Displaying items by tag: OTTs

EU to re-launch deadlocked effort to regulate messaging apps

Written on Wednesday, 04 December 2019 06:44

The European Union (EU) plans to push for greater regulation of internet phone messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp.

Published in Government

On Monday the 13th of May 2019, Whatsapp admitted yet to another breach in their security system: enabling targeting spyware to be installed on phones through voice calls. An Israeli spying firm indeed has been accused of using that security hole in Whatsapp used by 1.5 billion people.

Published in Apps

The communications space is growing as disruptive internet companies are increasing their dominance. Communications service providers (CSPs) need their own digital strategies and action plans to face the challenge of this changing business environment.

The last decade was quite a challenge for CSPs who experienced diminishing returns due to market saturation, price pressure and consumer demands for increasingly complex mobile services, as well as the rise of over the top (OTT) competitors who are able to provide free communication services over the internet.

On one side, the physical, network-centric world is being disrupted by software-defined, cloud-based network and on-demand micro services, which help to optimize operational costs and bring in IT agility. On the other side, new consumer experiences are getting defined by the internet companies, and customers are no longer content with taking what they are given or accepting a process because it suits the limitations of a CSP’s technology platform. In response, CSPs must now turn to new strategies by removing internal process, organizational and technical barriers to manage growing customer expectations and bring in new services with speed and business model agility and reduced opex.

Have you ever wondered what the implications are of a digital transformation for a CSP’s businesses? The importance of making this transition from a legacy CSP to becoming a proficient digital enterprise must not be understated, given the fate of digital and non-digital companies in other industries. CSPs must consider collaborating with disruptive brands and adopting new digital business and operating models in order to avoid an unfortunate fate. As an example, the fortunes of online and on-demand film and TV site Netflix are soaring; whereas Blockbuster, the physical store for DVD rentals, has gone bankrupt.

CSPs need to anticipate not just what their closest rivals will offer, but also their current relationships and the systems and platforms that currently support them. They must understand that everyone, even disruptive brands, are a potential business partner for forging mutually beneficial commercial relationships with, to deliver the services and experiences that customers will truly value.

Another key part of a digital transformation strategy is commercial transparency. CSPs must combine commercial transparency and a new ecosystem of partners to deliver services that address businesses’ needs, noting that consumers value speed, reliability, agility and innovation.

When it comes to agile technology and automated processes, this will lead to faster service deployments and response times. CSPs will also need to be able to process and compute data on a vast scale. By automating crucial processes such as order capture, fulfillment, billing and payments, CSPs will be able to capture and generate relevant data sets to enable them to operate business with data-driven decisions based on analytics. Machine learning should also be used to learn and respond with event-triggered actions to manage churn, loyalty, personalized offers, monitor order fall-out, network performance and care operations.

Moreover, CSPs will need to ensure that their own architectures, processes and systems are developed to open standards. However, if CSPs want to leverage their existing estates, they need to ensure that they can interface with potential new partners.

As the ecosystem grows, no single organization will be in a position to manage it from end to end. This will increase the need for a common set of standards so that large and small developers and partners can all be part of the ecosystem. It will also ensure that CSPs are not locked into an unending cycle of multi-vendor integration and migration programs.

Virtualization is another enabler for the digital world and one that also addresses CSPs’ need to reduce both CAPEX and OPEX. Virtualizing platforms allows CSPs to pay as they grow for the activation, billing or CRM of new digital services. They can also use the same approach to support their own wholesale and enterprise customers by embracing a new business model that will deliver greater flexibility in cost structures, pricing, and innovation of digital services.

CSPs are keen to adopt virtualized platforms and many have begun to migrate service and application management and revenue management systems to private and hybrid cloud environments. Virtual and cloud-based systems will also be especially important for supporting the Internet of Things (IoT) services in adjacent sectors.

