By September 2020, China's three major operators, China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, had more than 300 million IPTV/OTT users, with a bandwidth penetration exceeding 65%. According to statistics, the total number of home users in China has almost reached 500 million. Considering the share of China broadcasting network users and internet TV users, the growth of IPTV/OTT users is basically close to saturation.
300 million IPTV/OTT subscribers is a huge user base. At present, IPTV/OTT revenues of the three major operators in China come from traditional fields such as live broadcasting and video on demand (VOD). Operators have done a lot to enrich revenue models like basic package, premium package, PPV and advertising, and to improve user experience by means of fast channel change (FCC), forward error correction (FEC), automatic repeat request (ARQ), dedicated live broadcast network (DLBN) and 4K. After the initial great development, revenue growth in the traditional fields is becoming more and more difficult. Increasing revenue in new fields, invigorating existing 300 million IPTV/OTT users and transforming from extensive subscriber increase to optimized traffic operation are big challenges for operators.
Internet services, especially online education and games, have developed rapidly in recent years, and their service quality has kept improving, resulting in huge social and economic benefits. Internet-based IPTV/OTT value-added services have become a trend. However, these services are mainly for smart phones. When deployed in IPTV/OTT, the STB terminal itself is a bottleneck, which can be seen in two aspects.
Service support: The three major operators purchase STBs through centralized procurement. In terms of hardware, traditional video services are mostly considered, while value-added services are considered less. STBs cannot deploy or support large internet services in hardware. For example, the game Strike of Kings needs 1GB memory and 4GB storage to run and also poses higher requirements for image rendering. The current mainstream STBs cannot deploy this game.
Service adaptability: There are more than 20 suppliers of STBs and nearly 100 STB models, and the stock of STBs in existing networks is different. The demand for STBs varies from province to province, and there are thousands of software versions for STBs. Due to the huge number of STB models and software versions, a variety of services are deployed in the existing network, which requires a lot of adaptation work, and the difficulty in network O&M is also greatly increased.
For the three major operators, the capabilities of STBs seriously limit the development of value-added services and affect the increase in revenue. Although operators can solve the above problems by replacing STBs, the replacement cost is too high due to the huge stock of existing STBs. Even if operators pay a huge cost to replace STBs, they still cannot meet the growing demands for hardware once and for all.
Virtual STB (vSTB) can be a solution. The STB capabilities in the cloud expands services and accelerates their deployment speed. In the field of cloud-based services, cloud phones have emerged and cloud games are very popular. Google, Tencent Cloud, and Huawei Cloud have supported the deployment of cloud services and games on terminals including PC, smart phones and tablets. However, due to the complexity of networks and terminals, the deployment of cloud services on STBs remains a gap in the market.
To achieve cloud-based STB services, two requirements must be met. First, it is necessary to provide full-service support, not only for games but also for education, animation, health care and fitness. Second, it is necessary to decouple software from hardware and decouple service software from platform software.
ZTE's vSTB can well address the above-mentioned issues. Services run in the cloud, and STBs adopt the 4K decoding capability to present services. It transforms value-added services into a video service that can support the deployment of large-scale value-added services and large online games, so that STB users can experience higher quality services.
ZTE's vSTB is designed to improve user experience, reduce deployment costs, and provide easy O&M and high reliability.
User experience: User experience is guaranteed through adaptive bitrate and manual bitrate adjustment. vSTB can support not only real handles but also virtual handles through smart phones, so it is not restricted by the remote control and can attract professional players.
Performance: For audio-visual services such as education, a single server can support 700 online users; for games, a single server can support over 100 concurrent users. This greatly reduces deployment costs of operators.
O&M: Value-added services are played immediately without downloading. With STB services deployed in the cloud, the STB on-site maintenance cost is greatly reduced. Thanks to decoupling of software and hardware, millions of STBs can be upgraded overnight. One-click packet capture, user behavior statistics, active O&M, fault monitoring, and fast fault location are also supported.
Reliability: Relying on years of experience in system equipment and taking comprehensive emergency into consideration, ZTE has developed its vSTB that has no single point of failure (SPOF).
ZTE's vSTB was officially put into commercial use in Hunan Branch of China Telecom (Hunan Telecom) in November 2020. By introducing high-quality education and games, it has brought a brand new service experience to 6.5 million online users, helping Hunan Telecom increase its operation revenue while reducing O&M costs.
ZTE has also been committed to creating a vSTB ecosystem and looking for business partners. To date, ZTE has signed strategic partnership with NetEase, Gameloft, Shanxi Fenteng Interaction, Suzhou Snailgame, Wuhan Huatong Digit, and Shenzhen LutongNet to focus on STB and TV services, working together to improve service quality and build the ecosystem.
Through the home gigabit network, vSTB can provide operators with a breakdown of home scenarios, with the aim to bring users comprehensive personalized services. In this way, some new types of home terminals will emerge, such as terminals that integrate cloud audio-visual services, cloud PC and cloud games in living rooms and public spaces, as well as portable office and audio-visual terminals for remote office works and entertainments in study rooms and private spaces. vSTB can also provide dedicated cloud-based education desktop, so that users can enjoy the service through tablets rather than PCs, which saves the cost of buying computers.
Cloud-based services will greatly change the way users experience and drive continuous innovation in business models. Some new application scenarios will emerge. For example, education services allow parents to remotely view their children while they are learning online, game services allow STB users to team up or fight with mobile phone users, and there are live game interaction, handle/remote control exchange, and value-added service advertising. Instead of passively receiving services, users will enjoy an interesting interactive experience. This change in user experience will definitely lead to a growth in profits and retain more customers. The mode of competing for customers by price-cutting will be completely changed.
With the arrival of 5G, the bandwidth and latency will be further improved, and the service mode will change greatly. The vSTB products feature fixed-mobile convergence, delivering the same user experience and flexible switchover on mobile phones, tablets and STBs. This significantly expands value-added service groups and truly achieves ubiquitous services. With cross-platform characteristics, strong processing capacity and flexible deployment, the vSTB products will effectively support the cloud-network convergence strategy of operators, implement internet-based services, and ultimately help them complete business transformation and revenue growth.