving to the cloud – or a private cloud, or a mixed cloud infrastructure? Or will it be more cast around traditional on-premise equipment?
Reynolds: I came to Imagine from Comcast – if you look at what we did there with the X1 platform, moving over the course of just a couple of years from a network that had a lot of analog outlets on it, into an environment with the X1 across the entire footprint with boxes that do IP video consumption – end to end.
If you look at what they’ve been able to do in terms of accelerating the launch of new services and apps, that’s a great model.
The broadcast and origination side needs to be able to do the same thing. They need to be able to move that fast. They need to be able to quickly light up new services, they need to light up new apps. It’s the software model that’s going to enable that.
John Carlucci, CTO, Alticast: On the network side, we’re seeing increasing emphasis on the smart pipe, whether it’s video services, or high-speed data services, or telephony services.
And now some operators are turning to home security and other home control applications, we see that smart pipe becoming more and more a core competency.
Where I see the virtualization coming into place, and reductions in complexity, they come from the way we go about developing the applications delivered to our subscribers. Whereas traditionally there was a lot of emphasis on the entirety of applications being in the device in the home, we’ve migrated to a service-oriented architecture using multi-tiered web capability.
There’s the continued progress as folks migrate to all-IP. We see that in two very strong ways. One is with the industry players making use of the Reference Design Kit – the RDK. The other has to do with miniaturization and mobility, with all-IP, and what we refer to as the HDMI stick. That’s on the customer premises side.
I see the RDK as a move toward standardized, open-standard software architecture, and kind of an endorsement to the open standard approach to software. Comcast has been using a proprietary approach to software for many years. Now I think they’ve finally realized that is a critical element to both managing the supply chain as well as improving the speed of innovation.
How the RDK helps us, it formalizes the transparency between some of the separate layers. That’s happened in the past, but this has formalized it. But it still needs to go through the various parts of the operator organization, from the engineering team through the procurement team, through system integration and test, out to the operations team. It’s taking additional innovation within those organizations to continue to move and accelerate that pace.
Brockman: There’s no reason to stop innovating in boxes, and we should be innovating. What the RDK has done is got us some standardization in our boxes. We do see some forking, but that’s what happens.
The thing is that the RDK route still ends up requiring truck rolls, and the installation of all those boxes keeps you on a cycle. Maybe now it’s seven years instead of 10 years, but that’s still a long time. The RDK separates the service from the box, but you still have boxes to deploy, and you want to make your full installed base RDK-compliant.
CED: We mentioned miniaturization and HDMI sticks. Where is customer premise equipment (CPE) going?
Carlucci: We’re living in changing times, so there’s a bit of a fog. I try to pull back to fundamentals.
There’s Moore’s Law. Accompanying that is increasing miniaturization as well as increased functionality. We’re seeing that play in creating some new classes of devices, for example the HDMI stick. To quote “The Princess Bride,” it was inconceivable that you could have set-top box functionality in a device the size of a CableCard.
You’ll recall when the DVR boxes came out, and they were the size of your old school VHS player. We can have a device that can deliver that big-screen experience to our customers, and the customer can stick in his pocket and enjoy that content in an untethered environment.
And that’s occurring without compromise to the experience. You’re getting full-resolution video, high performance animation, rich graphics…
Ferris: When you look at the overall capex spend of operators, the largest category is CPE.
Would you rather spend money on enhancing the network or the CPE? We seeing a better ROI in putting money in the network.
CPE today – set-top boxes – it’s very static.
But if you pull that functionality and leverage your network, the capability in the network helps serve not just the set-top but also the tablet, the PC, the handset. We think it’s a better option for the operator. The ability to move your control plane and EPG into the cloud is one aspect of it, but when you can move some of your storage out of your edge devices and into the cloud, that adds a whole new benefit.
There’s still a benefit to having an edge device, a DTA, a dongle, a stick, to help deal with the varying formats, as operators move from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, and eventually to HEVC. They help with translation capabilities to get video to the television it’s connected to.
Carlucci: Because the bandwidth availability is not yet unlimited, we’ll see a variety of approaches [to CPE] that reflect some of the network realities.
For example, there may be those who have capacity today in their DOCSIS networks so they can start multicasting video to the home and delivering it to inexpensive IP-only devices.
