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Fast-track to satellite DTH 2.0

November 18, 2020
Planning the transition from MPEG-MPTS to Native IP

While Direct-to-Home (DTH) digital satellite television has been around since the mid-’90s, it has not improved much over time, other than for the introduction of new video codecs and formats. Watching television delivered via satellite was and still is limited to the television screen, in most cases connected to a bespoke satellite receiver decoder. But consumer expectations and video consumption habits have changed, driven by the advent of over-the-top video streaming (OTT) and the ubiquity of personal electronic devices. Fortunately, the new technologies developed for OTT streaming are compatible with the satellite distribution of live and on-demand video services to all consumer devices, as consumers expect, and not only to the TV screen. In this blog post, we’ll examine what constitutes delivering Native IP video over satellite, along with the challenges that its market introduction presents. In addition, we’ll suggest what a market introduction plan should contain to transition to Native-IP-based satellite DTH 2.0.

 

What is Native IP, and where is it at?

In a previous blog post published mid-2019, we explained how the broadcast of live video channels via satellite using video packaging formats, such as HLS or MPEG-DA

SH, revolutionizes video content distribution by natively addressing all types of screens. We called for the creation of an industry standard to accelerate market adoption. Another blog post followed, shedding light on actual field deployments, demonstrating the readiness of the technology and its benefits for various use cases.

At the turn of this year, amid growing momentum, several industry players started to join forces, and convinced others at DVB that the time was right to produce a Native IP specification.

But what is Native IP for satellite? Simply stated, it is the possibility to deliver media content via satellite, content that is natively packaged for delivery over any IP capable distribution network, using the same media packaging formats that have enabled OTT streaming. Once completed, this significant step forward will put satellite on par with other media content distribution technologies.

A first important milestone was achieved this summer: the approval by the DVB Steering Board of the commercial requirements for Native IP video delivery over broadcast and broadband satellite. This subsequently triggered the technical work in the DVB Technical Module, and the creation of the new Native IP working group (TM-NIP) at the beginning of November to deliver a specification and implementation guidelines.

 

But from specification to broad market adoption, we have a way to go

Commercial demand is likely to be initially in the B2B sectors, for example delivering live television channels or popular live events via satellite to public Wi-Fi hotspots, or addressing satellite mobility use cases (such as maritime or in-flight entertainment). However, it is feared that the demand for solutions targeting the B2C segment, such as next-generation DTH, may still be many years away. The most heard concern is that, for broadcasters, deploying Native IP would require additional transmission capacity for quite a long time on top of the conventional MPEG-MPTS-based transmissions, until the legacy MPEG-MPTS-based transmissions could be switched off.

Where we are at today (since 1995 …)

However, when a new technology proves to be mature, benefits to consumers as well as content distributors, and offers good prospects for profitability, the next step for the industry is to identify the viable migration path that permits its early market introduction and the progressive withdrawal of the previous generation.

For technologies that rely on legacy consumer premise equipment, migration can obviously not happen overnight. The migration path is usually long, but as with the shutdown of analog television or the transition from MPEG-2 standard definition to MPEG-4 high-definition video, the recipe for success is good planning and a willingness to move forward. Given the long legacy this industry has to live with when new generations of television sets or set-top boxes hit the market, we believe that now is the right time to engage in serious planning activities for introducing Native IP delivery to satellite broadcast.

 

Here is what such a transition plan could leverage
  1. OTT streaming playout facilities

Because OTT streaming and broadband connectivity are now ubiquitous in most countries, almost all live television channels or high-popularity live events are or can be made available as OTT streaming services. Moreover, most content providers have OTT streaming playout capabilities that can be leveraged for native IP distribution via satellite.

  1. Satellite transmission bandwidth

Data show that for a 150-channel television service, the top 15 popular channels capture close to 60% of total viewing time, and the top 50 capture about 80%. When one compares the OTT streaming costs with the satellite broadcast costs, the crossover point is at circa 50,000 viewing hours per day. Said differently:

  • Distribution of satellite TV channels or live events that have a main screen audience of 50,000 viewing hours per day or less should be via OTT streaming
  • Conversely, high-popularity TV channels or live events that have a second-screen audience in consumer homes of more than 50,000 viewing hours per day should also be distributed using Native IP via satellite.

We can share calculation details with interested readers, but our conclusion is simple: satellite broadcasters should soon plan to deliver long-tail TV channels and low-popularity live events preferably via OTT only, whereas high-popularity channels and attractive live events should be simulcast with Native IP in addition to legacy MPEG-MPTS, such that these popular services could immediately reach any consumer-owned device, and not just the television set.

To this end, a viable migration path could be to reduce the number of live TV channels distributed by satellite (offloading the low audience channels to OTT distribution only), and reuse the freed satellite spectrum to simulcast the high-audience channels or live events in Native IP, addressing all consumer devices. Besides, the time periods of low audience of a popular channel (e.g., overnight) could even be used to push targeted content via satellite (such as advertisement spots) so as to optimize satellite bandwidth usage, by offloading the low-audience events to OTT streaming during these time periods.