Compared to the traditional telecoms approach, the digital world requires a more expansive and customer-facing interpretation; in summary, there is a strong case for CSPs viewing the digital world as a greenfield project. This approach would leave them free to deploy light, scalable, flexible systems that are cloud-based, without integrating the new legacy systems. If the system is easy and quick to install and operates at web-speed, it will be able to support new digital services and potentially help CSPs to become serious competitors and viable partners for the disruptive brands.

Published in Reports

With smartphone adoption, OTTs and hacker advancement is progressing like never before, with digital content continuously at risk. Many organizations have built an entire practice around the issue. One such leader in content security is Conax, a part of the Kudelski Group, who enables secure content revenues for over 400 operators, representing 140 million pay-TV consumers in 85 countries globally.

Amidst the chaos of CommunicAsia2016, Conax EVP Principal Architect, Tor Helge Kristiansen, spoke exclusively to Active Telecoms about the company’s important role to play in protecting operators from increasing threats from hackers, and why security is such an important issue for business customers today.

“It is a big issue today because this [content] is the revenue source for the operator – the way they can monetize their content,” said Mr. Kristiansen. “There are only two ways: advertising or charging for content. What we do is to make sure that operators are able to get this revenue. There are a lot of people out there who want to take away that revenue source by selling pirated devices and so on, which is what we are fighting against.”

Conax is headquartered in Norway, and has offices in 14 locations across the globe, including 24/7 global support operations based in India. The company works with satellite operators, cable operators, DTT operators, IPTs and OTTs. One of the major companies Conax is working with is Dish TV in India, a satellite operator with about 15 million subscribers.

Based on its flagship Conax Contego unified security hub, Conax provides telcos, cable, satellite, IP, mobile and terrestrial and broadband operations with flexible, scalable and cost-efficient solutions to deliver premium content securely. At CommunicAsia, Conax featured its Contego-as-a-Service cloud-based content protection service. The newly launched comprehensive and modular security offering includes the full benefits of its flagship Contego security back-end.

Contego is a security hub which controls access to content for any platform for any type of device. It’s the same hub that we use both for OTT, satellite and so on,” said Kristiansen. “This is something that we have traditionally sold as an on-premise, installing it in the operator’s server. What we have now done is offer the same thing as a hosted service, so we have installed a community cloud service where we host and operate this on behalf of the operator. It makes it a lot easier for the operator because it’s a lower investment, saving operators from investing in the hardware. It also gives them quicker access to new features.”  

Kristansen added that Conax always keeps this up-to-date on the latest software version that can activate the features its clients want. Conax also handles scaling, and all the security operations for its customers, so they can focus more on their business without worrying about managing security.  

“We use our experts to make sure that the system is operated at maximum level,” said Kristiansen, “so all the monitoring and all the management of the system is done by us. Contago-as-a-Service has already been deployed by some of our operators.”

Adding to this, Are Mathisen, SVP APAC, Conax, said: “Operators looking to quickly and securely cultivate and tap growth opportunities in the digital content delivery landscape can now outsource content security to Conax. We are enabling operators of all shapes and sizes to focus on their strategies for capturing their share of new business in content delivery and providing new compelling consumer experience through TV everywhere services – while reducing CAPEX and complexity in running their pay-TV service.”

Security is of utmost importance to Conax. It’s no secret that today’s consumers expect and demand video content anywhere, anytime and on any device. Briefly setting aside content security, Mr. Kristiansen went on to discuss another Conax solution called Conax Xtend Multiscreen. It’s an advanced turn-key solution for pay-TV operators to enable OTT multiscreen services and streamline them with DVB operations, securely.

“As a company, we are also building some end-to-end solutions for operators, to simplify running advanced services. Xtend Multiscreen is a complete multiscreen solution where you can bring content into multiple devices: tablets, smartphones, PCs, etc, and also premium services, such as live TV, VoD (Video on Demand) or Network PVR,” said Kristiansen. 