But there are others who don’t necessarily have that network capacity, so they’re going to try to leverage the broadcast economics of what’s currently being delivered on their plant.
So they’ll have a video gateway type of device that can bridge to satellite-type boxes. That will all be determined by network topology and bandwidth trade-offs.
Brockman: MSOs right now are very box-centric, and the thing about that is that it puts you essentially on a 10-year cycle – that’s a very long cycle, and the industry is very fickle.
Java came and went. Then Flash came and went. Right now, we’re talking about HTML 5, but then you look at the mobile space? HTML 5 is losing mindshare. Everyone is moving to natives – iOS, Android. Netflix famously would not use HTML 5, in favor of going native. The point is that it’s hard to keep up if you have everything static in a box.
[ActiveVideo is] still very HTML 5-centric, but since we’re relying on the cloud? We can virtualize and deploy the next big thing that comes along when it comes along. With the cloud we can change to whatever comes along easily.
From a box perspective? Netflix has decided to put embedded clients on devices. That puts us back years in terms of scalability. It points to the strength of the cloud – it just virtualizes the whole mess.
With an open stack, you can run things in parallel, you can bring things up, and bring them back down.
Carlucci: The device in the home doesn’t have to grow without bounds in terms of its capabilities.
It can rely on logic in the cloud – assuming the bandwidth and the reliability of the network are sufficient. I view the application itself drawing on both the server and the client device to create an overall user experience.
As the reliability and responsiveness and capacity of the network increase, that will allow more of the burden of delivering the highly satisfying user experience to be placed in the cloud.
I’m not an either/or kind of a guy. A few years back, I saw the idea of the video furnace turn into the idea of the gateway. That will continue to play an important role as we transition through here. At the same time, I can see devices like that becoming less important, but at the same time, I still think the operator needs some kind of device in the home.
Thexton: If you look at consumer devices, a greater portion of our time is spent on tablets and other unmanaged devices. Video everywhere is just the de facto truth of the market now. But what’s interesting, in the home, the largest number of minutes are being consumed in the living room.
I think the user experience will absolutely start to switch more toward the personalized experience.
In other words, the second screen will become the first screen. But you’ll still want to retain the 4K or high-def experience in the living room, while also being able to take content on the move, and have a continuity of experience.
CED: How do CCAP and remote PHY play into the discussion about virtualization?
Ferris: CCAP absolutely helps to unify some of the network access technologies, and remote PHY will help you go from analog fiber to digital fiber which will help reduce the cost of the network.
CCAP allows you to unify that combining network in a cable operator’s headend, whether that’s broadcast / VOD, or high-speed data distribution.
You pull that together in a common shelf environment. Then you move that PHY layer deeper; it allows an operator to go from analog fiber to digital fiber, which enables them to reduce that signal to noise ratio.
From a network perspective, CCAP is absolutely critical, and remote PHY is very important from a cost standpoint.
Thexton: The remote PHY concept is a fantastically powerful model. It’s a great opportunity for the industry to get that transition moving a lot faster. That backs the point of connecting CDN infrastructure to the gateway.
We’re contributing to the RDK movement, particularly with regard to gateways. Years ago we were talking about unified gateways that were terminating QAM services and reproducing in the home as IP, and that’s going away quickly, people have an appetite for all-out IP infrastructure.
Now you can be considering the home device, the radiating device, the Wi-Fi infrastructure – it can more or less match the delivery infrastructure to that node in the home. You can do more intelligence gathering, in terms of managing the service. You can see how the system is actually being used and optimizing, it can extend from Wi-Fi back all the way through the network, back to the CDN, to the edge caches back to the ABR infrastructure.
Going hand in hand with all that is the transition to ABR infrastructure. There are benefits when you have multiple services sharing a common IP infrastructure.
Ferris: Some of it is counterculture – you’re putting intelligence out at the edge, it’s making those cabinets more complex. But, boy, that’s beginning to look like a base station to me. You start using OFDM, which base stations use. All you’re looking for is an Ethernet connection. Just change the name to “PHY/MAC access point.”
At Ericsson, we have the luxury of putting a base station underneath a tower. Cable operators don’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to be more space efficient.
My concern is resilience and quality. That’s something the telcos are good at, they’ve grown up with five-nines. If cable moves all of that to the edge, if a remote node collapses, will they be able to bring it up in minutes, or will it be a truck roll? We’ll see.
