In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, the team at Atyaf, a multiplay service provider in Bahrain talks about what makes its platform cutting edge in the MENA region In recent months, Bahrain has become a hotbed of activity for broadcasters thanks to the intervention of the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) as well as participation […]
In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, the team at Atyaf, a multiplay service provider in Bahrain talks about what makes its platform cutting edge in the MENA region
In recent months, Bahrain has become a hotbed of activity for broadcasters thanks to the intervention of the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) as well as participation from a few private investors.
No doubt, the IAA has made headlines for prodding the Kingdoms stated-backed broadcaster Bahrain Radio and TV (BRTV) out of its legendary stupor to keep pace with the rest of the regions more active broadcasters and wooing Prince Al Waleed bin Talal to set up his new Alarab news channel in the country. However, the IAA is still primarily nurturing activity in the traditional broadcast space.
By comparison, the efforts of a small, private Bahrain-based entity that is quietly gearing up to offer multiplay services across both regional and international markets has, thus far, gone unnoticed. Atyaf Telecommunications & Infrastructure International, the result of a joint venture between three major share holding companies namely, ASBB Infotech, Olive VFM and Shabaka Investment Co, is a multiplay enabler that is offering services related to IPTV, voice and internet-converged Service as a Platform (SaaP) in the region that are truly cutting edge. Its advanced IP-based TV and Video on Demand (VOD) platform provides customers with secure content through managed (closed) networks, by streaming HTTP streams with a fully secured, end-to-end Verimatrix Conditional Access System (CAS).
Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Juman, the companys managing director, says the company presently operates a flexible business model providing white-label, co-branding and customisable IPTV solutions to the market.
Atyaf is operator and content provider independent and can offer both small and large operators with an advanced converged platform that offers an exciting entertainment and information experience.
Nezar Jamsheer, CEO of Atyaf, says the service was conceived as far back as 2007 although the idea was crystalised only towards the end of 2009.
We saw the need for a platform in the region to offer a multiplay product that was both content and service provider agnostic. This means that our IPTV platform can carry any content live TV, Video on Demand (VOD), internet and voice from any content provider to any customer through any telecom/service provider regardless of their access network medium whether it is a fixed telecom operator, mobile operator or WiMAX operator, explains Jamsheer.
Essentially, Atyaf works closely with both content providers and telco operators. Atyaf has arrangements with broadcasters and studios to carry their free-to-air and premium content on its platform. It offers all of these operators a low cost to market their services on any operators network. At the same time, it offers telcos a readymade IPTV platform that they can customise, rebrand and go to market with. In fact, it is presently working with three telcos and operating three different business models for each including white-label, hybrid, and customised solutions.
In all cases, the customers and the content remain with the operators.
Atyafs chief technology officer, Sabah AlKubaisy, explains why.
I worked with a telco provider when it was deploying an IPTV solution.We implemented the platform but got stuck with the content. Operators risk investing millions of dollars into deploying an IPTV service without really having any exciting content to go along with it. Most telcos here do not have a one-stop shop from where they can take the platform as well as the content. At the end of the day, the customer does not want to know what platform we have. All they care about is the content. The content that the customer watches is the biggest differentiator and we bring this along with the platform to the telco operator.
Atyaf presently provides more than 700 channels including free-to-air as well as premium content in various genres and languages across screens.
130 of these channels are premium channels unicast over a closed network, Imran Abu Khalid, content and sales manager at Atyaf chips in.
We also have a wide variety of VOD content catering to various genres and languages.
Although conceived four years ago, Atyaf rolled out its first commercial service only in Q2 2012.
Although the complexity of the platform delayed the launch considerably, Atyaf claims to offer a truly integrated and converged platform that is both content and telco independent in the region.
Our first commercial roll-out was an IPTV service for the residents of Durrat Al Bahrain, a high-end gated resort style community in Bahrain. We offered integrated smart home solutions to the residents by providing premium live TV channels and enhanced telephony services, AlKubaisy says.
One key factor that Atyaf hopes will make its service attractive to customers is enabling them to download VOD content without using their internet quota.
The customer must be able to access the content without using his internet quota and this is key to the success of any OTT platform, according to AlKubaisy.
Most of the OTT services that you might see in the market presently use the customers internet capacity. No matter how great your internet connection is, whether 100GB or 60GB, they all have a fare-use policy, which means the threshold will eventually go down to 1MB. So the customer experience will eventually deteriorate because these are bandwidth-hungry services.
We work with the operator to eliminate this by not metering such traffic. We deploy dedicated delivery nodes at ingress of the operators access network to create a private interconnect between the delivery node and the access network rather than across the internet so as to garner and manage the network behaviour and latency, explains AlKubaisy.
This is the value add that we are able to offer across the whole content delivery chain. Again, we do this as a white label so the customer does not see our brand anywhere.
Atyaf has not limited itself to video and audio content. It is also simultaneously involved in providing a gaming platform and voice services to customers.
