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Tue 28 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Connected voices

November sees the return of the Middle East & Africa instalment of the IPTV World Forum to Dubai. Digital Broadcast profiles some of the expected highlights of this year's event.

November sees the return of the Middle East & Africa instalment of the IPTV World Forum to Dubai.
Digital Broadcastprofiles some of the expected highlights of this year's event.

Since last year's inaugural Middle East and Africa IPTV World Forum, IPTV has continued to make headway in the region with du expanding its infrastructure in a deal with Tandberg Television and more recently, the announcement of a new deployment in Amman by Orange Jordan.

A report by the Arab Advisors Group in September of last year claimed that despite the technology's footprint being "minuscule", the continued adoption of broadband and planned rollouts in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, would ensure this situation changes rapidly.

"The Middle East and Africa are the fastest growing broadband markets in the world," says Gavin Whitechurch, research director with event organiser Informa Telecoms & Media, adding that a recent report by Infonetics found that 48 percent of the world's IPTV revenue was derived from the EMEA region.

"The Middle East and Africa promise significant growth opportunities across the telecoms sector in the next five years, and as competition intensifies, operators are expected to roll-out attractive services such as IPTV to both retain customers and attract new ones," claims Whitechurch.

Despite the regional nature of the show's title, Whitechurch points out that there is nothing parochial about the event.

"We will showcase a number of international success stories at the event. We have also added a presentation from Ted Hsuing, head of business development at one of the IPTV industry's pioneering operators, PCCW of Hong Kong. He will be sharing the company's unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges of IPTV and quad-play," he explains.

"PCCW and other leading international operators such as Orange Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and BT will also be relaying stories from the frontline of some of the most advanced IPTV service deployments."

Acknowledging the progress the Middle East has made on this front in recent years, prominent members of the local industry will gather to discuss deployments past, present and future in the presence of the technology vendors vying to provide the necessary infrastructure.

Whitechurch points out however that the event is developing into not just a place to do business, but a valuable forum at which to discuss issues and trends.

"There is such a huge interest in the event that we've been adding additional speakers from the major operators. In particular, we have a presentation for the region's major operators. Etisalat has recently come on board to discuss the challenges of transitioning from a telecoms network to a true content delivery network," reveals Whitechurch.

With IPTV perhaps the most visible product of broadcaster/telco convergence so far, it is no surprise that operators from both industries will be strongly represented at the show.

"As well as Etisalat we will have Osman Sultan CEO of du, Paul Doany, CEO of Oger Telecom, Hans Paulson, CCO of Uganda Telecom, and representatives of Showtime Arabia, Telkom South Africa, Qatar Telecom and Al Jazeera at the show," boasts Whitechurch.

The two day conference stream at the forum will continue to build on the strong foundations laid last year with topics ranging from marketing for telcos and deployment case studies from France Telecom, Tiscali, Uganda Telecom and Portugal Telecom.

The exhibition, which runs parallel to the conference programme will feature many of the key IPTV technology vendors including Motorola, Tilgin, Thomson and Harris.

Technology titans
IPTV market leaders

The Multimedia Research Group announced the results of its latest Global IPTV Market Leaders report at the end of August with several developments of note and IT industry majors making strong gains.

Microsoft Corp climbed to third position globally in the middleware, VOD and content protection markets.

Verimatrix made the list of top five vendors in all four global regions and came in in the number one position worldwide for content protection, showing a significant consistency in all major markets.

Its achievement was all the more remarkable given it marked the first time one organisation had claimed pole position in consecutive years.

In VOD, Thomson pulled to number one globally for the first time, leaving SeaChange in second place, while Motorola remained in the global lead for set top boxes although Sagem, Cisco and Amino are showing signs of closing the gap.

"Some IPTV market segments are more volatile than others and will certainly see some changes in the future," says Jose Alvear, MRG analyst.

"However, one thing is certain, the IPTV market is still going strong.