Thexton: ABR is essentially a file fragment delivery mechanism, it’s not really streaming. You have a file-based infrastructure for distribution of video. It’s here to stay, and I don’t think it’s going away in a hurry.
The move to IP both in cable and in telco is very strong and it’s never going to stop. The only part of the ecosystem that has transitioned has been satellite. But we’ll see a transition there too. There are a number of providers looking at it. Even in this area that is not inherently bidirectional, we will start to see IP broadcast make an appearance. This was a topic hot in the mid- to late '90s. It might come back again.
Brockman: The general trend is from broadcasting live to delivering video unicast on a personalized model.
Carlucci: I’ve been wrong about this before, and I’m willing to be wrong about it again, but I think we’ll get to unicast. We’ll get to an individualized experience for each user, that spans control of the video content from the point of view of being able to pause, rewind, fast forward. You’re accessing vast libraries as well as providing new ways for the operators to monetize that with respect to targeted advertising.
This is something I’ve expected to happen for a long time. It might still be a bit out there, but we continue to get closer. In the end game, we see some consolidation of that model, where you have an intelligent network with high capacity, then you have the end-devices which have certain capabilities and they all connect back to the cloud.
Reynolds: There’s the notion of reference architectures. If you look at the telecom industry and where it was 10 years ago. It was the same thing. It was fractured. There were a lot of point solutions. There was a lot of monolithic integration.
That industry, over the course of a decade, moved to an environment where it’s very open.
They could all build products, they could all compete on capability, and in the end the customer is going to get a better solution and innovation is going to move faster because there is a common playing field to compete on.
That’s part of what we’re trying to bring with us not just into the cable space, but everything we’re doing. As we define these migrations toward IP, we’re trying to be very open about that and work with the entire ecosystem and see what that reference architecture should look like.
When you think about TV Everywhere, there’s a design pattern that has emerged, with adaptive bit rate edge encoders, just in time packaging – and that would include the linkage to DRM systems. And then how that interfaces with the CDN via an origin server. You see that same pattern over and over again. That, to me, points to the beginnings of a reference architecture.
Now let’s standardize interfaces, let’s agree on message flow between these things, let’s figure out which format works, whether it’s H.264 or HEVC or HLS or whatever, and work that way.
CED: It seems that the program guide is inexorably moving to the cloud, as are associated functions like search, discovery, and recommendation.
Brockman: I do believe this is an unusually important topic; it’s near to our hearts. I’m a Comcast customer myself, I have the X2 user interface, and I’m very happy with it. It’s a nice product; it’s well done.
The question is, you can only deploy that one box at a time, one truck roll at a time – it’s a new box. We need to bring it to the full installed based. That’s the challenge the whole industry has if you have box-centric deployment model, then you have to solve this one box at a time.
EPG is hugely important, part of what will happen will be the expansion of content offered by the operators. They’re moving to the super- aggregator model, where it may not be just traditional pay TV content up on the big screen, but it may be YouTube, it might be Netflix.
Including traditional internet-based content into the pay TV environment, and clearly the existing EPG model just will not work there.
There’s just too much content. But if you offer presentation and discovery tools, and search and recommendation tools, it can make it pretty easy to find what you want.
Carlucci: You could see we have many subscribers who are comfortable with the traditional grid guide. And when we moved to tablets, we wanted to keep them comfortable, so we brought that along. But there are other customers who like some of the new capabilities and page-turning-like features and swipe-ability that those tablets offer.
So I can see where the customization or tightly focused UI for different customers would have benefits. Tie that with services, tie that with packages, tie it with devices, and tie it with telephony and different data services.
Ferris: We parse analytics into a couple of categories. There’s subscriber analytics and network analytics, and both are very important.
The deliverer of content needs to know what’s happening in the network and use that to predict behavior and plan for capacity.
From the subscriber perspective, we’re only just at the beginning of doing that. Look at how people view content? It quickly goes beyond “I watched this movie last week, and I pressed LIKE.” That’s a two-dimensional recommendation, and we need to get to multi-dimensional recommendation. We have to be more astute using the crush of data we have. Only just beginning to figure out how to leverage that.
It’s going to get better and better as we all get more sophisticated, with better algorithms and contextual cues with linkages among various use points, whether that’s viewing usages or location usages, or linking this to other types of behavioral memes. We haven’t linked all those things together.