“What we have done in this case is to bring in some partners to build the ecosystem,” he added. “We brought in Cubiware for example, and integrated with a number of encoder vendors, CDN vendors, and so on. Then we are able to offer a complete solution customized to the operator’s needs. It gives a pretty advanced solution that we can deploy in a relatively short timeframe.”

Challenges facing OTT service security

Securing content is a major issue for OTT operators today. Because of the diversity of OTTs, it’s more complex to secure OTT content than it is to secure content for traditional broadcasters. It’s a “very fragmented market” says Kristiansen who believes Apple and Android devices are more often existing on a “vertical ecosystem” with their own streaming formats.

“Apple is doing FairPlay streaming based on HLS. Widevine is in the Android devices, so there’s a different DRM. And in Microsoft devices you have PlayReady. These are all slightly different in terms of functionality,” Mr. Kristiansen explained. “In order to reach all these devices in a secure way, you need to do multi-DRM. This is the complexity: when you’re doing multi-DRM, you need to ensure the same content rules on all devices. Handling this complexity with different DRMs, different streaming formats and so on is what we help operators with. The Contego back-end has a multi-DRM feature in which we take care of all complexities and provide a simple business interface to the operators.”

The main challenge operator’s face today is the fragmented device market the industry is faced with. Kristiansen said another challenge is the vast community of skilled hackers who are continuously getting more advanced. The various ways they attack the hardware, software, etc, and attack back-end systems makes things very difficult. The more services operators introduce, it opens the door to more attack points for hackers.

“It used to be so simple. You had a broadcast service with live TV to your satellite box. There were only a few attack points. Now we have many different services and even more attack points,” said Kristiansen. “The industry is very much aware of it and Hollywood is now enforcing more security on devices, such as the Enhanced Content Protection recommendation by MovieLabs. They are starting to specify pretty sophisticated security features to be in devices for 4K and UHD content.”

He added: “These challenges are pushing particularly the hardware manufacturers significantly when it comes to hardware-based security, secure media pipelines, and so on.”

Looking to the future, Kristiansen said Conax is currently working on a number of new projects, focused on building a “next-generation IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) solution”. The company recently launched a new security client called Conax Connected Access, which is an “advanced hybrid client” for connected use-cases.

“This client is available in several different flavors when it comes to the security setup. We are now building complete solutions for IPTV based on this client that we will put into use in early autumn,” said Kristiansen. “This is one of the major things we are working on.”

“In the future, I think what the industry will do is focus more on holistic security, as you need to focus security not only on devices, but more on the entire value chain. I suspect that this is going to be the focus also for the coming years: how can we protect content from lens to lens?”

Published in Interviews

The past century has delivered an extensive range of communication tools, from the invention of the telephone, to cable television. But nothing has advanced human interaction quite like OTTs (Over-The-Top services). With cheap, efficient and globally available communication tools like Skype, WhatsApp, Netflix and Google, the world is witnessing a shift away from traditional communication outlets. Do old-school forms of communication stand a chance against the rapid growth of OTTs?

On-demand internet services have revolutionized communication all over the world. With rapid increases in speed, quality and pricing, using the internet to connect people with content via OTTs is slowly making traditional modern forms of communication redundant (e.g. calling from a landline or watching subscription television).

The fact that many OTTs like WhatsApp and Skype are free of charge is what makes them so dangerous to Telcos trying to make a profit from traditional calling and texting. There are always ups and downs to technology transformations, and we are only just beginning to witness the impact that OTTs will have on modern communication.

The term OTT was first coined by telecoms industry analyst, Dean Bubley, who published a report on the subject in February 2012. OTT (Over-The-Top) refers to telecommunications service providers which deliver one or more of its services across all IP networks – predominantly the public internet.

“An Over-The-Top service allows users to access content directly over the internet on any device and any internet network from any provider without restricting access to particular telecommunication networks,” says Mr. Prakash, COO at Vuclip, a video on-demand service.

