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Ben Lucier photographed while holding the remote control for Bell's IPTV. The service called FIBE, acts similarly to the company's satellite TV service, connect a set-top box, or series of set-top boxes, and start watching.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

What is IPTV?

Telephone companies traditionally couldn't send video signals over their copper wires. About 10 years ago, third-party platforms such as Microsoft's Mediaroom (now owned by Ericsson), allowed telcos to begin delivering TV service over DSL (digital subscriber lines) connections, which also delivered high-speed Internet over telephone lines.

Who sells IPTV?

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Canadian telephone companies sell IPTV in many parts of the country. BCE Inc. sells Bell Fibe TV in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, Telus Corp. sells Optik TV in Alberta and British Columbia, SaskTel offers maxTV in Saskatchewan and MTS TV is available in Manitoba.

Why don't the cable companies just offer IPTV?

It's not that easy. Telephone companies were limited to a single line into the home and, early on, they adopted IP (Internet protocol) as the main transport mechanism. Now, most industry innovation and development is being built over IP environments. In the case of telcos, TV is transported over the Internet connections. Cable companies, on the other hand, were focused on delivering broadcast signals. Over time, they engineered their networks to provide Internet connectivity alongside TV. But the TV side is not built for IP delivery and is running into capacity constraints.

So what are their options?

Eventually, many cable companies will likely move to all-IP networks, which would allow them to repurpose cable capacity to both provide Internet service and deliver TV over Internet connections (similar to the telephone companies). But it takes time to move long-standing customers off older, non-IP technologies. In the meantime, there are hybrid options, which let them continue to send linear television signals over one part of their networks while using the IP-side to power more responsive interactive technology and cloud-based PVR (personal video recorder) features. Software upgrades to the network can also help provide more capacity for higher-definition services.

What have Canadian cable companies done to improve their TV products?

Shaw just launched BlueSky TV, which uses a hybrid approach based on Comcast Corp.'s X1 technology. Rogers is planning to use the same platform but won't launch for more than a year. Cogeco scrapped its own IPTV development program and licensed the TiVo platform in 2014. Eastlink partnered with Cisco last year to launch Eastlink Stream, an on-demand TV app for computers, smartphones and tablets.

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