That’s one of the advantages of virtualizing all this back to some centralized function that will allow operators to leverage that information and deliver more compelling experiences. You wouldn’t be able to do that with a distributed network. This is why we think bringing it back to the cloud capabilities, from the control plane perspective, is extremely powerful.
CED: 4K. When and how?
Carlucci: I was at Jeju Island at the KCTA Show, and there were 4K TVs being demonstrated by many of the manufacturers, and we’ve seen the announcement from Netflix about its ultra HD offering. This is a year where the video service providers start experimenting with ultra HD, from both a technology point of view as well as understanding the market. People will be looking to see what consumer uptake might be for it, and figuring out how they’ll position it with respect to their other services.
That’s one of the interesting things happening in 2014. In 2015, I think that’s when it begins to start showing up in peoples’ plans.
Brockman: It’s all about requirements and if someone can win by offering it. There was the transition from SD to HD. At some point you need enough devices in the home to make sense, and then the content has to follow that.
We’ve seen that fail with 3-D, I suppose, that seemed an attempt to sell more televisions, and that failed. And the question is if 4K is fundamentally different?
Carlucci: I’ve heard criticism that this is just the next 3-D, just another flash in the pan. I’ve heard concerns about how close the couch is to the TV. In America, we center our entire living rooms around our televisions, if people need to move their couches just a little bit forward to really get the experience? You know, I think they might just do that.
There are these projections that I need a 110-inch screen that costs me $30,000 to enjoy this experience. I guess I’m skeptical about that. The video quality, as well as the video gamut – back when I was getting my start was on the Columbia Studio lot doing some work with film. The color gamut of film is gigantic. I think where ultra HD helps us beyond the resolution increase – even if I don’t move my couch forward – it will be the color dynamic range.
Thexton: It’s an easier transition than to 3-D. People will end up buying 4K TVs whether they realize it or not. HD was a clean cut. I don’t think 4K will have such a clean cut. It will be an investment decision that people will have to make.
Brockman: People wanted their flat screens; HD came with it. If the cost delta between an HD and a 4K TV comes down enough and people are buying a 4K by default, that might create enough of a base for the content providers and the operators to create the infrastructure required.
Ferris: It will just have to ride the price curve, the same one we’ve seen happen with edge devices, with PCs, with televisions. Look at the price of an HDTV in 2002 versus where it is today. When the price of 4K TVs dips below that break point, people will start buying the TVs, and they’ll be looking for content. A lot of the high value content is live events, sports in particular.
Thexton: We have a set of sporting events that involve the rest of the world [the FIFA World Cup – ed.], and we’re working with the BBC on that.
But many, including the satellite providers, see p60 as a differentiator, because they have the bandwidth.
We showed a demo at NAB and NCTA, basically capturing video in real time and showing real time encoding and decoding in software.
There’s a 4K p60 / 4K p30 argument that carries on. If you actually consider the amount of memory that that one switch involves, from p30 to p60, especially in terms of the decoder, it is pretty significant.
We think there’s a tremendous opportunity for differentiated services between those who have 4K and those who don’t. It’s a natural evolution from a display device perspective.
Think of the HD wars, people used to compete upon the number of HD channels they have, you may see something similar with 4K channels.
Also, with the evolution to higher resolu- tion, I think content providers will become more conscious of security. Content providers like Disney and Sony are already interested in protecting their content, so DRM will become very important again.
CED: What about the Internet of things?
Thexton: The joke about the Internet of everything is: after that, what else could you possibly do?
Brockman: It will be a hugely important trend, but there are two questions: Is it an operator play? And is it no longer the set-top box? Instead is it some other device with a router and other functions? Is it less tightly integrated, and it just runs over the operator’s infrastructure, and it’s not managed in any way? Will it be a gateway that will allow all these devices talk to each other and to the Internet? That’s a model that makes sense.
Thexton: From a software applications point of view, the opportunity is huge. The user experience is going to be the definitive issue. IoE can be a bland infrastructure story, but when you look at how it impacts people in their homes, and it all comes to life. There is an opportunity to really do some cool things, around the combination of security, video, and Wi-Fi.
