The Next Chapter Within A1 Group:
A1 Bulgaria and A1 Slovenia
Adopt the new OTT Media Player
Streaming services have become an integral part of the TV world. Across Europe, user numbers are rising continuously and the number of streaming providers on the market is growing steadily. Thus, in addition to the series and films on offer, characteristics such as streaming quality, a positive user experience and a reliable, technical set-up are becoming important selling points for streaming providers in order to stand out in the market. After the successful cooperation between TARA Systems and A1 on the Xplore TV product with A1 Telekom in Austria, the focus was now on the player exchange at A1 in Bulgaria and A1 Slovenia.
The Inaris player quality and performance aided us in enhancing the customers’ experience with
the Xplore TV service. We were impressed by Tara’s team speed of response, flexibility and expertise, enabling timely implementation. We thus look forward to cooperating with them in future.
About A1 Group and Xplore TV
A1 Group is a leading European provider of digital services and communication solutions with around 27 million customers in seven countries under the A1 brand: in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Belarus, Slovenia, Northern Macedonia and Serbia.
Since 2006, A1 has been transmitting digital TV via IP-based connections. In 2019, as first European country, A1 Austria rolled out Xplore TV: a modern platform that combines a huge variety of TV and streaming services. Since then, the distribution of the A1 Xplore TV Box in Europe has been growing steadily. A core component of the TV Box is a reliable and high performing Media Player:
Partners in the Project
All partners in the project with A1 Bulgaria and A1 Slovenia benefit from the synergies that have proven to be a valuable basis in the successful course of the project with A1 in Austria.
A1 Slovenia Offers Xplore TV in a Pure OTT Version
A1 Slovenia operates approximately 130,000 Xplore TV set-top boxes. This includes approx. 6,000 pure OTT boxes, which are connected via its own 5G mobile network. In this case, there is a 5G router in the customer’s home network that establishes access to the Internet. Since experience shows that wireless networks are often subject to fluctuations in latencies and bandwidths, the media player must compensate for these accordingly in order to achieve an undisturbed TV experience.
A1 Bulgaria Uses Fibre
but Also DVB-C
In Bulgaria, A1 supplies more than 250,000 customers with the Xplore TV product. The large share of fibre-optic connections in Bulgaria makes it possible to offer Ultra HD content. In parallel, a hybrid STB with DVB-C is also used in Bulgaria for the linear TV signal. Furthermore, TV functions such as replay, restart and VOD are being switched from the use of RTSP to HLS in Bulgaria, which greatly expands the application range of our player within Bulgaria.
Our monitoring and analytics system is used in this project to detect potential end-to-end streaming issues that have impact on the user.
Project Management for the Player Exchange at A1 Slovenia
As already in the player project with A1 Austria, Dietzel Consulting with Thomas Prinz has also taken over the project coordination for A1 Slovenia. The aim is to establish the concepts of agile working methods and test groups, which have already been applied and successful in Austria, in a form adapted to the number of units for Slovenia.
The Integration Phase and the Composition of the Team
The starting point for the integration was the Inaris Media Player version already in the field in Austria. The goal is to maintain a uniform version across all A1 countries that use our player. This is the only way to fully exploit synergies in development, releases and testing. The first test image was already available shortly after the project start of A1 Bulgaria and A1 Slovenia in December 2022. This could be played on a small number of STBs for a test in the respective country and network before Christmas. Technical support for the project was provided by the same team as for A1 Austria. This made it possible to draw on a wealth of experience.
Video Source: A1 Xplore TV Box
Timeshift function, seeking, trick modes, and live channel changes with the new OTT media player on the A1 Bulgaria Xplore TV Box.
Video Source: A1 Xplore TV Box
Start of the Alpha Groups Already in 2022
In accordance with the agile development approach, test groups were introduced for the integration of the new player and the test in the environment of the respective country. The alpha test groups with a small double-digit number of developers started before Christmas 2022, which meant that the analysis could already start in January 2023 with a comprehensive database. The data from Slovenia was particularly informative here, as some real customers had already been equipped with the new software (which was marked as experimental).
Player Monitoring with Focus on Backend Configuration in Slovenia
The monitoring of the first test boxes in Slovenia showed that the new player already copes well with some network-specific issues. For example, right from the start, retry mechanisms were able to prevent streaming from being interrupted in certain situations. In the further course, the configurations at the back end could be optimised by monitoring and analysing the data, so that the reliability of the streaming could be further increased. The main focus here was on HTTP responses with different status codes.
Greater Heterogeneity of Signals
In contrast to Slovenia, in Bulgaria not only a pure OTT box population is supplied with the new player, but also hybrid devices with IPTV and DVB-C for live TV. Monitoring must therefore also cover the transitions between live TV and OTT playback. In addition, A1 Bulgaria also offers its customers content in UHD resolution, which already led to minor adjustments to the player at the beginning of the integration. The monitoring of these changes again runs via the service already in use.
Impressions of the Slovenia A1 TV Box and the Bulgarian A1 TV Box in operation.
Image Source: Screenshots A1 Xplore TV Box
Market Launch of the new Player in Slovenia in Mid-January 2023
Due to the comparatively small number of boxes and the OTT approach, which is largely independent of the network, A1 Slovenia was able to implement the launch in the field very quickly. By mid-January, all customers of the Xplore TV OTT product were already supplied with the new player. As users in this product also receive the live TV function via HLS, this changeover has already had a significantly positive impact on the user experience.
Test on Hybrid STBs and Launch in March in Bulgaria
The launch in Bulgaria was scheduled for February 2023. However, the integration in the local network in combination with DVB-C required special attention: This combination was not available in the market at A1 Austria and thus not yet sufficiently tested. The necessary verification and some resulting improvements took place mainly in February and thus the launch could be started in March.