Canada’s Telus Finds Solutions To Drive Next-Generation TV

Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO, Telus

Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO, Telus

By Fred Dawson
April 22, 2013 – Canadian telco Telus, in the midst of what CTO Ibrahim Gedeon calls a total transformation of its business models, has taken another step at the cutting edge as one of the first entities to implement the new Ericsson encoding platform, AVP 4000.
The significance of the move has to do with the fact that Telus is an especially aggressive proponent of next-generation TV services that has been looking for a future-proof encoding/transcoding platform with the flexibility to address ongoing needs without sacrificing the robust performance quality it requires for delivering pay TV services. The AVP 4000, running on the first chip developed by Ericsson to process video, fits the bill by virtue of its versatility and capacity, Gedeon says.

“TELUS is continuing its long-standing relationship with Ericsson and already trialing the new AVP 4000,” Gedeon says. “The performance of the new encoder will enable us to build a TV platform for the future and further enhance our customers’ experience, with better picture quality and improved services.”

The move comes as Telus is stepping up its TV Everywhere agenda with use of the Cisco Videoscape Media Suite to extend premium TV service to mobile devices. Telus’ Optik TV, an IPTV service running on the Mediaroom platform that Microsoft recently sold to Ericsson, reached about 678,000 customers in western Canada as of yearend 2012, representing a 33 percent increase over the past year. The company has been offering an “on-the-go” version of on-demand Optik TV content to connected devices for some time, but the move to Videoscape is a major step toward a more complete offering, notes Telus CMO David Fuller.

“What we’re working with Cisco to do is to use the Videoscape platform as a means to take that content and make it available on multiple different mobile devices, be they tablets or different smartphones from different OEMs,” Fuller says. “Because it’s IP, we can start to offer IP applications that make [the service] look far more than just the TV, but more like a PC with social media applications, widgets, all sorts of fun and exciting things.”

Like other telcos moving live TV to mobile, Telus is limited to serving authenticated subscribers, but, with a nationwide mobile footprint rapidly migrating to LTE, it has the potential to deliver its TV package to those subscribers wherever they go. How all this shakes out with respect to content licensing policies from programmers remains to be seen.

The shift to ubiquitous multiscreen TV is in stride with the larger IP transformation Telus has been pursuing since 2000, when it began transiting the network transport layer to an all-IP foundation. With that first step completed in 2004 the object since then has been to move from the traditional “walled garden” to a “managed garden” business model for all aspects of its wireline and wireless services, Gedeon says.

By this he means throwing open the network for use by enterprises of every description, which by virtue of their Internet connectivity, can now be viewed as service providers in their own right. “The intention is, if you’re connected then the whole world should be an application store,” he says.

In other words, by supporting distribution of content and applications to all devices while affording customers the opportunity to reach its subscribers with apps that tie into the Telus back office system, the telco can leverage its facilities to generate revenues in a new way. “It’s us putting the right systems and mechanisms in place all the way from the subscriber information, device information, to charging to enable open innovation so anybody can ride on our networks,” he says.

It will be interesting to see how this strategy, undertaken at a capital cost of $26 billion since 2000, plays out with potential users of the network in the video space who compete for eyeballs with the Optiks service. But it’s clear that the combination of the new Ericsson encoding platform with the Videoscape extension of the service to mobile devices is designed to give any OTT provider a run for their money, whether or not they become players in the Telus managed garden.

“In the video world, when a new device is out or a new form of ingestion is out we should be able to leverage that in under three months,” Gedeon says. “If you can manipulate to move an IP stream on a mobile, on a PC, on a TV, you may achieve multi-screens or N-screens.”

This is precisely what the AVP 4000 encoding platform is meant to support, says Giles Wilson, head of the video compression business at Ericsson. By addressing all applications, codecs, resolutions and profiles, Ericsson’s AVP single platform eases integration, expansion, re-purposing, training, repair and upgrades, considerably lowering the overall cost of ownership, Wilson says.

“What we’re seeing is that operators are addressing a very competitive environment with continued application of multiscreen services and more and more HD and higher resolutions on connected devices,” he says. “They’re operating in a fast-changing world and need the velocity and agility to reach those devices within the constraints imposed by their bandwidth and op ex budgets.”

Creating a budget-friendly way to do this from an encoding perspective was a major goal for Ericsson, which has traditionally relied on succeeding generations of top-line hardware compression platforms utilizing a combination of third-party DSP (digital signal processor) and MPGA (mask programmable gate array) chipsets to serve market needs. While the company offered solutions in software mode to run on off-the-shelf servers when operators needed a low-cost way to expand connectivity into the multi-device realm, there was a loss in quality with such approaches compared to what Ericsson could deliver on its hardware platforms, Giles notes.

Now, he says, with a chipset developed specifically for video processing, Ericsson has achieved the best of both worlds by offering a programmable solution that allows customer to adjust to changing needs in software while maintaining the high-quality performance of a purpose-built hardware platform. In contrast to the Intel 7, a processor widely used with software encoding systems which operates at about 50 billion operations per second, the new AVP 5000 chipsets runs at three trillion operations per second, he notes.

“Developing our own chip is the next logical step and came as a result of technology advances that allow us to package our algorithms into silicon and the opportunity we have to leverage Ericsson’s deep experience of chip development,” he says. The result, he adds, is a programmable system that offers the highest performance and broadest capability on a single platform across all applications, including HD, 1080p50/60, 3DTV and Ultra High Definition TV (UHDTV), and all codecs, including MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and JPEG2000, with 4:2:0 and 4:2:2, 8-bit and 10-bit all supported.