Carlucci: From the operator perspective, it reinforces the idea of the smart pipe. It gets us competency. As good as we’ve been acquiring content, and helping us set up interconnects with the Internet, I think the last mile that we provide, and the home network that we provide is going to be critical in that vision.
Ferris: We have our view of the networked society. You’ll hear us say “50 billion connected devices by 2020.” A lot of those will be traditional devices, but we think there’s tremendous value connecting other things in the home.
And then there’s some of the things we’ve done with Volvo and the connected car. How do you link formerly disconnected devices? What we’ve experienced already is there are benefits all along the chain.
Thexton: Emerging is the issue of security. It has to work and be reliable, you need the user experience, and thirdly, you consider security.
You can create for yourself a massive security problem. If someone could break into that infrastructure, suddenly they have the power to disable your home, or prevent you from gaining entry to your home, or gaining entry themselves.
Carlucci: Security is an important consideration.
I think if we learned nothing from the Heartbleed incident, it’s that we have not been investing in enough security around service delivery associated with high speed data.
Thexton: It just so happens that the work itself well to addressing these security concerns.
Carlucci: I think we’ve done an outstanding job of securing our content. Our security technology has lasted us 20 years. I expect that to be refreshed now because the algorithms that were available at that time, they’ve served our needs.
That was a result of a significant investment by the community.
With respect to video content, I think the migration to longer keys and more complex ciphers across the board is called for. The 56-bit and 64-bit technology that we used when we got started on this thing, they’re reaching the point where we can see the end of the road. We need to get new technologies in place and get be ramped up when the threats become legitimate.
Ferris: Operators have the physical line into the home, and you look at security, or power, we think the operator will have a nice proposition in connecting all these devices. Is it core to their businesses today? No. But if operators were satisfied with just video, we wouldn’t have cable modems or cable telephony today. They’ll get into other new services to help them expand their growth opportunities.
CED: Video is going mobile. Multi-screen is essentially the in-home version of TV Everywhere, and cable tends to serve both with Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, video consumption on cellular networks hasn’t stopped booming. What’s next with wireless?
FERRIS: We acquired BelAir – we’re deep into Wi-Fi. It’s indicative of how operators are trying to extend the consumer experience outside the home, to places where you’ll want access to high-quality video. You don’t have the bandwidth congestion you have over some of the other access technologies. It’s an interesting ability, among the biggest operators, you have that roaming experience with them.
BROCKMAN: The question remains: what do you do with live video? It’s still more efficient to distribute it on the TV network. So how do you work the transition?
Operators are doing delivery over the network to mobile devices, but the STB is still a walled garden.
So you’ve got distributors delivering TV to mobile phones, while at the same time, you see OTT providers’ desire to get on the first screen – which is still the primary TV consumption device. This is where StreamCast comes in. [The StreamCast system integrates linear video with web-based video, and delivers it as a unified experience to set-top boxes.] It gives operators the option to offer over the top content.
CARLUCCI: Now, you have the hotspots offered cross-operator on unlicensed spectrum, I see that as a stopgap.
Several years back, out in Hawaii, we were exploring using licensed spectrum for delivering data services. This had been something the operators have been thinking about. Do we use licensed spectrum? Do we use unlicensed spectrum? Do we go in with a partner? We’ve seen various business combinations trying to figure out what the right mix is.
From a packaging point of view, mobile data and mobile voice services will be lumped in with [broadband, voice, and video].
I think it is inevitable that economies will drive in that direction. When I look at my mobile data bill, and then at my home cable broadband and voice – if someone came to me with a reduced bundled package and made my life easier with a single bill, I can see jumping on that.
Also, I think the operators have to be looking at the money being made on the mobile side – so much so that folks like AT&T and Verizon are asking why am I even in the line business, in the video business?
FERRIS: The U.S. market is dominated by the two big providers, both customers of ours, and they both have wireline capabilities to deliver television, with U-verse and FiOS. Outside the U.S., and outside North America, you have some operators very similar to the two large operators in the U.S. where they have both wireless and wireline, versus pure wireless.
Some pure wireless operators will go the route of partnering with wireline operators. We’ve seen some interesting consolidations in Europe over the last couple of years of wireless operators moving into the wireline space. The two can be very complementary.
Competition might turn to co-opetition, sharing access technologies – if you have spare capacity, we can help each other. But there are some unique benefits to Wi-Fi and unique benefits to traditional mobile technologies. There may be some interesting things coming along in the future how traditional competitors start to cooperate.
