IPTV a 'non-starter'

Johannesburg, 26 Jul 2007

Without a dedicated network established for Internet Protocol television (IPTV) services, the new broadcasting craze will be a non-starter, say observers.

However, broadcasting players are sticking to their guns and preparing to deliver IPTV services as soon as possible.

Last year, international research firm Gartner said it expected worldwide IPTV subscribers to reach 48.8 million by 2010.

However, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says South Africans are unlikely to jump on the bandwagon as long as the current telecommunications regime is in place.

"The bandwidth capping policies of local broadband providers are clearly a problem, given the size of files that need to be transmitted in an IPTV environment. I think the broadcast players are focusing on the technology and hoping the bandwidth issue will go away."

He warns: "It is very clear that, while current bandwidth policies are in place, IPTV will be a non-starter in SA."

Testing WebTV

Goldstuck's comments are echoed in the testing conducted by Internet Solution's technologist and Internet evangelist Greg de Chasteauneuf.

De Chasteauneuf tested the requirements and performance of Steve Job's AppleTV and Netherlands-based Joost.

"On average, in an hour of viewing, 320MB will be downloaded and 105MB uploaded. So, for those who have a 1GB cap, about two hours of viewing time is available. For those with a 3GB cap, about seven hours' viewing time is available. And that is the delivery of 'near-TV' resolution, not high-definition broadcasting," he says.

When de Chasteauneuf calculated the bandwidth requirements against the cost of a 3GB cap on a Telkom 4Mbps ADSL line, he found that two hours of viewing would cost around R216 and seven hours would cost around R650. These costs excluded subscription prices to the content services.

"When you look at these calculations, it's clear that IPTV service only makes sense in an uncapped environment," he says.

Multichoice's GM of new media, Richard Fyffe, agrees, pointing out the services tested by IS were not even true IPTV offerings.

"We need to distinguish between WebTV and IPTV. WebTV is a best-effort service, while true IPTV is based on broadcast quality viewing. For instance, you wouldn't want to watch WebTV on your big-screen TV, but with IPTV you should be able to do that without any problems. If you were to do the same test with an IPTV service, a 1GB cap would probably be chewed up by just a 30 second clip," he says.

Still coming

However, Telkom Media spokesperson Chris van Zyl says the company's decision to pour R7 billion into the development of an IPTV offering is not misguided, despite the calculations.

"IPTV will not be delivered on SA's existing infrastructure. Telkom is busy with the roll-out of its next-generation network using ADSL 2+ technology. This technology enables the IPTV traffic to be separated from the Internet traffic. We don't know what decisions will be made about the capping of Internet traffic, but the IPTV traffic will be uncapped and will not impact on a customer's Internet usage at all," he says.

Fyffe, meanwhile, says Multichoice has conducted IPTV trials with Telkom and is not ignoring the opportunities presented by new media.

"We are looking at new media options like offering catch-up viewing on our Web site and video-on-demand services. For now, however, we believe satellite is the best method of delivering television services to people," he explains.

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