An Overview of IPTV and How Does It Work

What Is IPTV and How Does It Work
What Is IPTV and How Does It Work

Internet and mobile technologies have revolutionized our society and influenced the way we think about television programming. Now there is a system that increases the availability of TV programming and home entertainment.

Televisions have been the main source for home entertainment ever since the technology was commercialized more than five decades ago. Since then, new technologies and the content delivered over television channels have been constantly enhancing home entertainment.

With the increased availability of broadband Internet, the conventional methods for delivering television programming such as satellite or cable are gradually being replaced with Internet connectivity. The newest system is known as IPTV and provides an alternative to accessing programming through your cable or satellite provider.

IPTV Defined

IPTV stands for Internet Protocol Television and is a technology that allows digital television programming to be delivered over high speed broadband Internet via Internet Protocol. Instead of television programming being delivered through your satellite or cable provider, the programming is made available using a broadband connection.

When you stream video, the video is delivered over the Internet using a succession of Internet Protocol data packets that are encoded to allow transmission. This means that you can easily receive the video streams with your set-top box when you subscribe to an IPTV service.

More television programming providers are offering IPTV services that are typically bundled with access to the Internet and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). This allows you to access television programming, make telephone calls over the Internet using a VoIP application such as Skype, and browse the Internet, all with the same service.

Although cable and satellite television providers are striving to offer IPTV, the service is typically delivered over a closed network system that is used by the service provider. In the US, Verizon was one of the first companies to offer IPTV services when it first introduced the service in Texas. A year later, AT&T began to offer U-Verse which offered television programming and Internet access bundled into one package.

Following the Verizon and AT&T IPTV offering, a multimedia company known as Ruckus Wireless negotiated partnerships with telecom companies to offer IPTV services. Ruckus also has been working on partnerships to offer IPTV services in Ireland, China, and other areas of the globe in the near future.

For visual learners that want to see how IPTV services are delivered, here is a short video clip on IPTV technology.

How IPTV Works

IPTV is displayed on your television using a set-top box (STB) or a computer. The technology provides support for both television programming (AKA multicasting) and Video on Demand services such as Netflix, Hulu, and others. The content is compressed into codecs using MPEG2 or MPEG4 and then transmitted over the Internet.

In the case of television programming, the content can be delivered to multiple users simultaneously. This is why traditional TV programming is also known as multicasting. If you use a Video on Demand service, this is known as unicasting with the codecs being delivered to specific users.

In terms of protocol, IPTV delivers content using multiple Internet Protocols. The main type of protocol is Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) which is the same protocol that browsers use to communicate with other devices over the Internet. If you are accessing conventional television programming, IPTV will use IP Group Membership Protocol (IGMP) which allows your television to connect with multicast TV programming. For streaming video from services such as Netflix, the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) is used to deliver Video on Demand services.

To understand more on how to use IPTV here is an overview:

With conventional cable or satellite television services, programming is delivered via a cable that sends the signal directly to your receiver. IPTV works somewhat differently:

  • Viewing Programs: IPTV works very similar to your current television service in that you use a set-top box (STB) to access programming. The difference is that an IPTV set-box receives input from your home Internet connection using wireless connectivity or an Ethernet connection. The Internet connection decodes the codecs we described earlier and displays the images and content on your big screen TV. The sole purpose of the set-top box is to receive video streaming packets, decode them, and then convert them back to their original format to be displayed as high quality video on your HDTV.
  • Connecting the Set-Top Box: The STB is connected to your television source using A/V connectors and then the IPTV box is connected to your wireless router that you use for Internet access. The IPTV box utilizes software that allows you to log in and access the television channels. Most of the IPTV boxes are also equipped with an IR (Infrared) cable that allows you to control the set-top box both locally and remotely.
  • Television Minus Cables: When you connect the set-top box to your broadband router, regardless of where you are in your home, you can watch television using any device connected to the wireless network. This includes watching television from your big screen TV, laptop, tablet PC, or smartphone.
  • Home Security: Some of the IPTV boxes allow you to connect external video devices which convert your IPTV box into a home monitoring system. This allows you to monitor home activities while you are away, keep an eye on your children, and monitor anyone who happens to come to your front door.
  • Watch TV Remotely: IPTV allows you to watch all television programming that you receive at home while you are on the go. All that is required is access to a high speed broadband connection. This is accomplished using a smartphone app that allows you to tap into your IPTV service at home.

How Popular is IPTV?

According to a recent forecast by Digital TV Research, subscriptions to IPTV are expected to double to more than 190 million homes across the globe by the close of the year 2020. This will place IPTV in more than 12 percent of global households with revenues to exceed more than 25 billion by the year 2020.

By the end of 2014, Digital TV Research forecasts that IPTV services will increase to 112 million subscriptions from 90 million in 2013. China led the way in 2013 with more than 32 million IPTV customers and is predicted to have more than 77 million by the year 2020.

