What is IPTV? How does it Work?

Online streaming is not new, but what is probably new to some people is IPTV. Pedaling back a little, there has been a shifting paradigm from traditional television to internet TV. At the center of that shifting is IPTV.

TV consumers are no longer obsessed with owning content, but rather accessing it anytime and anywhere. That in summary defines IPTV.

In this post, we will define IPTV, breakdown how it works, review its structure, types, the good and the bad, and what the future holds in store for IPTV.

IPTV Definition

IPTV is an acronym for Internet Protocol Television. It is the use of the internet to deliver TV programmes/content based on subscriber’s preferences. The delivered content may be live or on-demand. The medium used here is broadband as opposed to cable or satellite in conventional TV.

Of course, there are various similarities with digital video, but IPTV can be accessed from the same subscription on multiple devices over a range of apps. In a nutshell, IPTV deviates from the norm where viewers have to watch whatever channels are airing whether they like it or not. Instead, it delivers content on demand and as per the preferences of viewers. Users can access programmes and channels anywhere and anytime they want.

IPTV vs Cable TV: the clash of Titans

There is no denying that IPTV is reshaping the space of television and will be a key player going into the future. Cable TV is static and viewers have no control over what they watch. But IPTV is now changing that with offbeat media. What this means is that you dictate what you watch and when you watch it.

It is still early to say where IPTV will be going, but it sure will be a force to reckon with in the future. It may never replace cable TV, but IPTV popularity will continue to rise. The access of reliable internet around the world will also determine the pace at which homes and business buy into IPTV.

The working of IPTV

IPTV is much more like browsing the internet and clicking on programmes you want. A better analogy would be going over an interactive menu and clicking on what you want to eat. Internet is merely used as a transport medium to deliver the requested programmes to the user. The content or programmes are sourced from various servers and then packaged into small packets that can easily travel over a bandwidth to a specified device in a household or a premise.

To better understand the backstage activities, we should breakdown the architecture of IPTV.

IPTV is primarily structured in two main ways: distributed and centralized deployments.

Distributed architecture is scalable, and uses bandwidth. It also comes with system features that make it possible to manage broader server networks. It is, therefore, the best option for operators who intend to run extensive networks. There is also the apparent use of latest technologies to support the distribution of massive content to all users.

Centralized architecture system is both simple and smaller in server capacity. Its content is centrally stored, thus there is no need for an elaborate distribution system. Consequently, it does not have the capacity to handle massive VOD requests. However, such is not an excuse not to have reliable bandwidth and excellent content delivery network (CDN).

All the content is stored in a central unit in form of IP unicast streams. It is at this unit where various forms of content go through encryption, coding, and finally dispatched as IP multicast streams to IPTV services who then distribute them to users as per their requests.

The channels and content particular to a user are delivered through a dedicated network. The network is a composition of robust internet connectivity to the broadcasters through fiber optics. The signal is then delivered to the final viewer through an ISP of their choice.

For the cycle to be complete, the viewer has to subscriber to an IPTV service provider who in turn gives the viewer a branded top box. The top box now decodes and decrypts the content so that it can be viewed on a TV, an Android device, PC, or iOS device. The top box is connected to the internet to be part of the network that content is delivered as well as a platform that the user sends request.

Types of IPTV

IPTV is generally divided into 3 types. Each of them conforms to user preferences about what, when, where, and how they wish to receive and view their content.

  • Video-on-demand (VOD): this is more like walking into an eat-what-you-like restaurant. Users requests for videos and shows they want to watch. These are delivered express to your device library. It rules out the scenario of having to sit through a show to get to your favorite. You watch want you want, when, how, and where you want it.
  • Time-shifted TV: it is not all time you will be there to catch your favorite shows. But that should not mean you miss out on them entirely. These IPTV types allow you the privilege to watch your shows later. They are saved in hours, days or a week. When you have the time, you can sit down and watch all the shows you have missed throughout the week from your time-shifted video collection.
  • Live television: This is one of the reasons that make IPTV a better option to cable TV. You will catch events from around the world in real time. The sports niche is the big beneficiary of this type.

Is IPTV legal?

There is always the question hanging at the back of everyone’s mind when you come across the idea of IPTV for the first time. Is IPTV legal? The answer is yes and no depending on how you access the services. Yes it is legal because no country has passed laws against streaming services and watching live TV online. It is not legal when you download content from illegal IPTV services and distribute it. For instance, in the US it is not forbidden by law to access TV programmes online. But it becomes a crime when you download that content and distributes it without permission of the mother channels.

To be on the safe side, it is recommended to subscribe to legal IPTV services. You are not only promoting internet safety but also making sure you are not breaking any law of the land.

The good and the bad of IPTV

There is no denying that IPTV is a revolution to how we watch TV. You no longer have to wait or keep silent about the programmes you consume. You can demand and get what you want to watch regardless of where you are. That, unlike traditional TV, puts the control on consumers as opposed to TV producers. Another perk of IPTV is that you get channels and programmes pooled in a central unit. You can access any of them at will. The ability to watch events in real time is the big selling point for IPTV. You are getting access to events while they happen without any interruptions. You also cannot overlook the advantage of shifted viewing. You can access programmes that aired while you were away. That is power traditional TV cannot deliver to viewers. Finally, parents can now know and control what their kids are watching. At least this is possible with IPTV services with elaborate parental controls.

On the downside, IPTV increases the risk of hacking. If you are using smart TV to access IPTV, then you are only a step away from the next hacking. However, you can prevent that by using VPN. That will add to your cost of subscription but it is always better to be safe than being sorry.

IPTV Now and the Future

Digital TV Research forecasts that IPTV domestic subscriptions will more than double to at least 190 million all over the world in 2020. This is equivalent to approximately 12% of the global households. Same shifts will be witnessed in revenue from IPTV whereby more than 25 billion will be collected by the close of 2020.

China, the United States of America, and Japan are touted as the leaders into the future of IPTV. China is predicted to have 77 million subscribers by 2020, with the US coming a distant second and Japan closing the top 3. Other nations, big and small, are showing interest in IPTV and it remains to be seen where the numbers will be going in 2020.

Final Thoughts

The phenomenon of IPTV is an interesting one. While the world was slow at adopting it, it has now gained traction and become a mainstream medium in many nations around the world. Some pundits claimed that IPTV will bring the curtain down on traditional TV but that is a wishful dream. While IPTV hands much control to users, traditional TV still commands massive viewership. The only scenario is where the two will co-exist and widen the scope of options for viewers.