IPTV in Canada: An update
In 2005, cable companies began offering cable telephony , also known as VoIP or digital phone service, to its customers for the first time. Since that time, the big four cable companies – Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, and Videotron have taken more than 3.6 million landline phone customers away from the big Canadian telephone companies.
To offset losses in telecommunications, Bell Canada, Bell Aliant, MTS, Sasktel, Tbaytel, and Telus have decided to take on the cable companies by offering cable customers IPTV or Internet Protocol television, a technology that enables telephone companies (Telcos) to deliver television programming through phones lines.
The term IPTV may be new to some readers, however, the technology is not. The technology was first developed in 1990’s by a company later bought by Cisco Systems. Canadian phone companies have been testing and experimenting with IPTV since the 1990’s. In 1999, NBTel was the first to commercially deploy Internet Protocol in Canada. Sasktel and MTS have been offering IPTV services to select customers since 2002 and 2004 respectively. Telus began selling its Telus TV service (now called Optik TV) in late 2005, while Bell Canada began offering its service called Fibe TV in 2010.
So what is the difference between the digital cable service offered by cable companies and the IPTV service offered by telecommunications companies?
From the television viewers perspective, IPTV and digital cable are the same thing. Both IPTV and digital cable services deliver a stream of encrypted data from centralized servers to a digital set-top box in your home. The digital terminal decrypts the data and then passes it on to your television where it is displayed on your screen. Like digital cable, IPTV providers offers hundreds of digital television channels, an on-screen, electronic program guide, high definition programming, pay-per-view, video on demand (VOD), PVR capabilities, and other interactive services.
The only significant difference between IPTV and digital cable is the physical connection used to deliver the information to your home. Telcos use your home’s telephone line, while the cable companies use your home’s coaxial cable connection,
The biggest visual difference you’ll find between IPTV and digital cable is not the television programs or channels but the user interface on your digital set top box. In Canada, the cable companies set top boxes run on proprietary user interfaces developed by the hardware manufacturers, typically Motorola or Cisco. These interfaces are relatively primitive looking and seldom updated. In fact, Rogers cable still employs an electronic program guide on its HD PVR that was designed for tube televisions with a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Compare that to the Canadian IPTV providers who provide set top boxes which run on software called Mediaroom which was developed by Microsoft. First announced in 2007, Media Room is used by more than two dozen telephone companies worldwide and is embedded on more than 15 million set top boxes in more than 7 million homes worldwide.
In addition to offering the type of functionality you’d expect in a cable set top box, Media room has a number of exciting features that makes IPTV a serious challenger to traditional cable including: Multiview, an implementation of picture-in-picture that allows multiple channels or multiple camera angles of the same program to be seen on the screen simultaneously; whole home PVR capabilities which lets you watch programs stored on your PVR in multiple rooms; the ability to stream recorded shows from your PVR to a Windows enabled smartphone; and the ability to turn your XBOX 360 into a digital set top box.
One other significant difference between IPTV and Digital Cable in Canada is the compression scheme used to deliver the signals. Canadian IPTV providers use the superior MPEG-4 video compression scheme while cable companies typically use the older and less efficient MPEG-2 compression scheme. By using the MPEG-4 video compression standard, telcos are able to deliver more channels in the same bandwidth without sacrificing video quality.
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