SES, Inverto, Abilis, and MaxLinear have designed the first satellite antenna low-noise block (LNB) down-converter, which turns RF-modulated satellite television broadcasts directly into IP video streams. This technology, more generally known as "IP-LNB," bypasses the traditional LNB-to-coax-to-STB-to-TV in-home signal chain for satellite TV reception and transforms satellite broadcasts for direct IP-distribution over a home network and consumption on IP-connectable devices. This first design can demodulate up to eight channels simultaneously and incorporates MaxLinear's Full-Spectrum Capture DVB-S2 receiver IC, Abilis' TB101 Broadcast to Broadband Bridge SoC, SES' SAT>IP protocol specifications, and Inverto's software stack.
Satellite pay TV operators are inherently disadvantaged at delivering content to IP-connectable devices such as games consoles, smart phones, connected TVs, and tablets. They cannot directly address IP-connectable devices from their managed networks, which comprise RF-modulated broadcasts and traditional STBs. Unlike cable and IPTV operators, few are Internet services providers (ISPs), and so have limited ability to manage quality of service for content delivered over the Internet. Instead, US satellite operators DirecTV and Dish Network have deployed Multimedia Home Gateways (MHGs) to address IP-connectable devices using their managed satellite broadcasts. MHGs concentrate a household's broadcast tuners and storage in a single device that demodulates and decrypts broadcast video, prepares content for IP-distribution, and manages and controls content distribution over the home network to IP-connectable devices. This potentially facilitates a unified pay TV experience on any video-capable screen in the home.
In both traditional-STB and MHG scenarios, the LNB receives the satellite signal, and the STB or MHG is responsible for most of a home's video processing, movement, and storage. IP-LNB architectures deviate from current satellite reception models by merging key LNB, STB and MHG functions to produce an LNB that functions as an IP-video server. Broadcast signals, after reception by the LNB, are demodulated and rendered as IP-video streams to be consumed by compatible IP-connectable devices. Additional processing by a STB or MHG is unnecessary, though a separate device - an MHG or broadband residential gateway, for example - that performs video processing, routing and storage may be used to distribute and store programming for the home, or provide additional functionality and end device compatibility. Conditional access can be applied as software at the IP-LNB or as hardware at the routing device.
The IP-LNB is equipped to enable pay TV video delivery, but requires additional functionality to provide the feature-rich, revenue-generating services typically sought by operators. Though IP-LNB-based integration of advanced middleware, hardware-based conditional access, transcoding, and even content storage is possible, such a design may not be significantly more cost-effective than current LNB-to-coax-to-MHG architectures. Pairing an operator-provided tuner-free MHG with an agnostic - possibly consumer-managed - IP-LNB could theoretically reduce operator costs, but may limit long term ARPU growth if a subscriber's IP-LNB could not support new feature or service upgrades. The majority of pay TV IP-LNB launches will occur after 2013 and be compatible with the next generation DVB-SX modulation scheme, which is scheduled to be finalised by September 2013: this will help increase IP-LNB life-span and minimise obsolescence. Operators may still find it more cost effective to concentrate all video processing in a single device, to minimise points of obsolescence and make future upgrades simpler to manage.
Additionally, the lack of a universal standard for IP-video distribution amongst end-devices is a major barrier to widespread uptake of current IP-LNB designs. There are no guarantees that a home's IP-connectable devices will be compatible with the video format produced by the IP-LNB. In the near term, IP-LNB deployments are likely to require an intermediary device equipped with a flexible transcoder to manage compatibility between the IP-LNB and consumption devices. Whilst a universal IP-video distribution standard does not currently exist, the arrival of IP-LNBs, and potential operator interest in them, could drive the requirement for such a standard.
Put simply, operator need for feature-rich services and the inability of current IP-LNBs to support all IP-connectable devices limits the potential for wide-scale disruption to the STB and MHG market. Most satellite operators have strong incentives to tightly manage as much of the video processing and delivery process as possible because it maximises ARPU potential; to that end, MHGs are likely to remain an effective solution for satellite operators to address the IP-connectable device opportunity in the near term. Paired consumer-managed IP-LNBs and operator-managed STBs or MHGs are also viable solution, particularly in markets with strong FTA satellite presence. Free-to-air satellite reception, which is typically less feature-rich than pay TV and does not require advanced CAS or middleware integration, may be well-suited for IP-LNBs, which can deliver video to IP-connectable devices with minimal additional equipment.
As such, uptake of IP-LNBs is unlikely to change demand for pay TV MHGs: shipments of which are still forecast to reach more than nine million units in 2016. Most pay TV operators currently deploying MHGs are unlikely to modify new equipment to accommodate IP-LNBs, and initial uptake of IP-LNB arrangements is more likely in strong FTA satellite markets such as Germany.