The Emergence of IPTV & OTT Streaming Technologies

The Emergence of IPTV & OTT Streaming Technologies

It would not be wrong to say that the news and entertainment industry was not prepared for the emergence of the new streaming systems and technologies. The traditional broadcast media controlled by major news and entertainment networks were doing fine while using the relatively modern communication satellites and cables to broadcast their produced and curated content to home, offices, and institutions. They were not prepared for the exponential improvement in digital telecommunication technology and subsequent improvement in smart streaming hardware or devices. The technological development in the Fourth – Generation(4G) Telecommunication networks which linked both to local cellular networks and high-speed broadband cables to reach their customers. It did not take long for the industry to adopt the new internet technology and use Internet Protocol (IP) to stream high-quality audio, video, data, and other services along with providing voice calling support.

Introduction to IPTV Systems

IPTV or Internet Protocol Television emerged as a modern digital media technology system that integrated communications, audio-visual, and multimedia technologies and used the internet and high-speed broadband networks as the channel to provide consumers with a wide range of quality interactive services like digital streaming of news, entertainment, and even games. The technology integrated many all the essential services providing one platform for all communications and entertainment needs. The IPTV systems provided a range of services and applications, like:

Access to News and Entertainment Services: Now customers could use a smart set-top box to access all the news and entertainment content provided by creators and producers through their internet service connection. It gave the power to the customer to demand their preferred content rather than subscribing to content traditionally provided by major broadcast networks. The only investment needed by the user or subscriber was investing in high-definition smart digital devices. They were not limited to consume their news, entertainment, and gaming content on a television set but could stream their preferred media content on a smart mobile device, tablet, Personal Computer, or laptop.

Live Streaming Access: With the IPTV system, consumers were not only able to access produced and recorded news and entertainment content but also could access live streaming events. They did not have to subscribe to broadcast networks or depend on cable TV services to be able to watch live news, entertainment, or sporting events. The viewers had the option to select different or multicast channels to get their preferred media content. The IPTV system design allowed for on-demand video and other content. The content providers just have to store their content on the cloud or their central media server. Larger institutions like the hospitality and medical services did not have to invest in cable TV infrastructure but could provide all news and entertainment content over an internet or broadband network. It has now common to see Hotel IPTV and Hospital IPTV systems installed in these larger institutions.

Interactive Gaming Services: Perhaps the most important development happened in the online gaming services with the adoption and popularity of IPTV systems. The game developer and producers could easily reach their target customers in real-time. The most important feature of gaming services is that it has to be interactive. The users or players must be in constant contact with the gaming servers and also be able to seamlessly connect with other players. With the Internet Protocol (IP) gamers just have to install an Application or related software to have access to the provider’s gaming or media server. The gaming provider candemand certain fees or subscription charges which could be intuitively managed by specific IPTV Middleware software installed on their system.

Access to Distance Education:  The field of education has changed forever with the adoption of Internet Protocol (IP) Streaming services. Now every major educational institution offers its courses online. The IPTV systems support both audio, video, and most importantly live- streaming services. Students now have the convenience of accessing all their study material and even reach their educators using digital smart devices like a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Now every educational institution has digitalized their study material and stored in central servers or on clouds which could be easily accessed by authorized students.

The service operators of IPTV systems either use the Local Area Network (LAN) or a Wide Area Network (WAN) to deliver either live or curated content to their users and subscribers. Generally, the telecommunication service providers, who are also the internet service provider, are responsible for providing IPTV services.The technical requirements of both IPV systems and OTT platforms differ and an individual or organization must investigate the following before investing and installing either of the streaming services.

IPTV network technical requirements: To enjoy the complete benefits of the digital streaming the following things are needed.

Bandwidth: Depending on the number of users the network should have enough bandwidth to provide the high-quality streaming services the system can deliver. The optimal technical requirement would be the installation of infrastructure that can deliver higher broadband speed and quality. The bandwidth requirement can be checked by defining the reach and dimension of the IPTV services planned. It would entail deciding on the number of High-Definition or SD channels the systems provider plan to stream. The bandwidth requirement changes with the number of regular users or subscribers accessing the streaming content, or the expected video-on-Demand requests from the IPTV media server. Once all the above reach and subscribers’ details are known, then the calculation of Bandwidth on each DSL can be done, taking into account both in-access network and the core Internet Protocol (IP) Network.

Network and Access Equipment and Devices: Since the IPTV systems have the capability to both multicast and unicast, the service provider should have the appropriate equipment and the user or subscriber the right smart device. That would mean investing in high-resolution devices to enjoy the benefits of the digital streaming service. Larger institutions like hotels, resorts, hospitals who adopt IPTV systems have to invest in proper digital access devices like smart Television sets or hand-held devices which support both multicasting and unicasting. While adopting IPTV systems and services the most important work would involve checking the network connections and carefully designing the network architecture to avoid future bottlenecks. The initial investigation before the adoption of the digital service would involve checking the vendors and the configuration of the LAN or Wan network equipment in the system. IPTV systems use DSLAMs and DSL modems in the network and verification of multicasting capabilities is important.

