Luxembourg-based, fixed satellite service provider SES has certified the first receiver compatible with its Sat>IP protocol. The set-top box (STB), the Inverto Multibox Sat-IP, was developed by fellow Luxembourgers Inverto Digital Labs.
Sat>IP is a protocol developed by BSkyB, Craftwork and SES which demodulates incoming satellite signals and converts them for in-home distribution over the IP-home-network, for up to 4 TV channels, rather than as modulated radio frequencies over coaxial cable, as is conventional. These IP-video streams can then be viewed on TVs via STBs as well as on connected, multiscreen devices such as games consoles, tablets and smartphones.
Few satellite pay TV operators are also internet service providers (ISPs). They control neither the Internet backbone infrastructure nor the broadband access CPE in consumer home networks, and so many have had to rely on delivering content over the top (OTT) of third-party networks to reach subscribers' multiscreen devices. This makes it challenging for satellite pay TV operators to manage their subscribers' multiscreen quality of experience (QoE), even if adaptive bitrate technologies, and emerging compression formats such as HEVC go a long way toward ameliorating the distribution of IP-video over 3rd party, unmanaged infrastructure.
Whilst satellite broadcasting clearly has many advantages, with ever larger quantities of video being delivered over IP, its future place in an IP-video world is increasingly opaque. It's strategically critical for SES to support satellite pay TV operators, its core customer base, with a compelling satellite-based option for IP-video and multiscreen, to compete with ever more sophisticated IP-based propositions from cable and IPTV operators, and potentially eliminate the burden of CDN distribution costs.
By enabling satellite pay TV operators to convert their full channel lineup, at broadcast quality, to IP in consumers' homes, Sat>IP potentially eliminates the need for them to use third-party networks to deliver linear IP-video to the home. Once inside the home, the operator can then choose between distributing content over a pre-existing home network, installing its own, or using a combination of both, all in the name of retainingfull control over its subscribers' multiscreen QoE.
SES is not the first to propose all-IP, in-home distribution of satellite TV signals. US satellite pay TV operator DirecTV launched a similar all-IP in home distribution product for its subscribers at the end of 2011. Its HR-34 STB Multimedia home gateway (MHG) delivers content from 6 tuners as IP-video to C30 thin-client STBs around the home via a coax-based home network. DirecTV developed the software for these boxes in-house with UK STB manufacturer Pace as the hardware partner. Currently, DirecTV is the only satellite pay TV operator to have deployed an MHG. DirecTV's MHG is focused only on content distribution to STBs and compatible smart TVs. It does not allow of distribution of content to mobile multiscreen devices.
Sat>IP adds multiscreen capability to, and attempts to standardise, the approach pioneered by DirecTV. This might prove an enticing proposition for satellite pay TV operators, negating in-house development, reducing time to market and costs, and could well lead to increased adoption of MHGs in satellite pay TV. What is less clear is the extent to which in-home and OTT delivery methods will continue to coexist in the pay-satellite, multiscreen space. For DirecTV, MHG-based services continue to be offered alongside pure, OTT-delivered video to Sony PS3 consoles, and mobile handsets. Given that Sat>IP would require operators to ship new hardware into their pool of households, it is plausible that mobile devices - characterized by small screens, and consequent difficulties around charging for content - will continue to be provisioned directly OTT for the foreseeable future.