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Cable/Video

Telefónica Prepares for IPTV Test

Spanish national operator Telefónica SA is arming its field engineers with video test tools as it prepares for the mass uptake of Imagenio, the IPTV service it launched in 2004 (see Telefónica Uses Lucent/Riverstone Combo and Acterna Lands Deal With Telefónica).

Imagenio, the carrier's latest broadband value-added service following the introduction of music downloads and games on demand, experienced limited uptake after its initial 36-channel launch in Barcelona and Madrid last year.

By September it had 4,000 customers, and had doubled that by January this year, though, as Heavy Reading senior analyst Graham Finnie notes in his recent report, Next-Generation Broadband in Europe: The Need for Speed, that was a subdued start, given that 1.6 million lines were capable of delivering the service (see HR Tracks Europe's Need for Speed).

But that Spanish broadband market is heating up, and in an effort to stay one step ahead of its competitors, the incumbent carrier has extended the service to 11 additional cities -- Tarragona, Lleida, Gerona, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Vitoria, Zaragoza, Logroño, Valencia, Alicante, and Asturias -- and is now offering 40 TV channels and 10 pay-per-view channels, including pay-per-view Spanish soccer games (highly attractive content in Spain) in its efforts to hit the 200,000 subscriber mark by the end of this year.

And with competitors such as cable group Grupo Auna, Jazztel plc, and the Spanish operations of T-Online International AG and Wanadoo SA breathing down its neck, Telefónica is taking steps to ensure it can deliver its full range of services with guaranteed service levels.

That's a tough proposition with entertainment services, which introduce protocols such as IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) for TV channel multicasting and RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol) for video on demand. So the carrier's engineers are using Acterna Corp.'s HST-3000 handheld test tool to ensure line and service quality for the Imagenio service. The vendor added video and ADSL2+ capabilities to the handheld product last October, so allowing it to emulate set-top boxes and test connections to the latest IP DSLAMs (see Acterna Offers Video Tester).

Jerry Gentile, general manager of Acterna’s telecommunication field services division, says the vendor's experience in cable network testing and monitoring gave his division a headstart in understanding "what can handle an MPEG signal in an IP domain, in terms of lost packets and general signal quality. Video is very unforgiving."

He says his team has been working on IPTV capabilities since early 2004, and was well placed to meet the demands of carriers such as Telefónica that are aggressively rolling out their services. "The telco video boom has come on really fast," says Gentile. "The large operators usually take a lot longer over launching these sorts of services, and building video-over-IP capabilities is a major challenge. The problems are happening in the networks now, not in the labs."

There's still a lot of development to be done with the product, though, as "there are a lot of technologies underpinning IPTV -- a lot of protocols and different flavors of DSL, and different ways in which QOS can be measured and set up. We have a couple of new features to launch, based on specific carrier needs. That's where our knowledge from existing deployments give us an edge."

He also sees the need to develop products that can test Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) technologies as its middleware becomes deployed in carrier networks (see Microsoft IPTV: Now That's Italian!, Verizon Makes Microsoft Video King, BellSouth Trials Microsoft's IPTV, and Swiss IPTV Trial Hits 'Glitches'). Telefónica is currently using a home-developed middleware system to manage and delivery its Imagenio service.

Gentile believes that, with the exception of several specialist products from small test vendors, Acterna has a headstart in the field service video test market, "and we can offer ADSL and Ethernet interfaces, while others can only offer one."

But there's certainly competition, especially from Consultronics Ltd., which launched its hand-held video over DSL test unit last June, and claims to have shipped units to several Tier 1 carriers in North America.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading




Light Reading has recently published a report – Who Makes What: IP DSLAMs – prefatory to a comprehensive Heavy Reading study of this rapidly developing market. It includes an interactive survey, enabling readers to share their views on the requirements IP DSLAM suppliers should be expected to meet. You may read the report here.

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