CED: Won’t wireless carriers run into capacity issues?
BROCKMAN: There’s more and more volume being carried on 4G, and if they run into capacity issues, they can always go to smaller cells. That’s the trend. People are even putting broadcast TV on LTE. What they could do is put the most popular broadcast stations on LTE cells, and then broadcast to the end points, including TVs.
FERRIS: We at Ericsson have the ability to help [carriers] deliver content from the broadcast perspective, along with a lot of other companies in the ecosystem. If you have a video stream over mobile broadband, it’s unicast. That gives you a great experience, but it’s very inefficient in dense populations, and when you have a lot of people trying to view similar content?
A use case is where you might have 100,000 people at an event – a NASCAR event, or a college football game – all trying to view specific content. Wireless providers can do broadcast over an LTE network – it’s called “LTE broadcast” or EMBMS. We’ve gone beyond three-letter acronyms at Ericsson.
THEXTON: EMBMS on LTE is typically not enabled. The big question is how quickly multicast LTE will become commercially attractive. It might cannibalize business, rather than complement the unicast.
But Wi-Fi at events and LTE at events? Many of the American operators are making a strong drive toward this goal, and I think it’s a powerful option. The economics of it have got better.
We’re doing an integration of Videoscape with our mobile technologies, and demonstrating video working very successfully, and it touches on ABR, CDN, HEVC. The difference in mobile is that it’s typically about live events, coupled with stadia, and the ability to watch content during events, not so much while you’re on the move or in the office.
FERRIS: If I want to see replays, or different camera angles, it adds a unique proposition for subscribers who are all in one specific location. A wireless operator can very efficiently three or four broadcast streams, instead of delivering unicast streams to thousands upon thousands of people.
CARLUCCI: I differentiate between spectrum and bandwidth when I talk about wireless. You can always increase your bandwidth by decreasing your cell size. As Moore’s Law continues to work and brings down the cost of the transmission stations and the towers as well as increases the robustness of those signals, and how noisy an environment they can operate in? I think that will continue the battle for the wireless front.
The other thing is that we continue to see improvement in video compression with the HEVC algorithm. And then if you combine that with the decreased cell sizes, and you can increase bandwidth, you get some statistical multiplexing benefits as well.
While it’s some time out in the distance, I can see where the wireless services, through codec improvement and cell size reductions, I can see them having the capacity to deliver services.
We’ll see that sooner in other countries that don’t have as much wireline infrastructure that we have. It might take off just like the mobile uptake for high speed data and voice took off very rapidly in those countries.
BROCKMAN: Wireless traditionally hasn’t really been in the television distribution side, but if LTE is being used by broadcast TV channels? That can become an interesting angle. If you’re able to distribute the top broadcast channels over LTE in a broadcast way, so that that’s sufficient. And on demand, using the large amount of bandwidth that LTE provides, then you have a very interesting competitor there.
This would presumably be at the low end. The number of broadcast channels would be less than you have on a satellite. If you have gigabytes a month, that’s less than you get on a cable network.
But that could still be attractive. That might be the piece of the market that doesn’t consume that much traffic at home.
You have the status quo where when you’re at home you’re using the fixed connection, and then you’re using that for most TV viewing. And you’re using a mix of technologies – the existing QAM distribution for video, the on-demand IP tap using Wi-Fi, and then LTE outside the home.
Or maybe you could cut the cord and move everything to your wireless subscription if you’re happy with a limited number of broadcast channels and a limited amount of gigabytes at home per month. I’ve seen presentations where 20 percent of homes use less than 5 gigs a month…, it’s an interesting segment.
It will be fascinating to see how that plays out. By putting broadcast channels on LTE, that could potentially make LTE companies direct competitors with MSOs. There’s an argument for putting LTE modems in smart TVs. Those are all still concepts, but they’re something to look at.
FERRIS: Absolutely. I think there will be the capability for pure wireless players to have the wherewithal to compete in that space. In some cases it will allow operators to move into areas where they don’t have physical assets, but they have wireless spectrum, helping them to extend their footprint.
THEXTON: It will depend on the market. But I think we’ll see an increasing appetite for that. Most of the mobile operators are making less revenue from voice, so the more data, the better, and video really helps in that regard.