“Traditional STBs can no longer handle complex requirements of innovative operators”: Matthias Greve

IPTV is moving from a pure linear product to a complete TV experience with live TV, on demand services and third party content. This new world of connecting the TV to the Internet means both, opportunities and challenges for operators, developers and integrators.

ABOX42, is one of the leading provider of hybrid, IPTV and OTT DVB smart set top boxes (STBs), with five years expertise and knowledge in end-user mass-market products and a deployment of over 120 OTT applications. ABOX42 developed a new generation of smart STBs for the global market. The ABOX42 smart STB platform is the ideal solution for any IPTV and OTT content providers, cable-operators and ISPs, who are aiming to provide an own STB for its services to its customers. The platform was designed for fast moving OTT providers, cable operators, IPTV providers and internet service companies. With its powerful smart SDK, the Smart SaaS Services and additional Smart Solutions, the ABOX42 platform offers its customers a short project cycle, short lead times in production and includes lifecycle management for ongoing software maintenance and service updates.

ABOX42 is taking a new approach with the ABOX42 Smart Platform and its advanced customised IPTV, OTT and Hybrid Smart STBs to solve the most important key challenges by providing the solid hardware foundation and the software features for a unique TV proposition with least cost and low development effort. In an interview, ABOX42 founder and CEO Matthias Greve answers essential questions about the rapidly changing market.


What role do STBs play now and in future, considering Smart TVs and cloud based services?

Modern STBs like the ABOX42 M-series are designed for local TV applications as well as for emerging cloud based TV services. Since on one hand the operators need to control the user experience and on the other hand need to be ahead of competition with the introduction of new TV features, it will be more than ever mandatory to have a modern, flexible and scalable Set Top Box platform for the first screen TV experience of paying end-users. Smart TVs offer a certain range of OTT applications, but will not replace the main Set Top Box device in end-users home, which provide a unified, rich TV experience on the first and second screen.

Do you see a “SetTopBox-less” future for operators?

There is currently some talk from operators about virtual STBs as SmartTV apps or STBs as CI+ modules. Since there is today no standard for the virtual STB applications and the vast majority of the installed flat screen TV in the household do not support these new applications, the operator still needs to focus on its core STB. This is the device, which can be shipped to all subscribers regardless of the type or age of the TV set.

What view should an operator take on the virtual STB?

The best way to view these issues is to treat the virtual STB like the operator would treat an App on iPad, XBOX or PlayStation. It is an add-on but not the core of the operators TV solution.

What are the challenges of virtual STBs as apps?

With the virtual STB apps within SmartTV, the operator does not have the same freedom on the user interface side. Also the quality of service cannot be guaranteed over the live time of the app. It is out of the operators´ control, how for example future software updates of the SmartTV manufacture might affect the compatibility and proper functioning of the operators TV service.

Also Virtual STB apps are not free of charge and need costly maintenance. If you support different manufactures and different version of TV sets it quickly sums up to 5 to 10 new platforms which have to be supported each year.

What is the major shift in the STB market?

Traditional closed STB platforms are not any longer able to handle the complex requirements of innovative operators. The market will move from old integrated, proprietary STB products to modern SmartSTB platforms where the focus has moved to the software layer. This is a similar shift like we experienced in the last few years with the move from traditional feature phones to modern Smart phones. The same trend we see in the TV middleware segment, where operators want to move from closed propriety systems to open solutions based on modern internet technologies and open standards.

What are the specific operator challenges solely advanced STBs are able to match?

The biggest challenge for operators today is to understand what the difference of new IPTV & OTT solutions is and how the operator can in an effective way get to the target solution in least time.

Basically almost all Cable and Satellite Pay TV operators want to deliver new services like network PVR, VOD and want to add OTT delivery of specific channels to free up bandwidth in their traditional DVB networks. IPTV operators who started several years ago need to upgrade their user experiences from inflexible first and second-generation STB platforms to latest (third) generation. This new generation STB platforms allow the fast development of modern user interfaces, compelling services and the integration of third party services based on HTML5. In addition these new Smart STB platforms are upgradable and much more future proof than legacy STBs.

