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Android open source pays off for Swisscom as TV 2.0 IPTV service hits 500,000 subs

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Swisscom has signed 500,000 customers onto its Swisscom TV 2.0 IPTV platform since April 2014 when the company introduced its next-generation offer based on open source Android and featuring a new UEX, network DVR to the set-top box and unified STB and multiscreen service delivery. In its annual report in February, the telco listed 1.17 million television customers (including those on the ‘legacy’ Swisscom TV 1.0) and 306,000 people using TV 2.0. The company is predicting a 2-3 year migration (from April 2014) to the new solution before it switches off its original IPTV platform. 

During a Videonet webcast recently, Peter Fregelius, Head of Entertainment Devices at Swisscom, said Swisscom is gaining market share at the expense of its cable competitors. Importantly, Swisscom TV 2.0 is only available as part of a triple-play bundle, whereas customers could take the TV 1.0 offer as a standalone service. So the new and improved television offer is being used as part of a wider bundling strategy. “As a proposition, Swisscom TV 2.0 has paid off for us and we are steadily growing market share in the Swiss TV market,” Fregelius declared.

One of the things Swisscom has done to encourage migration to the new platform is promise customers on TV 1.0 that they can take their ‘hard disk’ DVR recordings with them. That means anything they have recorded since February 2014. The content has actually been recorded in the Swisscom network since then and those files are made available using network DVR when customers receive their new (disk-less) set-top box. 

The IPTV operator has now stopped enhancing the Mediaroom based TV 1.0 IPTV offer. During the transition stage the two systems are running in parallel, sharing the same headend for all live TV channels but different workflows for VOD.

This is proving to be a successful migration and the recent webcast focused on how Swisscom TV 2.0 was implemented, focusing on the choice of Android Open Source Project (AOSP) as the basis for the middleware, the various customizations that were needed to use this platform for an IPTV set-top box, and the content security architecture that was applied to ensure that such an open platform could be used safely in the Pay TV environment. You can hear the detailed one-hour discussion on these subjects here, totally free.

Fregelius listed the ambitions for the Swisscom TV 2.0 launch, including “the ability to innovate at the pace that we felt was necessary for the Swiss market” and the wish to establish a common platform to support “a complete multiscreen IPTV solution”. Previously Swisscom was operating the STB service alongside a separate best-of-breed multiscreen platform. 

“We wanted a new and fresher user experience and UI, it was important for us to reduce operational costs and we wanted to have an open platform where we could really control what is happening and we could integrate best-of-breed components,” Fregelius added.

Swisscom is convinced that there will be a valuable app ecosystem for television and that was the original reason for looking towards Android. The company then decided upon the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) approach rather than Android TV and GMS (Google Mobile Services) because it gave the operator more control of the user experience. Fregelius says they felt, and still believe today, that GMS limits their ability to deliver the service proposition Swisscom wants.

However, the telco has worked hard to ensure that the Swisscom TV 2.0 implementation is compatible with GMS, especially from a hardware point of view. “So depending on what happens in future, we are flexible,” Fregelius told the live Videonet audience. “But at this time we are Android open source because we want to control the user experience by ourselves.”

During the webcast we asked the audience what value a growing Android open source STB platform ecosystem, with greater ‘community’ cooperation among vendors and operators, would bring to the Pay TV industry. 54% answered ‘High value; the industry needs this’ and 34% said ‘Moderate value’. 5% of the audience thought it would add little value and there is not much need for it. The rest said ‘Don’t know’. 

Lukas Hohl, who is responsible for Android clients in the TV Development and Technology Department at Swisscom, outlined some of the customizations that were necessary when using AOSP for IPTV and Pay TV. Support for unicast, multicast, RTSP and Smooth Streaming (adaptive bit rate streaming) were all added as a set of native libraries. DVB teletext, DVB subtitles and HbbTV support were also introduced. 

The ‘disaster recovery’ process was customized to ensure a Swisscom experience in case the latest firmware has to be downloaded to the STB if there are STB configuration problems or platform-related problems. Other customizations covered things like remote control key mapping, error messages and even the look-and-feel of volume bars. “From a user experience perspective, it does not look like Android,” Hohl notes.

Petr Peterka, Chief Technology Officer at Verimatrix, whose VCAS content security protects the linear TV, points out that Android was never developed with live TV to set-top boxes in mind. Within AOSP there was no support for UDP IP multicast (the classic form of IPTV delivery) or a framework for plugging in a conditional access or DRM client. “These are all components that Swisscom, Marvell [the platform is built on their SoC] and Verimatrix had to deal with and in the end we had to build a separate component for these functions,” he explains.  

Having UDP multicast and linear content security in a separate component is one of the reasons this solution could be secured so effectively. As Peterka explains: “It comes with the benefit of being able to isolate the live TV and CA components, which overcomes some of the concerns about Android as being more open and easier to get into. Those fears become somewhat irrelevant. 

“We certainly took advantage of that separation. Android is built as an open system for app developers to build apps independently of anyone, and the apps are self-signed and that is not policed by a central entity. It would be almost impossible to make Android itself unbreakable but by isolating the live TV security to an independent component, the security task was made that much easier.”

During the webcast, Peterka outlines in more detail how the platform has been secured, including the use of the secure video processing vault inside the Marvell SoC. Christophe Masson, Head of EMEA Service Provider and CE Sales & Business Development at Marvell Semiconductor highlights the hardware requirements when building an Android platform and looks in more detail at how Android was implemented on the SoC. He and Peter Fregelius both discuss how the project was managed.

You can read more about the webcast and listen to the discussion (free) here.

Today the on-demand content delivered to the set-top boxes and multiscreen devices is streamed as Smooth Streaming ABR. VOD content comes with PlayReady DRM protection. Fregelius confirmed that because all the VOD content agreements specified PlayReady, and because he wanted to get to market fast, there was no imperative to touch the on-demand security system. VOD has its own PlayReady security headend and linear TV has its own security headend, covered by Verimatrix VCAS. 

Verimatrix provides a MultiRights solution that provides an umbrella management system for multiple DRMs across multiple platforms. Fregelius confirmed: “In future there is the possibility of merging these under an umbrella solution. That has not been the highest priority for us but it is something we will look at.” 


More information

Videonet webcast: How To Build A Secure Android-Based Pay TV Service

Listen on-demand

Swisscom TV 2.0 represents a landmark deployment: a major upgrade to a successful IPTV service that introduced network DVR for set-top box viewing and which converges UDP multicast linear channels and ABR streamed on-demand content within a set-top box that runs an Android-based multi-device middleware. Swisscom is one of the first digital TV operators anywhere to leverage the open development environment of the Android Platform for a first screen offering.

In this webcast you will hear from key players in the project about how the Android-based platform was successfully implemented, including how the STB was security hardened. Speakers will outline the benefits of deploying an IPTV platform based on Android, reveal the challenges they faced and pass on key lessons. There will be time for audience questions, which you can direct at any of our speakers, during the live one-hour discussion.


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