Monthly Archives: May 2009

Farncombe: Pay-TV shift to two-way networks will mean move away from smartcard-based conditional access systems

Farncombe Consulting Group, which hosts this blog, has just published a new White Paper on how the Digital TV Conditional Access sector will be affected by the shift towards broadband-enabled pay-TV networks.

Written by Farncombe’s own highly-experienced group of in-house video security experts, the White Paper assesses the pros and cons of using smartcard-based and cardless systems in different types of pay-TV set-up, ranging from traditional one-way broadcast TV operations to broadband-enabled two-way IP and connected home networks.

The paper concludes that while smartcards continue to remain the solution of choice for protecting one-way systems, cardless-based solutions are preferable for protecting video content in IPTV, ‘over-the-top’ and home networking contexts.

For one-way networks migrating to broadband connectivity, meanwhile, both types of system have their advantages, depending largely on the availability, reliability and quality of the broadband network.

The White Paper’s authors go on to suggest that since the traditional one-way pay-TV world is slowly but surely changing into a two-way one, it is likely that there will be a gradual shift away from smartcard-based systems in favour of cardless ones – led by the digital cable sector.

A PDF of the new White Paper can be obtained from Farncombe by clicking here and filling in a simple registration form.

ICO reiterates opposition to EC S-Band allocation award, continues to ‘assess its options’

Not that it adds that much to the story, but – following the award of the European S-Band frequencies to Solaris Mobile/Inmarsat – ICO, which was passed over, has reiterated its opposition to the whole allocation process – officially known as Decision No. 626/2008/EC.

In a statement released last week, ICO said it was “challenging this process, having initiated legal proceedings in September 2008 in the European Court of First Instance seeking the annulment of Decision No. 626/2008/EC of the European Parliament.”

ICO argues that the Decision – essentially the one that gave rise to the European beauty contest – is illegal and should be annulled “pursuant to Articles 230 and 231 of the Treaty establishing the European Community”. ICO noted that as these legal proceedings had not been completed by the October 2008 deadline to submit applications to the EC to provide mobile satellite services in the S-Band above Europe, it decided to go ahead and file an application anyway, ‘without prejudice.’

Michael Corkery, acting chief executive officer of ICO, is quoted in the statement as saying: “ICO has spent years clearing the S-band worldwide, has an operational satellite using this frequency band and is registered in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Master International Frequency Register (MIFR). We believe the just-concluded EU process jeopardizes years of international cooperation and coordination that has governed satellite communications worldwide.” Corkery concluded that “ICO will continue assessing its options in defending its international legal rights.”

This doesn’t give any clue as to whether ICO will be asking for a judicial review of Ofcom’s proposal to recommend that the ITU allocations referred to above be rescinded, but it’s only got until the end of this week.

Solaris Mobile S-Band mobile satellite services threatened by ‘anomaly’ on Eutelsat W2A bird

There’s never a dull moment in the continuing European S-Band saga!

Solaris Mobile – the Astra/Eutelsat JV hotly tipped to share the S-Band frequencies with Inmarsat (when the EC finally makes up its mind) – released a statement this morning saying that the W2A satellite carrying the S-Band payload, which was successfully launched on April 3 – has some sort of problem.

Here’s the full text:

“Solaris Mobile and its shareholders Eutelsat Communications and SES Astra announce that the current evaluation of the in-orbit tests of the S-band payload on the W2A satellite launched on April 3 indicate an anomaly which requires further tests. Additional analysis is consequently planned with the satellite’s prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space, in order to identify the cause of the anomaly and to fully assess the extent of the S-band payload’s capability to provide mobile satellite services to the European marketplace. Solaris Mobile remains confident of its ability to meet the commitments made according to the European Selection and Authorisation Process, under which it has applied for S-band spectrum to provide these services. The company is evaluating a range of options to compensate for this situation and expects to make further announcements in due course.”

Regardless of whether the anomaly turns out to be trivial or not, it comes at a sensitive time: as mentioned above, the ‘European Selection and Authorisation Process’ for allocating the S-Band frequencies, which Solaris Mobile wants to use for DVB-SH mobile broadcasting, has yet to formally announce the result of its deliberations.

With one of the other candidates, ICO, pursuing legal action in the European Court of First Instance over the whole procedure at the same time, there’s every prospect of a significant further delay, at least. At worst, Solaris Mobile might get passed over, with the frequencies being awarded to someone else (e.g. Inmarsat plus ICO).

