What Does "Open" Really Mean When It Comes to IPTV?
In every corner of the technology world, there are companies that claim their products are "open." But what does that really mean when it comes to IPTV? The fact that so many vendors try to tell this story, even though for many it is a real stretch of the truth, says something about how important openness is to the industry. Let me give you a few qualities to look for next time you see an IPTV vendor claiming to be open:
1) How easy is it to create new applications, customize user interfaces, or integrate in new IPTV ecosystem components?
In one sense, every technology-based system on the planet is "open"-- with enough time and money and developers you can customize every bit of the solution. But at what cost, and how beholden are you to the vendor or the "preferred" integration company? That really is the key. What I see around me mostly in the IPTV industry is a lot of technology designed without a lot of openness in mind. Oh sure, folks will tell you that they are open and you can easily make changes to your IPTV system, perhaps even choose your own set-top box, but then they open the door to this huge room staffed with an army of consultants all with big smiles on their faces and open palms--- 9-12 months and $2 million dollars later you get the changes you requested. I'm sorry, that is not open.
2) What tools are available for me to be self-sufficient to create my own applications, do my own integration, or port to new platforms?
This is a pretty good question to ask of your IPTV vendor and is equivalent to the house inspection before you buy a house. If they start waving their hands and mumbling something about their "roadmap", you know you are in trouble. If they don’t actually have these tools on their price list, it is probably a good indication they do not exist in usable form.
3) Is it modular? Can I buy separate components and evolve from there?
The lack of modularity of many of today’s IPTV systems is perhaps the biggest challenge holding back the entire industry. Carriers want the ability to choose which components they want to build in-house, source from vendors, or perhaps integrate with still other third parties. This is especially true of the too often overly complex and expensive IPTV systems today based on first-generation closed architectures. Modularity comes in many forms, but perhaps the most basic break-down is whether the IPTV middleware can be purchased as separate client software (STB) and server components (head-end). If so, this becomes a good indicator that there are open protocols for communicating between the STB and the IPTV application servers, and a good sign that you will not be locked into a “one size fits all” solution.
To close, it is important to remind ourselves why openness is important in the first place. Openness has real financial and strategic benefits. Because a service provider’s IPTV system is open, it has the ability to negotiate in (or out) the best technology available on the market. And even if it never changes its initial ecosystem of vendors, the threat of making changes will keep vendors honest when it comes to pricing upgrades and support. On the strategic side, openness gives IPTV service providers the greatest amount of flexibility and speed to create new revenue-generating applications and differentiate in a competitive market. In today’s market, subscriber needs and wants must be met before competitors offer the same. One only has to look at the PC operating system market to see why lack of openness and vendor competition translates into higher software costs, constant features delays, and all too often buggy software.
Yes, my friends, “openness” does indeed mean something real. Lack of it is a bad thing, and all of us in this rapidly growing IPTV market should fight against any trend towards closed, monolithic systems. It’s bad for carriers, bad for the industry, and ultimately limits the services choice and quality that subscribers deserve.