“OTT prevalence is being driven by a new and fast-growing generation of users who are constantly on the move and connected to multiple devices at any given time, breaking away from traditional viewing patterns and behaviour,” Prakash added.

This high level of connectivity Prakash refers to is accompanied by a growing interest in mobile video on demand, which gives users the freedom and flexibility to consume content of their choice regardless of what device they may be using, time or place.

“We have learned that consumers don’t mind paying for quality content offered at a fair price and they are even more willing when the payment method is simple and convenient,” Prakash explained referring to the study. “We find that offering consumers a combination of free and paid content also works well, because they get a taste of the experience without an initial investment. Diversity in content is a feature that works well in an OTT’s favour.”

OTT services have brought a transformational positive impact to the entire mobile and digital ecosystem, be it consumers, telecommunication providers, content studios, brands or agencies, which proves why OTTs have been so popular around the world. In order to stay relevant, leading vendors like Ericsson are embracing the OTT trend.

In February, Ericsson announced the launch of OTT Cloud Connect (OCC), an open cloud service that allows mobile operators across the globe to 'connect' to multiple OTT players to deliver new and creative services to users. The Ericsson OCC service was designed to bridge the gap between operator networks and OTT services by exposing the OSS and BSS capabilities of operators to OTT players and vice versa. This brings simplicity to collaboration between OTTs and operators, making it possible to offer unique application-specific features to end users for better experiences.

Ericsson’s OCC open platform allows any OTT player to deliver innovative features to users based on integration with specific operator network capabilities. It acts as a gateway platform that abstracts the complexities of each operator's network and provides simple integration for OTT players and applications. 

Ericsson is collaborating with Google as one of the first partners to get on the OCC platform. This integration enables Google to bring innovative features and services to products such as YouTube and reach large numbers of users by leveraging the scale that OCC provides. Ericsson plans to continue to bring additional OTT players onto the OCC platform.

"Mobile environments introduce a number of complexities, but also a range of opportunities when it comes to delivering quality experiences for users,” said Jay Akkad, Senior Product Manager on the YouTube Emerging Markets team.

“Ericsson's OTT Cloud Connect forges collaboration between operators and OTT providers to break down some of this complexity and open the door to a world of opportunity for enhancing services. We believe initiatives like these will accelerate innovation between operators and OTT providers, and we look forward to working with operators on new features and services to users.”

Impact of Over-The-Top video (OTTv)

Concerning the popularity of OTTs, video definitely takes the crown. Over-the-top video (OTTv) is becoming increasingly mainstream. According to a report by AT Kearny, OTTv services as a share of total television viewing has doubled globally over the past 12 months and exceeded 30 percent in some developed economies. In the United States alone, 75 million households have an active OTTv subscription like Netflix, compared to 32 million only four years ago.

According to the report, the fuel behind the trend is the rapid emergence of user-friendly OTTv services, along with the increasing quantity and quality of content available online. When Netflix launched in 2007, by April 2014, it was being used by 50 million people in 41 countries. In addition, Hulu, the OTTv service from NBC Universal, Disney and Fox, now has six million paying U.S. subscribers. In a bid to compete with the likes of Netflix and other similar services, pay TV operators are offering multi-screen packages to their subscribers and online-only packages to non-subscribers.

“Many pay TV operators provide, or are in the process of providing, companion apps and some also offer stand-alone internet-only access subscriptions,” said Prakash on the subject. “However, the biggest challenge for Pay TV operators is the threat of cannibalization of their own current business model and revenue streams. Hence, many of them check the box but cannot completely go all out to push to an OTT. This is a classic dilemma of established models and dependencies on those models. OTT video services such as Viu and Netflix carry no such baggage.”

While television hasn’t been completely cast out of the living room, traditional services will have to keep the needs of their evolving customers in mind and incorporate new digital services that can be accessed through a multitude of smart devices.

