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AirTies: why our first Android TV box is 4K but also doubles as a Wi-Fi hot-spot

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At IBC this year, Istanbul-based Wi-Fi specialist AirTies was explaining why it had decided not only to climb aboard the Android TV bandwagon, but to launch its first Android product as a 4K-capable set-top box doubling as a Wi-Fi access point.

AirTies CEO, Philippe Alcaras, explained that Wi-Fi in the home had become “massively video-centric and massively streaming. That’s one of the reasons why for the past ten years we’ve invested in understanding, at the deepest level, how video works in streaming,” he said. This research had resulted in a belief at Airties that Android TV is set “to drive an acceleration of the innovation in the way we consume video.”

While careful to side-step the debate about whether Android TV was the right platform for operators or not – “it’s their choice, frankly” – Alcaras argued that the emerging centrality of Android TV meant that “for a company like us, it was a must-have.”

Two recent trends in video innovation are the transition from HD to 4K and app-based consumption of OTT content, noted Thomas Fehr, General Manager, Set-top Box at AirTies.

“You need to bring 4K out at economical price-points – so this new generation [of box] brings a more cost-effective 4K platform, that can proliferate.” Operators are also keen to offer the same content to customers on their TV sets that they currently access through apps on their tablets or mobiles, he pointed out – and an Android TV environment gives them easy access to those types of applications.

Previously, he explained, an operator with a propriety system running a particular piece of middleware who wanted to do this would have to approach the middleware providers and ask, “Can I please have Netflix? Can I please have Amazon? [With Android TV] you have an environment that gets those applications. They can get them quickly, it gives them fast time to market, and they get the same applications […] but in 4K.”

All of which may make for smaller, more economical platforms, but they still have to be “performant enough for operators,” argued Fehr. ‘Performant’ in this context includes not only ensuring customer quality of experience (e.g. no buffering or pixelisation in the video, etc.), but also the ability to simultaneously offer all the different types of channel – e.g. a 4K or HD one using HDR, or an OTT channel based on MPEG-Dash – that an operator would typically want to have in its portfolio.

This is where Android TV Operator Tier comes in. Fehr explained that this is a specific version of Android TV for operators that meets their quality of service and integration requirements, while at the same time giving them more control of the ‘look-and-feel’. Thus Operator Tier lets them control the ‘launcher’ – or home screen of the UI – rather than being forced to go with the usual Google-designed ‘standard launcher’.  This version of Android TV is only available through an approved OEM like AirTies that has signed an Android Operator agreement with Google, noted Fehr.

The integration of a Wi-Fi access point in the 4K Android TV box is a response to separate research AirTies has carried out, said Alcaras. This showed that 70% of people watching TV are using a second screen at the same time “at some point or another in a viewing session. […] So if there is one room that deserves the best Wi-Fi quality, it is definitely the living-room,” he concluded.

Alcaras admitted the integration was “complicated to achieve: […] you need to have a very good design in terms of set-top box to transform it into an active hot-spot.” This set-up also requires that the link between the primary modem and the set-top box is a good one. This could be facilitated by another innovation AirTies was demonstrating on its stand at IBC, Alcaras pointed out – a customer app which displays a map of the home showing which access-points are not well-connected, and how they can be moved around to optimise reception.

Fehr added that while the built-in hotspot feature gives operators better performance “in the sense that the customer’s happy to get a better Wi-Fi connection – at the same time it’s a little more economical: they integrate this in the set-top box and they save a little bit of money rather than [incur] a separate expense [for another access-point].”

Photo: The new Android STB from AirTies, launched at IBC 2017

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