Android TV Gains Ground Around Asia

Taiwan Broadband Communications (TBC), one of the country’s leading cable TV operators, is the latest recruit in the region for Android TV, following deployments of the platform at Kbro in the same country, as well as KT Skylife and CJ Hello in South Korea. There have also been recent deployments by Bahrain Telecommunication Company, Russian operator Beeline and Telekom Malaysia.

TBC’s deployment of its Android TV 4K Ultra HD pay TV service, integrated with a Realtek system-on-chip (SoC) package, was announced by NAGRA, which provided the revenue protection. This was achieved via NAGRA’s Android Fast Track Program, Security Services Platform (SSP), as well as its content protection software to meet demands from rights holders for delivering premium 4K Ultra HD programming and interactive services, as well as public OTT. TBC’s 4K service embraces more than 200 channels and allows subscribers to download and watch online content for which they have authorization.

This comes hot on the heels of those earlier deployments around the greater Asia Pacific and Middle East region. Kbro, Taiwan’s biggest TV operator, is that country’s other Android TV customer, having deployed middleware from Alticast. That same Android TV middleware has also been chosen by South Korean operators, KT Skylife and CJ Hello.

Then earlier in 2020 Bahrain Telecommunication Company (Batelco), the country’s incumbent telco, developed a TV application on its legacy AOSP (Android Open Source Project) set top boxes with a more powerful and intuitive graphical layout than before. Customers can now manage any multimedia content distributed over the Batelco IPTV network, which has about 2 million subscribers and over 200 channels.

Then Russian operator Beeline in February 2020 unveiled its Android TV-based 4K set top box, of unspecified manufacture, enabling customers to control the TV service with voice commands and download applications from the Google Play store to access other video services.

Ultra HD with 4K is also a feature of Telekom Malaysia’s Unifi consumer box based on the Android TV Operator Tier and supplied by Skyworth Digital, the world’s largest OEM for Android TV hardware. The operator’s motive for taking the Android TV route was common to many others and was outlined by Acting Executive Vice President of Unifi, Moharmustaqeem Mohammed. “The world of digital entertainment is getting increasingly fragmented with users having to choose between digital streaming and OTT content providers,” said Mohammed. “Our goal with Unifi Plus Box is to converge those entertainment options into a single, Unified experience for the end-user in one TV box.”

Asia Pacific as a whole has emerged as a hotbed for Android, with the exception of China where the trade war with the US has swung the tide instead towards Huawei’s emerging alternative OS, Harmony. Despite being set to lose out in China where it had been set for wide adoption, Android TV will grow faster in Asia-Pacific than any other region over the next five years, surging past 160 million deployed devices by 2025, according to a report and forecast from Rethink Technology Research.

Android has also been successful in Europe, where it has quite recently been deployed by Nordic operator Altibox as the platform for its IPTV services in Norway and Denmark accessed by over 600,000 households. The operator, headquartered in Stavanger, Norway, plumped for Android TV JADE set top boxes from Paris-based Technicolor, deployed with assistance from Germany’s 3SS.

There are now three versions of the Android TV platform, the first one to have been deployed around 2014 being Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which comprises just the low level Linux code base also widely used for mobile devices. For TV operators AOSP gives full control over all aspects of the user experience but at the expense of heavy investment to develop a bespoke operating system, while also lacking access to Google services including the app store, which has become increasingly desirable for integrating OTT with the broadcast offering.

For such reasons, AOSP has only been implemented by a handful of major operators with the inhouse resources to tackle the project and before the demand for access to OTT content became so intense. Swisscom for example built its IPTV 2.0 service announced in 2014 on AOSP.

Secondly there is the flagship version of Android TV for pay TV operators that emerged from the original largely unsuccessful Google TV around 2016 and provides a much more sanitized deployment without requiring the same resources as AOSP but at the sacrifice of control over customization. This was quite widely deployed but was still criticized for giving Google too prominent a role in the user experience and mixing third party apps too freely with the operator’s own content. To address this deficiency, Google then developed a third version, Android TV Operator Tier, where it took much more of a big seat and allowed the service provider to take full control of the experience. This has proved popular and been primarily responsible for the surge of Android in the operator OS middleware field since 2017.

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