The number of IPTV subscribers tracked by various market research firms is shown to be growing steadily across the globe. What makes IPTV service a popular choice for deployment by service providers?
From the subscribers' point-of-view, this technology supports advanced capabilities that enrich the user experience and change the way people watch TV. From the service providers' point-of-view it's an opportunity for expanding their business offering, improving their competitive position and growing their revenues and margins.
Many of the IPTV deployments today are based on the GPON technology in fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-curb topologies. GPON is an excellent fit for IPTV services thanks to its downstream bandwidth capacity, its built-in QoS mechanisms and its inherent support for multicast traffic. Furthermore, as a passive optical network, GPON is inherently more reliable than other access network technologies, and for the long term is also expected to reduce maintenance costs. These factors are accelerating the deployment of GPON, and as I mentioned in my previous blog post on multi-vendor GPON deployments, in many countries it is now moving from the pilot phase to mass deployment.
But keeping IPTV customers happy introduces new challenges. A customer will expect his or her IPTV service to provide high-quality entertainment and will not be tolerant to issues like screen pixelization or picture freeze. The service provider must take special care to prevent such issues, and when they do occur resolve them as quickly as possible.
The common causes for such IPTV problems are lost packets of the video stream, either occasionally or constantly, and jitter in the video stream. Any section of the network – from the IPTV server, through the backbone, the access network, and all the way to the customer's modem and then the set-top box – may be the cause for such problems, and the main challenge for the service provider is to locate the problematic section and solve of the problem from its source.
Proper isolation requires testing in different sections of the network and finding out where the source of the fault resides. The logical methodology of handling such a problem is to start testing it at the customer premises – which is where the problem is experienced – and then move back through the network all the way to the IPTV server.
Various types of monitoring and management tools are available to help troubleshoot these issues, but from the experience of many of the service providers that we've spoken to, the GPON segment is typically the most difficult to troubleshoot, since it is a shared media with limited troubleshooting tools.
When we asked these service providers what would help them most in case of an IPTV issue, they brought up the idea of a testing device that connects to the fiber and tests the throughput and data directly on the PON to provide visibility into this "blind spot". This device should provide field technicians with indications of IPTV service issues and help them quickly identify the source of the problem while they are on site.
TraceSpan's IPTV Analysis Solution, which comes with our GPON Tracer handheld testing device, provides this exact functionality in a user-friendly software application.
It presents tables and graphs of the IPTV measured quality metrics on the different TV channels and highlights quality issues along with possible causes for them, both for problems related to the PON and ones originated in other sections of the network.
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