The driving force behind expat expansion

Another sector that OTTs have had a strong impact on is travel, transforming cities around the world into expat hubs. OTTs have revolutionized the industry, allowing consumers to search, buy and share tips at the touch of a button, not to mention the convenience of being able to contact loved ones overseas for free via an internet connection with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

The online travel revolution traces back to 1996, when Microsoft, the most high-profile technology company at the time, unveiled its impressive attempt at an online travel agency, known as Expedia. The success of Expedia was unprecedented, making travel booking much more seamless.

This was soon followed by Larry Page and Sergy Brin, two Stanford University students, who examined the web to find ways to index pages based on popularity with other users and websites. The result was Google introduced in 1998, the first place where online consumers go to for information. With one quick Google search, one can book a flight, accommodation and travel activities within five minutes.

Fast forward to 2004, and another breakthrough occurred. Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched his social media website Facebook, which heralded the beginning of a new concept of online travel experience: sharing. People traveling the world are now able to share their unique experiences with their loved ones back at home with ease and reliability.

The next significant breakthrough gave users access to the web via their handsets. The launch of the Apple iPhone has had a huge influence on the way people travel, playing to the evolution of OTTs. The corresponding App Store triggered an enormous range of travel-related applications, along with social media apps, music apps, news apps, and of course Google Maps: the essential travel tool.

“There's no way I'd go overseas without the communication tools we have today,” says expat Poppy Wortman. “While the romantic notion of only being able to converse through letters and postcards in the past appeals to me, the ability to instantly chat with my family or a friend while away is a huge benefit. Technology gives me the ability to be freer; things don't have to be so planned out as you can research as you go, book accommodation, and keep all in the know of your whereabouts.”

The growth of OTTs has spawned a new generation of connectivity that is free and convenient. WhatsApp, for example, founded in 2009, has a user base of up to 1 billion as of February 2016, making it the world’s most popular free messaging application.

In addition, Skype, an application that provides video chat and voice call services free of charge, had over 660 million worldwide users at the end of 2010, with over 300 million estimated active each month as of August 2015.

The Skype application is based on a ‘freemium’ model, meaning much of its service is free, but Skype Credit or a subscription is required to call a landline or a mobile phone number. Skype’s free service and paramount convenience has attracted bitterness from some network administrators who have banned use of the application on corporate, government, home, and education networks, citing such reasons as inappropriate usage of resources, excessive bandwidth usage, and security concerns.

Regardless of the critics, OTTs like Skype are undeniably useful for individuals like expat Joanne Lee, who says Skype has been a “godsend”. Skype is one of her favourite OTTs, allowing her to ‘attend’ family events with her grandchildren back in her home country of New Zealand, without having to pay a hefty phone bill.

“I would not be comfortable living without the convenience of technology and would struggle without my smartphone and the apps that it provides,” says Joanne.

It doesn’t look as though OTTs will drop in interest anytime soon. WhatsApp recently sparked interest when it announced that users could send messages secured with end-to-end encryption, denying WhatsApp and third parties the ability to read them. The announcement made the OTT service even more desirable to use compared with regular forms of communication, especially in a digital age where personal data is constantly at risk of being hacked.

The OTT movement is changing the way people communicate all around the world. More and more people are using OTTs for travel, entertainment, business and socializing. The OTT report by AT Kearny leaves readers with this interesting conclusion to consider: “Understanding and managing the consumption, content, and competitive dynamics of the market is the key challenge facing all players looking to win in the OTT market.”

Published in Reports

Ericsson showcased its latest media solutions, paying special attention to the evolution of the cloud and the use of multi-screens at CABSAT 2016 in Dubai, where content owners, TV service providers and broadcasters gathered to discuss the challenges of the TV industry which has resulted in the growth of the cloud, as well as the popularity of multi-screens. Ericsson addressed these challenges by offering simple, yet powerful solutions at its stand during the event by presenting its vision for the future of cloud-driven experiences. Active Telecoms sat with Tarek Saadi, Head of Engagement Practices, Ericsson, Middle East, to discuss Ericsson's latest video offerings.