Software or Middleware: The software that coordinates with the streaming services and the interface applications on the user or subscriber device called the Middleware, functions as the middle transition layer. It is the Middleware that enables the communication and exchange of data packets over the Internet Protocol (IP) network. It manages and acts on the data exchanged over the various distributed Applications in the system. All data and information pass through this interlinking software and all digital devices depend on this piece of software to function. It is designed to connect multiple applications that transfer data and access databases on the cloud or media servers. The type of Middleware adopted by IPTV streaming services varies depending on the requirements. The software can perform a range of communication functions between the server and the streaming device. It can be used for media content transaction management, security authentication, encryption of internal messages, management of application servers, managing message queues, and even server directories. The most common Middleware software used by IPTV systems is the Transaction- serving software, Application-server Middleware, and Message-management Middleware. Every IPTV service can provide a different type of programming service and the Middleware acts as a digital bridge communicating with different Applications to provide a smooth digital streaming service.

Introducing OTT Platforms

OTT or (Over-the-Top) platforms have gained popularity in recent times as they have managed to provide a wide range of services entertainment, gaming, and communication through the internet. The services they provide are independent of the traditional media networks and most of the OTT platforms provide their own or popular curated content. Especially in the entertainment media, they have managed to out-compete the traditional broadcasting networks. They depend on the telecommunication or internet operator’s network to stream their content to their users or subscribers. These OTT players do not have to invest a lot in terms of equipment at source and their users generally have a smart device at their end. The users have the option of streaming OTT platform content on any of their devices like a smart digital high-definition television or laptop. The OTT streaming business has been adopted by all the major digital communication service and device providers. The future of entertainment and gaming services seem to be in the hands of OTT service providers.

OTT television services is an open internet-based entertainment on-demand video service. The end-user or subscriber has the option to buy an OTT player along with the high-resolution device with a screen or stream the content on their smart device of choice. This convergence of audiovisual Internet Protocol (IP) content along with other related applications over the public internet guarantees the future of the digital streaming platform.

OTT Platform Technical requirements: This digital streaming platform is easier to adopt at the user’s end as it does not require any additional investment in terms of equipment. The user can use their smart digital device to access the content anywhere, anytime. But OTT platform has to take into account the following technical requirement before starting a digital streaming service.

Cloud-based Data Management System: Since it is impossible to upgrade existing media servers to hold all the streaming or on-demand video content requested by users or subscribers, it becomes imperative for OTT platforms to use third-party Cloud-based storage and Data management systems. Delivering high-quality content so that the user can enjoy high-resolution news and entertainment content comes at a cost for the service provider. The users who have moved on from traditional Satellite or cable broadcast network and adopted either IPTV systems or OTT platform delivered content expects instant and endless access to a vast catalog of entertainment content. Other than the demand for high-quality content, the OTT platform providers have to store massive amounts of data, and third-party Cloud-based storage or SaaS (Software as a Solution) services is the only place to store and deliver them to users or subscribers.

Unique Streaming Protocols: The only two high-quality streaming protocols adopted by OTT platforms are (a) RTMP or Real-time Messaging Protocol, and of course (b) HTTPs live streaming. Both these protocols help in the smooth functioning of the OTT platform. The days of non-HTTP streaming are numbered and would be obsolete soon. HTTP streaming manages to give the best user experience as it works across a range of smart devices, not limiting streaming services to any particular channel or browser. It manages to give high-quality streaming at a low cost. The advantages of HTTP streaming are many but the main being it pares down media file downloads into smaller packets of Data when the user initiates a request on the platform. This breakdown of Media data content into smaller chunks limited streaming buffering at the subscriber’s end even if they experience changes in their bandwidth. The streaming protocol adapts to the strength of the user’s internet or broadband connection, even encoding at various times to give the subscriber an uninterrupted streaming experience.

Intuitive Content Delivery Network: To give optimal experience to the user or paid subscriber, all good Ott platforms depend on CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) or a web of servers required to deliver media content to consumers. OTT platforms build their CDNs to have complete control over the delivery of content over the platform. That can also help the OTT platforms expand their service offerings, either entertainment or gaming, without compromising on the streaming quality. Most of the larger OTT platforms build and deploy the CDN based on their business model and objectives. Every OTT platform like to build their proprietary CDN rather than buy or commission one, as it helps them personalize and even encrypt the transfer of data and messages over the platform.

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