The critical date is May 23rd – the date by which ICO has to decide whether to ask for a judicial review of a previous decision by Ofcom to deprive it of its existing ITU S-Band frequencies or not. This in turn will trigger Ofcom’s decision on whether to go ahead and ask the ITU to relieve ICO of its previous S-Band frequency allocati0ns.

Connected TV will keep you posted…..

**Update**Reuters has just released a story that the EC has today awarded the S-Band frequencies to Solaris Mobile and Inmarsat regardless of the above-mentioned glitch. Possibly the EU announcement was therefore already in the system before the W2A anomaly was known about. So the scene is now set for a possible challenge from ICO….

IMS Research: 65m homes worldwide able to watch Internet video on TV sets last year

Some interesting stats and predictions from Texas-based IMS Research in their new study Market Opportunities for Internet Video to the TV.

IMS reckons that an estimated 65 million households worldwide had the capability of viewing Internet video on their television set at the end of 2008, up 134% on 2007. The ‘vast majority’ of these were doing so via a game console or ‘proprietary device’, notes IMS, but expects that to change in the future: “it is expected that households using a PC to deliver Internet video to the TV set via a media centre PC and a media extender (or digital media adapter) will see an 85% CAGR through 2013 reaching nearly 60 million households by that time,” says the research firm.

Shane Walker, research manager and author of the study, puts that down to projected price-falls in Windows Media Centre devices, media centres in general, and extenders, with media centre costs falling by as much as 15% annually during the next five years.

After 2013, however, the story changes, as more advanced Internet TV functionality is delivered by digital TV set-top boxes. This will cause a drop in demand for media extenders, although IMS believes that for one category – media centres connected to the TV via a device other than an extender – demand will continue to grow, and they will slowly replace DVRs.

On the whole, Connected TV thinks these are reasonable scenarios, although perhaps the role of the hybrid, IP-connected set-top box is not accorded enough importance given current developments in Europe and elsewhere. Hybrid DTT STBs should arrive in the UK in quantity next year, and there are already substantial numbers of STBs in the UK with at least theoretical broadband capability – namely the later BSkyB PVRs and current Freesat boxes.

It is true, however, that the notion of offering the full panoply of Internet-based, over-the-top video services to the TV through a set-top box is fraught with practical and technical difficulties, so if IMS is talking about that type of advanced capability (rather than a walled garden that might, for example, only offer one or two services such as the BBC’s iPlayer), a 2013 timeline may not be that unreasonable.

Also, the idea that the TV-connected media centre might eventually replace the PVR in this type of environment is not that implausible. By the time you have added a hard drive, IP capability and home networking features to a set-top box, what you have is pretty close to a PC-derived media centre – so why reinvent the wheel? That is likely to be one of the central battlegrounds between traditional pay-TV operators and the ‘over-the-top’ video providers in the coming years.

VimpelCom’s ‘Beeline TV’ IPTV service launches in Russia with Microsoft Mediaroom

Russian telco VimpelCom, which tied up an agreement with Microsoft to deploy Mediaroom just under a year ago (see our previous post), has launched its Beeline TV service – the first implementation of Microsoft’s IPTV technology in the Russian/CIS market.

The move follows a successful commercial trial of the Microsoft platform by VimpelCom under the Corbina TV brand. Corbina Telecom is a subsidiary of VimpelCom.

Intriguingly, Microsoft’s original press release about the deal said the service would launch in ‘mid-2008′ – a statement we repeated at the time. Connected TV now assumes that was a typo! Otherwise, there’s been almost a year’s delay. Microsoft has now told Connected TV that a mid-2008 commercial launch had indeed been envisaged, and accepts there has effectively been a delay of nearly a year. Microsoft puts this down to the fact that it had agreed the trial with Corbina Telecom before its acquisition by VimpelCom.

Whatever the precise reasons for the delay, the deployment is a potentially major one for Microsoft: Beeline currently has in excess of 800,000 broadband subscribers in Russia, but the VimpelCom Group also has companies operating in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Armenia.

As of September 30, 2008, VimpelCom’s total number of active subscribers in Russia and the CIS was 57.8 million (including 45.1 million in Russia, 5.6 million in Kazakhstan, 3.1 million in Uzbekistan and 2.4 million in Ukraine).

Beeline TV subs will be able to access typical PVR functionality, some 3,000 on-demand programmes and movies, 125 channels (including 4 HD channels), as well as soccer matches from the Russian Premier League, Russian Championship and indoor Russian Championship.

Subscribers to the Beeline TV service will be offered the base package (100 channels) for 270 Rubles (€6.16) per month and the advanced package (125 Channels) for 495 Rubles (€11.29) per month with on-demand shows from 5-100 Rubles (€0.11-2.28).