Can you update us on Ericsson's current video offerings?

Ericsson has a wide range of products relating to video, video compression, video optimizing in the mobile networks and video caching. On top of that we also have a host of services including Media First which was recently announced. It is a broad platform through which our operators can deliver content to multiple platforms: TV, iPad and phone, so it means that multi-screen content is delivered and the user interface is versatile and can profile different users.

Is the video industry a big focus for Ericsson and how are you working with mobile operators and telcos on this?

Yes it is. Consumer Labs is a research facility at Ericsson where we conduct different studies on multiple consumers globally and we gather information that we feed back to the market and to the operators. The studies are telling us that video is becoming the dominant manner of communication for many users and video will constitute more than 75 percent of the total traffic in any given network. A recent study saw that when a user is waiting for a video to download, if the wait time is more than 2 seconds then the feeling of anguish and stress increases. If that delay becomes 6 seconds, the level of the heartbeat for the user goes up by almost 40 percent which is equal to watching a horror movie.

Customer experience is one of the key differentiators for operators, so we work with them to ensure that video content is delivered efficiently and without any delay. We also we want to make sure that this video content does not occupy the resources in the network. The network is an expensive investment for the operator so you want to make sure you're compressing this video making it available as close as possible to the user; this is called caching.

On top of that we would like to enable the operators to capture some of the revenue. It is not just the Over-The-Top (OTT) players such as Amazon and Netflix that should benefit, but the operators also, and that was the importance of the announcement we made yesterday on Media First. The platform enables the operator to capture back some of that revenue now they are able to deliver the content on multiple screens; they can deliver their own content and they can benefit from that revenue and that customer experience.

When can we expect to see the studies from the Consumer Labs go live?

All the technology is available now but it just depends on where you are as a user and if you are connected to a network that incorporates the technology we are talking about; for example, MSP which is a way to optimize video; MDM which is caching technology; and a third technology is compression. If you add these technologies into a network and put them in the right places then you shouldn't have any problems. That is a capability that we have at Ericsson.

The demand for faster connectivity is growing, how will you continue to address that?

It is about expanding the network resources; growing the network, but also growing it in a way where the operators get the right return for their investment. We want to be able to capture the revenue of the video that is being channeled through the network and to expand the network as it is growing, however we do not want to add capacity which is very costly without incorporating these tools. I am talking about the example of these OTT players who are providing content such as Netflix and many other companies; these guys can deliver the content to the user. This is a value, and what the user is looking for, but then the operator, such as Etisalat or du, or other operators in our region, where do they benefit? They will have to invest to make sure that the experience of the user is positive; otherwise the user will start to look at alternative operators and switch.

Will this increasing demand for video have a negative effect on operators?

I think it can have a positive effect. It is a way for the operator to do what they have always been talking about: monetize the mobile broadband, monetize the data, data becomes video and if you implement the Media First platform then you are monetizing it and you are now in command of that content which is very important for the user.

Who do you think is driving this demand?

Consumers. The value is the video, so if operators can manage to capture that value then they are in command; if they don't, there will be another way of value reaching the users. Take the example of Google in the U.S. - they are building their own fiber network because they recognize that value is what we are offering - the content - but of course the operators we are working with including Google, are helping to recapture that value as well.

How does this region compare to others when it comes to the technology involved in the video industry?

It's hard to generalize because this region is very diversified, but I would say we are catching on, from talking to operators, that some are more advanced in the way they address video, while others are still exploring, and some are recognizing the importance, but are delaying the investment and what is required to address video. So as a leader in the industry, we are conveying the message, doing the research and showing the information and demonstrating it to the operators in the region. We're working in advanced markets such as the U.S. where video is extremely valuable and operators are consuming a lot.

Published in Interviews