  1. Legacy set-top boxes

Besides ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, more than 50% of the television screens in use in developed countries are now smart-TV devices that can give access to OTT content via their wired or wireless broadband access interface. One could argue that this leaves the question of legacy consumer boxes unanswered, but it is interesting to note that the expected Native IP technology is such that its integration in existing consumer device architectures will be easy, providing a retrofit option for field-deployed devices.

To play Native IP content, the software of legacy set-top boxes may have to be adapted to tune to the relevant frequency, acquire and process ad-hoc service information data, cater for MPE[1] (or possibly ULE[2]) de-encapsulation of the multicast IP stream, and get its built-in player software to process and decode the ABR-packaged audio/video live channel of choice. But obviously same codecs as for broadcast can be used with Native IP, such as H.264 for video and AAC for audio, meaning there is no technical barrier to its immediate introduction on MPEG-MPTS-based broadcast networks and its integration in legacy consumer premise equipment.

Furthermore, with the addition of a small server software agent, any set-top box can leverage its built-in communication interface to stream over the consumer LAN the Native IP content to other consumer-owned devices. Concurrent access to Native IP content with internal legacy DTH processing will be best addressed with at least a dual-tuner set-top box.

[1] Multi-Protocol Encapsulation: a data link layer protocol defined by DVB which provides means to carry packet-oriented protocols (like for instance IP) on top of MPEG transport stream.

[2] Unidirectional Lightweight Encapsulation, another data link layer protocol, with lower overhead than MPE, which was developed and standardized within the IETF.

In a not too distant future…

 

By integrating Broapdeak’s nanoCDN™ software agent in their twin-tuner set-top boxes, some vendors have already proven that Native IP can run on low-performance satellite STB models. They’ve also demonstrated Native-IP/ABR-packaged live video internally decoded for the display on the attached television set, while simultaneously streaming the same Native IP live channels out to other consumer-owned devices.

4. Native IP satellite gateways

Some set-top box vendors have already integrated Broadpeak’s nanoCDN Native IP solution in their satellite receiver models, delivering on the promise that Native IP is a cost-effective alternative that can be immediately deployed on low-cost chipsets developed for set-top boxes. Their products can also be used as a satellite demodulation and routing gateways only, or headless satellite gateways as some call them.

Consequently, a Native IP satellite delivery service could be immediately deployed, targeting consumer-owned devices as the first step of a migration plan that should also leverage legacy set-top boxes and next-generation models designed with Native IP in mind.

 

In short :

Prerequisite Status Comments
Proven technology Field-proven Pending Native IP standardization, Broadpeak’s nanoCDN technology already commercially deployed.
OTT streaming playout facility Available Most if not all satellite broadcasters and pay-TV platforms have OTT streaming operations in place.
Availability of satellite bandwidth Available Supplemental satellite bandwidth is available, but a smart transition can also be managed without requiring additional satellite transponder bandwidth allocation, as we suggest above.
Critical mass of consumer-owned devices Ubiquitous Consumers will love accessing their popular satellite TV channels on their own devices.
Satellite reception gateways Available Some models are already available, and vendors are ready to support market growth.
Compatibility with legacy set-top boxes Demonstrated Software of eligible set-top boxes can be upgraded to support Native IP redistribution across consumer homes.

 

Native IP as a catalyst for fast innovation

Native IP is essential to modernize satellite distribution and leverage the fast-paced innovations in OTT streaming technologies. As a first example, the new AV1 video codec is already used by some OTT streaming platforms, allowing content providers to further reduce transmission bandwidth requirements and/or improve video quality for the same bit rate. Native IP will immediately bring the new codec benefits to satellite video distribution, with no need for a satellite broadcaster to invest in a new generation bespoke set-top boxes. Another example is targeted ad insertion or replacement, largely deployed in OTT streaming, which satellite broadcasters could also rapidly deploy.

 

In summary

Although some elements of standardization are still missing for Native IP to become a standard in full force, the underpinning technology as provided by Broadpeak in its nanoCDN product is already available and in commercial operations, powering Astro Sini for example. When planning and implementing, as soon as possible, the integration of such technology in current and next-generation consumer premise equipment, content distributors and broadcasters can foresee that they may be able to switch off legacy MPEG-MPTS broadcast in about five years or so. This will allow them to finally operate all of their broadcasting and OTT streaming with one single ABR-based distribution platform, rather than operating two siloed ecosystems forever. Obviously, new satellite broadcast services to be launched any time in future should be launched right away using Native IP, rather than creating yet another MPEG-MPTS legacy.

Native IP is a clear opportunity for significant short-term cost savings, greater consumer satisfaction, and paves the way for a successful DTH 2.0!

 

About The Author

Jean-Claude Sachot is the Business Development Director for Broadpeak. He works with global pay-TV operators, helping them take advantage of the company’s unique and innovative video delivery solutions. Jean-Claude has more than 30 years of experience in digital video processing and delivery, with strong engineering expertise and business acumen. Prior to working at Broadpeak, Jean-Claude was the vice president of pre-sales – video CPEs at Technicolor. He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Institut Universitaire de Technology – Nantes, a master’s degree in science and technology from the University of Nantes – France, and has attended the THOMSON Leadership Program at the Harvard Business School.

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