May 25, 2012 – Caribbean operator Columbus Communications is applying its trans-service multiscreen platform to support a new phase of service expansion aimed at driving deeper video penetration across its 23-nation footprint.
Unlike the rest of the industry, Columbus began its foray into multiscreen services with launch of a “Voice Everywhere” service, which, as previously reported (May, p. 8), makes use of the cloud-based MINT (Multiscreen Interaction) platform developed by Canadian startup UXP to enable bundling of multiscreen services on a single platform. Under the “Flow-to-Go” label, Columbus will be offering both TV and Voice Everywhere services without having to replace any of its legacy support systems, says Columbus CEO Brendan Paddick.
“UXP figured out a way to layer in multiscreen services without messing with legacy systems,” Paddick says. “I think they’re pretty disruptive when you look at what we’re doing.”
Paddick says Columbus sees an opportunity to take TV Everywhere in a new direction by building an IPTV network that utilizes broadband connections to deliver new options to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. “We’re building an IP headend in Curacao with full duplicate for backup redundancy,” Paddick says.
One of the primary uses of this IP video distribution system will be for providing existing subscribers to the company’s pay TV service access to that programming on IP-connected devices. Columbus has contracted with Elemental Technologies to supply encoders supporting simultaneous streaming of more than 250 linear broadcast channels to multiple types of devices. And the company is using Elemental’s on-demand platform to prepare thousands of hours of video content for access by authenticated users through a unified application interface.
“We’re targeting the September timeframe for the TV Everywhere launch,” Paddick says. “We don’t expect to be able to distribute all our licensed programming over this network immediately, but we’ll launch with what we’re legally allowed to distribute to connected devices and then populate the IPTV network with additional programming as we obtain the rights.”
Along with some portion of linear programming, the launch will include substantial quantities of VOD content for which rights have been obtained, he says, adding, “We’re also working with HBO.” HBO Go delivery to authenticated subscribers would supplant a “grey market” where access to the pay TV network has been loosely enforced in the Caribbean.
In the initial deployment, Elemental’s Live encoding system will be used to create adaptive bit rate streams for both Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and Microsoft Smooth Streaming, says Columbus CTO Darren Richer. Cable customers in the greater Caribbean and Latin American region, including Jamaica, Trinidad‚ Curacao and Grenada, will initially have access to live broadcast output streams and an on-demand video library on PC, iPhone and iPad platforms. In subsequent phases, support for hybrid set-top boxes and larger screen viewing will be available.
Richer offers high praise for Elemental, which won out over many competitors for the transcoding contract with Columbus. “Elemental is strategic to the deployment,” Richer says. “The key differentiators that influenced our decision to work with Elemental versus competitors include overall video quality, high-performance software, system scalability, significant reduction in power consumption, a smaller hardware footprint and lower maintenance costs.”
Another important part of the IPTV network strategy is to supply a premium service feed into areas not currently served over the legacy pay TV network. In some cases the service may be offered as a wholesale packaged subscription service for other ISPs to sell customers over broadband feeds outside the Columbus operating territories, Paddick notes. The IPTV network will also be the source of all programming delivered over new fiber-to-the-home facilities the operator is installing in new markets, he says.
These various business and usage models for the IP video services leverage the UXP MINT system flexibility when it comes to supporting whatever back-office and other components a service provider wants to use in supporting multiple multiscreen services. Paddick says. The platform works with existing operator IT and network services to seamlessly orchestrate, unify and personalize various operator services across smartphones, tablets and PCs, he explains.
Columbus chose to go to the voice application first because, unlike video and broadband, voice has been a hard sell for the company owing to the regulatory environment for voice services in its operating territories. “While we’re growing incredibly fast on broadband and video growth is in double digits, we’re only at 20 percent penetration on voice,” Paddick says.
“There’s no number portability in our areas, and it costs a lot more to call from one network to another there than it does in the States,” he continues. “By integrating voice mail, billing and other applications with elimination of minutes and roaming costs, we’re providing our customers a strong incentive to take our voice service.”
On the new Columbus multiscreen voice service, customers can use a Wi-Fi connection anywhere to link into their home VoIP service via the UXP platform, thereby avoiding use of cellular networks to make calls on their smartphones and tablets while they’re away from home. Not surprisingly, other vendors are looking at such capabilities, including one, Ericsson, which is preparing to offer a platform that supports multiscreen distribution of multiple services.
As demonstrated at the recent Cable Show in Boston, the Ericsson Rich Media Communications system leverages HTML5 browser capabilities to unify access to multiple services on any given device. “If I have Comcast as my home voice provider, I can use Wi-Fi to make calls over that service rather than using the mobile service when I’m traveling,” says Michael Coyne, vice president of mobile broadband strategy at Ericsson. “I can even use the service if I’m using a mobile device that’s connected to the Verizon Wireless network.”
However, the difference between the UXP and other approaches rests in the fact that with UXP there’s no need to develop separate operating environments for TV and Voice Everywhere. All the authentication, rendering of user interfaces and implementation of features for the different services are abstracted onto the platform from functions performed by voice adapters, cable modems, set-tops and other network components under direction of various operations support systems. “They’re really unique,” Paddick says.