Canal+ takes OTT baby steps wearing Quantenna WiFi chipsets

Canal+ is best known as a pay TV company owned by content powerhouse Vivendi, not an establishment renowned for its next-generation practices. Only now is the French pay TV operator embracing WiFi as central to the future of TV, deploying its first multi-room WiFi design, powered by chipsets from US WiFi technology specialist Quantenna.

By multi-room, it means connecting up to three G9 mini set tops to the main hybrid satellite OTT G9 set top, launched earlier this month, delivering video via in-home WiFi. This design receives HD and UHD video via satellite, then decodes and redistributes video streams between set tops via WiFi. Extra OTT functionalities, such as on-demand content, are pulled directly from an internet connection, which must be owned by one of the major French ISPs, not by Vivendi.

The recently launched G9 set top from Canal+ is integrating Quantenna’s QSR1000 based 802.11ac 4×4 product and the G9 mini uses Quantenna’s 2×2 dual-band 802.11ac/11n QSR2000 chipset. Quantenna says its chipsets maximize coverage in homes without compromising network performance and reliability, equipped with technologies such as MU-MIMO, digital transmit beamforming and embedded DSP (digital signal processor) engine – helping to accelerate hardware performance. No set top vendor is disclosed but we imagine it will be Technicolor.

Quantenna says its QSR2000 chipset is specially adapted for set tops and OTT devices, while its QSR1000 product is designed for access points (APs) and repeaters. Canal+’s G9 mini is therefore essentially acting as an access point, yet there is a key omission.

Canal+ has chosen not to deploy the mesh software from AirTies, which was licensed by Quantenna last year. Both AirTies and Quantenna confirmed to Faultline Online Reporter that mesh is not part of the Canal+ deployment, but neither vendor could shine any light on why Canal+ would not roll out some form of mesh networking technology, so this may be a case of testing the waters for uptake of such a multi-room system by subscribers, before taking the next leap to a mesh architecture using multi-APs.

Of course, Canal+ is not an ISP so investing heavily in WiFi technologies is not an immediate concern. Introducing compatibility between its new line of set tops with third-party repeaters or extenders to appeal to larger homes, on the other hand, may be food for thought.

Canal+ will certainly be hopeful of a revival, having lost over 400,000 subscribers in its last results filing in May 2017, including its CanalSat brand which has since been retired. Making its debut in multi-room WiFi will inject temporary life into its pay TV business, but a miraculous turnaround of this scale will not simply be achieved with a new hardware roll out. Canal+ must use its content clout to transform the SVoD service CanalPlay into a national success and center its video operations around this, to offset satellite losses.

Most recent CanalPlay figures are from September 2016 showing 614,000 subscribers to the €9.99 a month Netflix rival, a 91,000 loss over six months at the time. However, last summer, Ilaid’s Free began promoting the service to its 5 million customers and took up a 20% ownership of CanalPlay.

The G9 set top comes with a voice remote and eight tuners for up to four simultaneous recordings. The 80 GB version is available to subscribers free of charge, while the 320 GB and 1 TB devices cost extra.

Philippe Rivas, CTO Distribution at Canal+, said, “WiFi has become the primary medium to deliver high quality video services to multiple devices simultaneously throughout the home. Having a reliable, high capacity WiFi network is crucial for customers. Quantenna’s superior WiFi solution with advanced Quality of Service for video applications helps us enable high quality video services with unparalleled customer satisfaction.”

Rival operator Orange has a head start through partner firm SoftAtHome, a supplier of TV and WiFi software, and Orange recently brought in extenders from AirTies to accompany SoftAtHome software in the home gateway for additional WiFi support. Orange said it had not deployed a mesh architecture either but uses extenders and is now trying the AirTies mesh.

Kudelski’s Nagra supplies security for the G9 platform and Wyplay is supplying its Frog middleware, including an HD HTML 5.0 UI. Viaccess-Orca also has a contract at Canal+ but has not been mentioned as part of the new G9 line deployment. On previous set tops, Canal+ has used a multimedia processor from STMicroelectronics and recommendation engines called Eureka and Suggest, powered by Spideo. Cisco, Technicolor and Huawei have all supplied set top hardware to Canal+ in the past.