In the United States, Digital TV Research predicts more than 16 million IPTV subscribers by the end of 2014 which is an increase from 11 million during 2013. The research firm also stated that the US will generate the highest revenue from IPTV with an increase to more than 8 billion from 6 billion in 2013.

In Japan, Digital TV Research predicts that the country will be the fourth largest IPTV market increasing to more than 7 million subscribers from just over 4 million in 2013. Revenues are expected to increase more than 2 billion from just over 1 billion.

India is expected to have more than 7 million subscribers to IPTV by the year 2020. Subscriptions in France are expected to exceed more than 8 million with a revenue increase of more than 1.7 billion from 1.5 billion in 2013.

Overall, Digital TV Research forecasts that there will be just over 577 million global IPTV digital cable television subscriptions and 271 million IPTV subscriptions to digital satellite by the year 2020. The research firm predicts a total of 1.6 billion digital television equipped homes across the globe by 2020.

Advantages and Disadvantages of IPTV

The main advantage of using IPTV is the ability to watch what you want and when you want from virtually any location using any type of device. Although IPTV is a fairly new technology, you will find more advantages than disadvantages to using this type of service to access home entertainment.


  • Consolidate television, Internet access, and mobile phone service into one monthly payment resulting in lower costs.
  • Access to Triple Play with live TV, Video on Demand, and DVR capability adds convenient access to a wide variety of television programming.
  • DVR capability can be controlled remotely so you never have to miss your favorite program.
  • Gain full control over viewing functions such as record, rewind, fast forward, pause, and other convenient features.
  • Access to two-way communications which allows for an interactive television experience. It also increases the availability of interactive apps that allow you to participate in game shows and other TV activities in real-time.
  • Access to Internet service notifications such as new email messages, IM, and caller ID, provided your phone service is included in the package.
  • The capability to pause a program and then continue to watch it in another room in the house.
  • IPTV interface is just as easy to use as your conventional TV programming interface.
  • Ability to use IPTV as a security service for your children and your home.


  • The IPTV provider must deploy QoS (Quality of Service) technologies to ensure reliability and required amount of bandwidth.
  • Some IPTV providers offer plans that place a cap on data transfer. Depending upon how much you use the service, you may be charged an additional fee for exceeding the specified data cap.
  • Some of the IPTV boxes do not support Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) which allows you to stream content from other storage devices.

Other Things You Should Know about IPTV

Like any other type of service you choose for home entertainment such as cable or satellite, there are a few things you should be aware of before you decide to implement an IPTV service.

High Quality Internet Bandwidth is a Must

If you want to get the best viewing experience without interruptions, the IPTV service must be capable of providing you with high quality Internet bandwidth. Bandwidth refers to the speed of data transfer and the amount of data that can be transmitted from one point to another within a specified time frame. In the case of IPTV, bandwidth is the amount of codecs that can be transmitted over a broadband line within one second.

In order for an IPTV service provider to offer high quality bandwidth, their network infrastructure must be capable of connecting to major Internet backbones. The IPTV service should be able to directly connect to hundreds of primary Internet backbones to provide alternatives when one connection is experiencing high traffic.

Secondly, the IPTV service provider should utilize true Intelligent routing. This type of routing is capable of automatically rerouting traffic over the network that provides the fastest path to the end destination. This can be a very expensive infrastructure since it requires a network to maintain large volumes of extra data capacity. Therefore, not all IPTV service providers deploy this type of technology.

Low Rates for Internet Bandwidth

The IPTV service should be able to acquire large amounts of bandwidth at a low cost or reasonable rate. If the IPTV provider is incapable of purchasing large volumes of bandwidth, the end result can be very frustrating for the consumer. Low amounts of bandwidth mean problems with video streaming disruptions such as buffering and other headaches. Plus, if the IPTV provider pays too much for the bandwidth, this cost will be passed on to you, the consumer.

With most ISPs, typically the more bandwidth you request, the lower the cost. This is similar to buying products in bulk. On the average, it is cheaper to do it this way, but not all IPTV providers follow this premise.


The concept of IPTV and digital technologies is a very interesting one. Most of us are just starting to catch on to what digital technologies can mean for us in our homes. The idea of digital technologies will bring an endless array of possibilities, not only for television programming, but the way we operate on a daily basis. Just about everything can be controlled through a tiny smartphone which makes it interesting to see what will transpire within the next few years in the digital technology market.

1 thought on “An Overview of IPTV and How Does It Work”

  1. I was unaware that IPTV has the ability to access Internet service notifications or have access to Triple Play. This is huge for someone who is as into efficiency as I am. For me, I would like to keep my Internet service and my cable as organized as possible, and having it all in one place is incredibly useful for people like myself.

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