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IPTV multicast or unicast? Which is the best?

As of 2023, more and more Swedish consumers receive TV via internet (some sort of IP network). Traditional DVB-C, DVB-S and DVB-T(2) are disappearing. However, not all IPTV delivery is equal. I have some experience with Telenor and Telia as a supplier and these are some tips to get the best out of your IPTV service or some tips when ordering a new service.

Telia multicast IPTV-box Arris VIP 4302 (original source)
Telia unicast IPTV-box SDMC DV8919X (original source)

Unicast vs multicast IPTV delivery

In the past, IPTV was delivered via a separate multicast network. This means IPTV traffic is separated from regular internet traffic in a VLAN (similar to internet-telephone/VoIP traffic). This also means all network equipment in the distribution infrastructure up to consumer’s IPTV-box should be VLAN aware (and should support multicast). Another advantage is a unicast IPTV-box works anywhere where there is sufficiently fast internet (at your friend’s house or summer cottage for example)

More ISPs now by default only provide unicast IPTV service. Because it’s a unicast service, it’s easier to manage. There’re no additional network equipment (such as a VLAN separated switch (tjänstefördelare) needed. Since unicast traffic traverse through the NAT of consumer’s router a unicast IPTV-box can be connected like any other device (most often wireless). However there are remarkable disadvantageous in existing unicast IPTV services such as:

  • There is a considerable delay in delivery (usually around 30 seconds). Do not watch football via unicast IPTV :-)
  • Picture quality is poor (this is my personal experience in both Telenor and Telia’s implementation of unicast IPTV). However I don’t think it’s a technical limitation, but rather poor implementation.
  • Most often there’s no 5.1 dolby-digital audio via unicast IPTV
  • Since unicast IPTV is regular internet traffic, it counts against your internet quota

Final thoughts

  • If you have a choice, always make sure to choose a multicast IPTV (don’t get deceived by the fancy IPTV box running Android TV with a boatload of apps such as SDMC DV8919X from Telia or Telenor’s “Media Hub”).
  • One might choose a unicast IPTV service because of it’s simplicity or limitations of ISP provided router’s etc. But configuring a VLAN aware switch (or a router running open-source firmware) to receive multicast IPTV traffic is not that complicated. It’s just finding out the correct VLAN-ID. See the following links for more info.
  • The TV-app by Telia is actually very good (and to some extent apps from other providers such as Telenor or Tele2 are also getting better). These can always be used when travelling or in another room instead of a unicast IPTV-box.
  • However for some consumers, perhaps unicast IPTV is the only available solution because ISPs have stopped providing multicast- IPTV

Useful links

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