Quality assurance

IPTV operators are waking up to the fact that the quality of video being displayed in the homes of TV viewers is becoming an increasingly important factor.

While competition remains fierce in the pay-TV market place, quality control is key and service providers are starting to address the issue.

For IneoQuest’s (IBC 4.A99) vice-president of strategic solutions Gino Dion, Quality of Experience is becoming an important area of concern for the industry. “Service providers realise this is the key to winning new subscribers and keeping existing ones,” he says. “They have realised that a proactive approach to quality assurance not only saves operating expenses by identifying network trouble spots that could have the potential for impacting video quality but also reduces customer churn by enabling faster repair and response times.”

Eric Conley, CEO of digital media monitoring company Mixed Signals (IBC 2.C19) agrees that service providers are likely to invest more into ensuring they provide the best QoE. At IBC, Mixed Signals will demonstrate Sentry, its flagship content monitoring solution that includes new features like the Executive Reporting Package and the Video and Audio QoE Scoring System, which the company claims to be the first solution of its kind that tells service providers precisely how much each video and audio error impacts subscribers. “Simply put, not all errors are created equal, with some causing no significant impact to the subscriber, while others can ruin the viewing experience,” says Conley. “However, first-generation tools that only detect packet loss are unable to provide any distinction, only noting that packet loss has occurred.  The result is that headend personnel treat all errors with equal urgency…or lack thereof, which in turn results in subscriber complaints when major issues are not quickly solved.” Mixed Signals addresses this issue with its video and audio QoE scoring system, which enables service providers to gauge how much each video and audio impairment affects subscribers.

One concern raised by a Bridge Technologies (IBC 1.A30) spokesperson is  that IPTV service providers have sometimes been guilty of having in-depth knowledge of IT but little of broadcasting technology. “The realisation that errors creeping in at one point in the delivery chain can cause problems downstream – and that problems can ‘cross the divide’ between broadcast and IT technologies – has come about only gradually,” says Bridge Technologies. Another issue is that some monitoring systems available on the market only give a view of limited parts of the IPTV delivery chain, and still reflect the divide between broadcast and IT worlds. “Providers have therefore tended to bolt on unrelated monitoring systems in a bits-and-pieces way, without ever getting the overall, end-to-end view of the whole delivery chain,” says the spokesperson.

Winfried Schultz, marketing manager of test and measurement company Tektronix (IBC 8.C75) says that service provider requirements will focus more on the video layer going forwards to enable high-quality and high availability services. The company’s technology is script-based, and Schultz says means it can be easily tailored to measure and correlate various kinds of different parameters. “This is an absolute must in the current stage of IPTV rollout, as operators are still encountering technical challenges they did not expect to see,” he says. Tekronix has taken the approach of separating the network into different layers: transport and video. The challenge today, says Schultz is to isolate parameters from different layers, correlate them and then build a trend for each one, which helps to identify issues before they become visible for the viewer.

John Williams, director of emerging markets at JDSU’s communications test and measurement business segment says that service providers need to move to a centralised test approach and only dispatch engineers to fix problems, rather than find problems. “To make management of IPTV more accessible to a wider user within the operator, the test systems must have more intelligence built into the system and an intuitive user interface that allows users to quickly isolate and fix IPTV issues,” Williams says. This is an area JDSU has prioritised its IPTV R&D activities.

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