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Deutsche Telekom Tests Set-Top Virtualization

Mari Silbey
9/6/2013
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After completing successful trials throughout 2012 and 2013, Deutsche Telekom AG showed off a virtual set-top prototype in public for the first time this week in Berlin.

With the help of ActiveVideo Networks Inc., the German telco has been testing cloud TV delivery in both Germany and Greece, and now says it is moving forward with trials in Croatia, after which is will discuss "initial marketing strategies."

The Deutsche Telekom news is important because it suggests a new wave of TV services may be on the horizon. By hosting set-top functions in the cloud, operators can experiment with offering TV service on devices users already own, or through an inexpensive adapter such as the Chromecast HDMI dongle now being popularized by Google. (See Chromecast Gives Google a Home Run.)

If the devices are cheap enough, operators could even make them free to consumers who want to test out TV service, much like AOL sent out free CDs in the 1990s to promote its Internet service.

The Deutsche Telekom TV trials dovetail with the operator's pilot TeraStream project in Croatia, which incorporates software-defined networking (SDN) features as part of an advanced network architecture deployment. Television services could help Deutsche Telekom generate significant revenue from the network, in much the same way they currently bring in income for Google on its fiber network in Kansas City.

Deutsche Telekom's cloud TV tests are an important data point for service providers without legacy set-tops in the field. However, they also provide real-world evidence of cloud TV's viability to established players that are testing a possible transition to cloud delivery. If Deutsche Telekom can pull it off on a massive scale, it will show other service providers that the approach is scalable.

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

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David Dines
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David Dines,
User Rank: Blogger
9/10/2013 | 4:47:27 PM
Re: Less clutter -- what about Service Uptime?
Great discussion everyone.  A couple of observations.  

As industry observers, I think we are all very interested in the outcome of this trial from a technical, a user acceptance and a business model lens.

Regarding technical issues like latency and bandwidth, there are interesting developments like vectoring and HEVC that will make it more feasible over DSL. This would enable enhanced service rollout to a bigger footprint while waiting for a deep fiber or FTTH buildout. Regarding availability, given that it is video the expectations are probably lower than for voice or data, so the uptime of the DSL line is probably not going to be a major sticking point.  

Regarding user acceptance, another item on the plus side of the ledger: the cloud approach (in part facilitated by ActiveVideo) enables DT to deliver more modern and interactive interfaces and apps, which should increase customer satisfaction (no more grid guides or the need to search in multiple libraries - I do not want to figure out if my program is in VOD or catchup). 

From a business model standpoint, it seems that it would be very hard to beat given the CAPEX and OPEX savings, so as long as it is acceptable to customers, the incentive to move in this direction will be very strong.

 
albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
9/9/2013 | 9:32:06 PM
Re: Less clutter -- what about Service Uptime?
I agree with Ray. I'm not sure DSL offers enough bandwidth to make this kind of service work over the long term. I would think DT or whoever else would have to turn to fiber of at least HFC to really make a go of it. But, then again, I never expected a traditional telco to be the first to launch this kind of service publicly. What do the rest of you think about DSL vs. HFC vs. fiber?
Dredgie
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Dredgie,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/9/2013 | 5:15:57 PM
Re: Less clutter -- what about Service Uptime?
I would have thought the only thing you are doing with a prem-based STB when the broadband connection is down (DSL, HFC or whatever) is watching content on the DVR. Yeah – You couldn't do that with a vSTB, but I guess you *could* record, even when the broadband connection is down, so you win some and you lose some! :-)
Ray@LR
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[email protected],
User Rank: Blogger
9/9/2013 | 7:48:56 AM
Re: Less clutter -- what about Service Uptime?
I'm sure every broadband access service provider is going down this route, but here is a question....

Is this ervice only viable if a customer has 100% broadband service uptime? How many people will sign up for a STB service that relies on DSL line availability?

 
oliverfriedrich
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oliverfriedrich,
User Rank: Light Beer
9/7/2013 | 1:48:31 AM
Re: Less clutter
DOCSIS ist not being used in our current approach. We concentrate on DSL and fibre...Regarding NFV and SDN: Fibre is in focus here in our exercise. And yes: From my perspective DT is more or less the first testing the vSTB concept in an all-IP context. That's different to Comcast and the others. Latency is pretty fine by the way, also over DSL. :)
spiral
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spiral,
User Rank: Light Beer
9/6/2013 | 8:39:18 PM
Re: Less clutter
albreznick,

I think you may have misinterpreted the article. It says that DT showed off their vSTB solution for the first time to the public, not that it was the first time a vSTB solution has been demonstrated or deployed in general.

The platform on which this solution is built is the CloudTV platform by ActiveVideo. NA customers include Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and CableVision. They have many white papers available on their website (activevideo.com) detailing the scalability and latency performance.
Dredgie
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Dredgie,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/6/2013 | 7:11:31 PM
Re: Less clutter
One word: CableLabs. I'm not sure they are even engaged at looking at DOCSIS + NFV. But hopefully someone is going to tell me I'm wrong. 
albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
9/6/2013 | 5:29:02 PM
Re: Less clutter
Yes, it seems almost too good to be true, doesn't it? But I wonder why a big European telecom firm seems to be the first to test this concept out. Why aren't North American cable operators trying this out already? Also, Mari, do you know anything about the latency factor with this service? And the reliability of it?  
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
9/6/2013 | 5:04:36 PM
Less clutter
This seems like such a smart move, just aesthetically even. There used to be so many boxes under the TV -- DVD players and STBs included. The move to the cloud and Internet streaming gives you a lot more options for TV placement. 
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