Do SmartSTBs already match operators´ current and future demands?

SmartSTBs have arrived and delivery of HD live TV channels over the internet with OTT technologies is a market proven technology deployed in the mass market already. A new concept of OTT DVB, allows not only live TV signal delivery over the internet, but to also include multiple audio tracks, classical TeleText, DVB Subtitle as well as modern HbbTV application via HLS streaming.

Will future trends in the operator area be in favour of STBs?

There are two major trends increasing the demand for STBs. Operators who already run an older generation IPTV service plan to upgrade to a latest generation IPTV & OTT solution which is modern and scalable, which can be integrated seamlessly and offers new compelling features (additional OTT services, HbbTV, nPVR, Smart TV applications) and multi-screen capabilities.

Operators without an existing installation who want to move into the TV space with a modern IPTV (or even more often OTT) solution which is easy to role out, does not require long integration work and offers a great first screen experience combined with multi-screen capabilities.

What are the unique possibilities given with OTT solutions and STBs?

OTT is a great opportunity for new players to enter the TV market, or for existing operators and internet service providers to reach new customers and add new features. ABOX42 has been an innovator in the advanced Set Top Box platform field for quite a while and we recognise that our solution is picked by both traditional operators who want to move to a future proof, modern and complete solution, as well we are serving new OTT operators who are entering the TV field with compelling new product offerings and disruptive business models. We see a major increase of our business and getting more and more request from traditional operators.

What distinguishes the new STB generation from the preceding models?

The new SmartSTBs will be able to handle many different standards side by side, such as streaming protocols, DRM and CAS systems. This new SmartSTB generation is HTML5 browser based and much more easier for development. A new focus will become the management of the software lifecycle and cloud services to manage the SmartSTB during the entire lifecycle, like we are all used nowadays with e.g. the iPhone.

What are characteristic innovations in the area of OTT and IPTV technologies?

ABOX42 as innovator in the IPTV & OTT segment is already delivering products, which offer all the latest innovations. This includes support of all major DVB features in both IPTV & OTT, supporting HbbTV services, other OTT services and third party applications with different streaming formats, different DRM systems side by side on the platform. More efficient streaming with H.265 will for sure boost the video quality especially for OTT and will allow more efficient content delivery for operators.

Do SmartSTBs and especially ABOX42 solutions meet the customers´ demands?

ABOX42 is supporting all demanded new features with its Smart SDK and Smart mobile Toolkit for the advanced ABOX42 STB platform. We see this as one of our competitive advantages to provide a broad compatibility to OTT services, streaming formats, DRM systems as well as the support of various TV Middleware solutions.

This way a network operator can flexibly and easily upgrade all existing customers (digital and analog TV watchers) with new OTT and interactive services such as Catch-Up TV, Video on Demand and many more. ABOX42 offers short project cycles, short production lead times and includes lifecycle management, ongoing software maintenance and service updates.

What are currently the typical demands of ABOX42´s customers?

Depending on legal requirements in a certain country, cloud based recording (network PVR & network timeshift) is the most compelling feature. But also HbbTV offers a great set of additional features and on demand content which is supported by more and more countries / operators. Last but not least ‘Multi-Screen’ applications are getting more and more popular since it is not only about ‘on demand’, but about ‘any place, any time’ nowadays. In general it is all about high quality content and an intuitive user interface. This is what end-users like on the new TV experience.

What are the prospects for a retail market as a channel for multiple services and devices?

We believe the operators including new OTT operators are in the driver’s seat to deploy compelling multi screen solutions to their customers. Most markets are dominated by pay TV offerings by operators. Looking into the hardware devices, already today lots of retail devices (iOS or Android based) can be enabled as a second screen device, where the operator controls the application for these devices (for OTT services). For the main screen (e.g. IPTV), the operator will control and provide as well the hardware device (STB).

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