This platform enables you to access our content from any device whether an iPod, iPad, Android or set-top box. With regards to gaming, we hope to bring different kinds of games to the market to cater to different tastes. When we get to the voice part of our service, customers will be able to initiate calls from their TVs and even have roaming extensions depending on the box provided by their operator.
“So if telco operator X is using our platform, he can potentially provide his customer with the ability to have their office extension on roaming and they can use it anywhere if they have an internet connection. So if someone calls on your office extension, you can access it from anywhere. This is what we have at the Atyaf office. However, the telecom operator may choose not to offer this service to their clients to ensure it does not compete with their existing voice services. As a feature, we have it available and can be integrated with the client if they want it.
Another key differentiator, according to Atyaf, is that it offers a dedicated secure client to protect the content asset.
The customer needs to download an application. This might sound like an extra hurdle to the customer but it guarantees the content security. We use this for our VOD service as well as to ensure security.
A range of brands including Minerva Back-Office, Harmonic and Ericsson IRD devices, Envivio encoders and transcoders as well as Media Melon CDN have been brought together to make the whole operation successful.
Atyafs inhouse team of engineers worked on the integration of the platform with direct support from each of the vendors involved in the project.
Initially, the plan was that our systems integrator (SI) would develop a full turnkey platform, to offer the required converged multiplay service products. However, as the project progressed, we realised that we needed to move this inhouse. Atyaf, therefore, has managed the delivery of the platform since mid-2012. It was focused on quickly building and delivering full-fledged, converged multiplay products as they were ready rather than waiting for the entire service to be ready and then taking it to the market, AlKubaisy adds.
The built phase of the project was delayed for several reasons, according to the CTO.
For one, several vendors were involved in the deployment of this project. Secondly, this project has several elements that are just as technologically baffling for the vendors and there are not that many players undertaking such projects. Our aim was to deliver a seamless multiscreen service to end users to enjoy true seamless mobility and entertainment through any device across any access network provider. That was more easily said than done. In many ways, we became a lab for them to test their products and services alongside that of other vendors because this is, in many ways, cutting edge.
Today, Atyaf is capable of providing IPTV in all of its three flavours including traditional multicast, OTT IPTV and Hybrid DBVS IPTV with the operators or through the internet, claims AlKubaisy.
From a live TV perspective, the content is received through Atyafs dish farm. The dish farm includes the Harmonic and Ericsson receivers. These IRDs are tuned to specific frequencies to receive specific channels that Atyaf has an agreement with.
For example, OSN would give us the specific frequencies for each of their channels and we tune our IRDs to receive them. The IRDs basically stream the signal and output it as a multicast IP feed.
As Atyaf provides multiple solutions, it has a different workflow for OTT as opposed to multi cast.
At Durrat Al Bahrain, for instance, we have our own GPON infrastructure so we provide the customers there with multicast feeds. We provide them with a set top box and a GPON ONT so basically, the signal is distributed through the network as a multicast stream all the way to the set top box, explains AlKubaisy.
However, as all portable devices support HTTP rather than multicast streaming, this is also available from Atyaf through OTT.
On the one hand, multicast feeds are distributed to customers that have a multicast capability, which is only through fixed networks. They receive them through a multicast-enabled network. In parallel, we take the same multicast feed into Envivio transcoders and output them as HTTP chunks for OTT. Essentially, the input into the transcoder is a multicast feed but the output is HTTP chunks, in different profiles.
Atyaf provides four IPTV profiles, which enables it to stream to different portable devices based on the devices ability to receive the content.
This is where the Media Melon delivery server comes into play. The server is positioned at the top of the chain by the telco provider across its network.
The Envivio transcoder chunks the HTTP channels into four different profiles and feeds it into the Media Melon delivery server. When the Media Melon checks the exact bandwidth of the customer, it assigns it to one of those profiles.
The delivery server does not just receive the chunks of the HTTP channels from the Envivio transcoder and deliver it to the requesting device, whether it is an iPhone or a set top box, clarifies AlKubaisy. It checks the actual connectivity of the client and the bandwidth he has at that given point in time. So if you have a 2MB bandwidth, it will assign you to a 1.8MB profile.
This is where the different profiles come into play. The beauty of this is that the profiles are dynamically allocated. So, if you are moving from a good coverage to a bad coverage area, for instance, and watching a channel, it will assign you a lower profile so you dont disconnect from the actual stream. This Adaptive Streaming technology is not presently provided by most other platforms in the market, explains AlKubaisy.
At present, the IPTV service in Bahrain is limited to certain areas. Atyaf hopes to expand that footprint and is looking to roll out services along with telcos in different parts of the region.
With financial institutions as its backers, Atyaf has been careful with its investments. Rather than putting together a massive team and incurring heavy investment costs, it has kept its budget low by keeping only the core technology team inhouse and outsourcing other administrative elements to third parties.
As a result, Atyaf presently has only 25 employees although it will grow to a total of 59 employees by the end of 2013, according to the company.
In the meantime, Atyaf is already working on converging a ready voice platform with its IPTV engine to offer a converged voice service initiated from a TV set seamless to the customer through its platform.