NOS envies Spanish neighbor, offers fresh UX in UMA TV

Portugal’s NOS has decided to use Dutch firm Metrological’s Application Platform, alongside the WPE open source browser, to launch a new personalized multiscreen service – UMA. The system will sit alongside the NOS RDK set top software provided by Canadian firm Espial, but the two are essentially separate, although not as far as the customer could notice.

The announcement came out of Metrological and it wants us to tell you all about the clever stuff it has done to upgrade the User Experience, but first we need to look at the Portuguese market and where it has been heading.

There are two major outside influences, what’s happened in neighboring Spain and the arrival of Netflix at the end of 2015.

Telefonica took the Spanish market by storm two years ago when it rethought its multiscreen service and it launched Movistar Fusion TV – three key elements were involved, it had a cloud DVR, it had a modern UI and it was sold as part of a quad play. After four years flatlining, Telefonica’s TV service experienced 40% plus growth in a single year. NOS has seen that and gone looking for the technology to copy this strategy – but starting from where it is, in both cable and DTH. The Telefonica effect was so marked that both Orange and Vodafone, the two rivals in Spain, had to immediately follow suit in order not to be left behind.

Up to that point NOS had only launched its N-Play VoD system separately from its pay TV service Iris. N-Play cost €7.50 a month, and provided access to 5,000 movies, TV series and children’s content on PCs, tablets and smartphones. Now it seems to be launching a brand new TV system which accommodates both VoD and Live, both the TV and multiscreen, and will also embrace Netflix, so that it doesn’t have to see Netflix as a rival, but as just another content provider.

Well that covers the market position, now for the clever stuff that Metrological has enabled. You may remember that NOS has only just signed up for Espial’s G4 set top client, sitting for the most part on Arris hardware.

G4 itself includes a version of RDK with an application framework and a UI framework, and it is being implemented using DevOps engineering by Espial itself. So why does NOS also need Metrological’s services to sit alongside it?

It is all about the experiences Metrological has had as a cloud based app store for TVs, and it will allow a Netflix implementation to happen in months, not years, and for it to appear as part and parcel of the UI. It will also bring cloud management into the frame, and if a cloud app notices that you tend to use Netflix at this time every night, it can pre-load it in the background, and when you switch to it, it will be instantaneous, and not take up to 10 seconds to load. That’s what makes it personalized.

Arris is a longstanding supplier to NOS, and its most recent deployment supported NOS’ first 4K service using the ZD4500 set top, with Nagra’s conditional access integrated with a new RDK 2.1-based framework from Espial, featuring HEVC and a new NOS designed UI. This is secured using the Nagra anyCast Connect conditional access and DRM system.

The key element in the Metrological deal is the use of an open source browser in WPE, once which other operators have already used, such as Liberty Global and Comcast, and it’s about being able to use the full features of HTML5 rendering, so a new UI can be delivered from the cloud – which means it can be changed at any time, but still rendered on the device. In the future, NOS may want to put the same UI onto the rest of its legacy set tops, and using the Metrological Framework, it would be able to do this, including Netflix.

So this in the first instance is a way to onboard Netflix fast, sitting on a Broadcom 7252 chip and running alongside UMA TV running under Espial’s G4. The two companies, Espial and Metrological have done much the same at Tele Columbus in Germany.

But NOS is looking ahead, for when it will need to integrate other premium OTT services such as YouTube, Hulu or Amazon, then the Metrological approach takes the complexity away. All the apps run in their own wrapper. Wrapper functions are useful in the development of applications that use third-party library functions. A wrapper can be written for each of the third party functions and used inside native applications. If the third party functions change or are updated, only the wrappers need to be modified, as opposed to changing all instances of third party functions in the native application.

The idea is to run both Netflix in a wrapper, and the Espial Apps alongside it, also other native apps, as well as Apps from the Metrological App Store. This gives the operator a lot of flexibility – it can work with Espial on the core TV functions, using the Espial framework, and this does not impair Metrological helping out on third party apps like Netflix, all the while making them look and work as if they were from the same monolithic piece of middleware.

What you get in the Metrological Framework includes lifecycle management, and brings the experiences to the browser, plus as download mechanism, to get the latest versions from the cloud and create empty channels. For instance you can simply say Load Netflix. The system uses Gstreamer to abstract video players above the WPE browser.

GStreamer is a pipeline-based multimedia framework which links together a wide variety of media processing into complex workflows. For instance, GStreamer can be used to build a system that reads files in one format, processes them, and exports them in another. The formats and processes can be changed in a plug and play fashion.

Like everything, this set up appears complicated under the hood, but to a user, different systems work seamlessly alongside each one another, and the problems associated with having to upgrade multiple apps onto one set top are Metrological’s problem and all of that happens in the cloud anyway.

At other Metrological installations it has shown it can get its set top footprint down to 40 Mbytes and that it can run Apps alongside the core video function in just a 700 Hz chip with under 1,000 DMIPs of processing power. It should be able to work on more of less any set top built in the last 8 or 9 years.

Other future services Metrological can help out with might be the way it has already integrated across multiple CDNs, although as far as NOS is concerned, that’s for the future.

The result is that rivals such as Portugal Telecom and Vodafone Portugal can catch up with a flexible UI with easily onboarded apps, but they cannot now overtake in the manner that Telefonica aggressively annexed the Spanish market, so NOS has protected its market leadership.

Today NOS (formerly Zon) is the Portugal market leader with a mix of DTH and satellite supplying 1. 6 million pay TV homes. Portugal Telecom sits in second place, now part of Altice, with roughly half that number. Both suffered as a result of the various Eurozone crises of the past. Its gains since then have been modest, but it clearly hopes that its new architecture, added to quad play marketing, will give it that 40% growth that Telefonica achieved in neighboring Spain.