"Not only are subscriber numbers rising, but new operators are in the midst of deploying IPTV systems in various markets worldwide."

Conditional access technology specialist Verimatrix have been active in the Middle East for more than 12 months and will be looking to build on its presence in the coming year.

"We have been working with QTel since its IPTV service launch in September 2007. The QTel solution provides security for the world's first fully integrated IPTV triple-play deployment," claims Steve Christian, VP of marketing at Verimatrix.

"It offers voice, broadband internet and MPEG4-AVC encoded IPTV over its upgraded infrastructure to subscribers across Qatar."

Competition in the conditional access sector is likely to be further stimulated by the launch of new IPTV services across the region.

Several major rivals to Verimatrix are also looking to make an impression at this year's event.

"We do have significant references already in the Middle East region, including Orbit, and others spanning many different delivery networks," says Ivan Verbesselt, senior VP of marketing at Nagravision.

"Going forward, we see a significant opportunity in the Middle East; the deregulation of the regional markets combined with an increasing pull for premium content from the consumer presents an obvious opportunity."

Fresh from an IBC launch, Viaccess executives will be on hand to discuss the company's new offering with Orca Interactive, which the pair claims to offer complete security and middleware solutions.

The hybrid platform supports VOD, DVB channels and interactive services including catch-up TV, progressive VOD downloads, push-VOD and personal video recording.

Viaccess purchased middleware developer Orca in March of this year. Middleware acquisitions by CAS companies have become increasing popular as operators look to cut their IPTV costs by acquiring one system from one provider.

Mobile TV in the spotlight

Mobile TV Middle East will again run in parallel to the IPTV World Forum MEA.

In addition to the expected array of telcos taking part in the mobile TV discussions several content providers will also be present including Arab Media Group, Turner Broadcasting, MBC and Al Jazeera.

Customising content for the small screen, digital rights management, handset compliance and network deployment will all be up for discussion.

UAE telco du has completed a successful DVB-H trial since last year's event and also expanded the number of channels available on its 3G mobile TV platform.

TIPTV implementations
Middle East telcos lead the way

Several high-profile IPTV implementations have been rolled out in markets worldwide since last year's inaugural IPTV World Forum MEA. The flexibility of IP networks required to distribute IPTV means that they are often not the primary driver behind installations and are instead utilised as an added premium service to help recover the high infrastructure costs incurred by the telco.

One of the more notable projects is being implemented in Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), which will eventually house two million residents as well as a fixed broadband network capable of speeds of up to 1GB/s.

"The vision for KAEC is an ‘intelligent' city that is at the forefront of broadband communication," says Fredrik Landberg, vice president for New Accounts at Ericsson Saudi Arabia.

"It will also enable the residential and enterprise customers in KAEC to receive IPTV, personalised movies, IP telephony, high definition video-on-demand, interactive games and other advanced multimedia services for TV, PC and telephones," adds Landberg.

Broadcasters are also using IPTV networks within their own facilities to move content around internal networks. PRO TECHnology installed an Anevia Flamingo DVB-IP gateway for the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC).

In addition to these installations, the region is now also seeing national scale roll-outs from telcos with Jordan Telecom (Orange Jordan) adding to QTel and du's existing services.

Earlier this year, UAE telco du installed Tandberg Television's iPlex UltraCompression IPTV video processing and transcoding system as the head-end for its IPTV services. The organisation has stated its commitment to expanding it IPTV service offering.

The multilingual du IPTV service offers TV channels from the UAE and around the world, catering to the tastes of different nationalities and cultures.

Du offers more than 15 premium TV packages, in 18 different languages from content aggregators and providers worldwide.

These types of large-scale deployments, though scarce throughout the region at present, are of increasing interest to telcos in particular as they look to step up from triple- to quad-play packages. Widespread IPTV deployment across the region will not be possible however without action from the dominant vendors and pan-Arab telco operators present at the show.

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