Broken down, television on a telephone network is all about digitizing content into bits of data over a network that’s not necessarily the Internet – despite its Internet protocol (IP) appellation. IPTV, besides curing the common cold and accelerating world peace, is also expected to deliver applications and content that will make every consumer view linear cable programming the way the TV generation viewed radio: a nice antique.

IPTV is "all about personalization," said Kumar Shah, CEO of Kasenna, which has developed new technology designed to merge Web-based IP content with more traditional, or "linear," programming available on IPTV networks. "Personalized video is what it’s all about," Shah said, noting that cable has "not a whole lot of bandwidth" left for personalization after it delivers voice, video, data and some limited VOD over its HFC networks.

The only answer, Shah said, is for cable to bite the bullet, invest another $30 billion to $40 billion in infrastructure, and adopt IPTV.

"All roads lead to IPTV whether you’re a telephone company or a cable operator," Shah said. "Everyone is driving towards IPTV. It’s going to take (cable) a lot longer, but it’s only a matter of time." IPTV in the cards Not surprisingly, cable is not dismissing IPTV out of hand – as DOCSIS 3.0 would seem to indicate – but as with PacketCable and VoIP, cable is doing it on its own terms.

When asked about his company’s plans for IPTV for a Communications Technology cover story on next-generation set-top boxes, Dallas Clement, senior vice president of strategy and development at Cox Communications, opened the door for a migration that might start with the VOD delivery system that many telco vendors feel is a cable shortcoming.

"You may see us do some hybrids," he said, pointing to a two-way CableCard world where there will be a DOCSIS modem – perhaps a DOCSIS 3.0-capable modem – that can be signaled via IP. "May we encapsulate some content in that? Perhaps. Will we start transitioning our VOD to look more and more like IP? Yeah, I think we will."

Other programming, though, will probably not follow the traditional path being outlined by the telcos.

"In an IP world, we tend to use CMTSs; in a digital video world, we tend to use QAM. QAM actually scales more efficiently than CMTSs for video, (so) if we were to ever actually move to IPTV, it would be in a closed environment, a managed environment, such that we could offer the high quality experience we do today," he said.

IPTV, taken literally, runs over the Internet, and "you’d never be able to offer the high quality experience we do today in an open best-effort Internet," Clement said.

Even the telcos, who routinely disagree with anything the cable guys say and believe – except when it comes to programming bundles — agree about IPTV.

IPTV "is not the Internet," said Bryan McGuirk, president of media solutions for satellite content aggregator SES Americom. "We use IP, but we use it for a secure purpose." – Jim Barthold

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