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Vincent Lui (North America) - The IPTV Monitoring Frontier

The way people watch TV is changing. Today's remote control provides a static interaction between the viewer and the TV set, with the viewer limited to changing channels and adjusting their set's operation. Internet Protocol television, or IPTV, is in its infancy but it promises to make the remote control virtual. In so doing IPTV will extend the viewer's interaction from their sets to the carrier's network and all the way to the content providers.

Within one to two years, it will be difficult to find a new TV without an Internet connection. In a year or two after that viewers will be able to interact with a live NBA game, football match or concert, where they could point at the image of an athlete, a team scrimmage, or a performer. A picture-in-picture window will appear which could display career or game statistics and upcoming events, and give the viewer the ability to click through to additional information and product promotions seamlessly.

As people become more connected digitally and socially, IPTV reinforces the power of time- and space-shifted TV watching patterns. We no longer have to sit through commercials. The network-based VCR allows us to toggle content between multiple TV sets as well as smartphones when we are on the go. Friends can interact simultaneously on the same screen, which then leads to flipping through channels of common interest. Other on-demand video and Internet content is also blurring the definition of a "TV channel." Is there a difference between a movie from Netflix vs. one from HBO? What about two-way video communications as a personalized channel (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, etc.?) For advertisers, the "new" big screen is a goldmine if they can push the right ad at just the right time to the right viewer.

Capabilities like these present an array of drastically more difficult network monitoring challenges from current practices. It's not enough that a high-definition image be flawless over an IP network from origination to the screen. The viewer's interactive experience must be as fast, seamless, and error-free as if they were doing no more than changing the channel. Quality of Experience (QoE) and the monitoring of QoE have become the name of the game. For example, in a multicast environment, the popular broadcast or premium channels are often cached at the edge of the network closer to the end user to ensure faster channel switching experience.

There are many QoE stakeholders in the picture-content providers, middleware vendors, operators, video network equipment vendors, advertisers, device manufacturers, application developers, etc. How do all of them cope with these challenges?

 

From Monitoring Media Content to Monitoring Signaling

 

One of the key underlying monitoring challenges for all involved in delivering IPTV is that the traffic pattern of the IPTV network will shift dramatically from today's largely media data to an explosion of control or signaling data as two-way communications between the TV and the network increase. This is similar to what happened when smartphones began showing up on mobile networks-the iPhone in particular-all of a sudden there was a huge need to monitor and correlate control plane signaling data.

Those involved in IPTV delivery should define their monitoring requirements to include the ability to see signals in near real time, at 10 Gbps now and at 40/100 Gbps in the near future with minimal latency. Traffic capture devices such as intelligent network taps should supplement switch SPAN ports for the source of monitored data because switches mask events that affect video, such as jitter and microbursts. Network personnel will want to aggregate the monitored traffic, removing extraneous information, in order to fully utilize centralized monitoring tools.

The IPTV network monitoring infrastructure, including traffic capture devices, needs to be highly flexible and scalable to anticipate the ever-changing stress that new services and usage patterns will place on the network. Ideally it should operate as a system in order to provide total and fault-tolerant monitoring coverage, while at the same time minimizing monitoring costs.

So, the next time you sit back in front of the TV with the popcorn, take a look at your remote, and appreciate that while TV and IPTV have come a long way, IPTV monitoring still has a long way to go.

 

Vincent Lui is Director of Corporate Strategy, VSS Monitoring, Inc.

 

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