April 20, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Verizon's salvo on cable TV
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or users could set up a slide show of their own digital pictures.
But IPTV is still in the early days of development. Microsoft, which has developed IPTV software, is still testing out its solutions. Only a handful of carriers have started testing it. Bell Canada, Swisscom and Telecom Italia plan to do limited pilot programs. SBC has said it will start testing its IPTV service by the middle of 2005 with commercial deployment by the end of the year. And Bellsouth has just started testing IP TV gear in its labs.
Another obstacle that could potentially slow down the deployment of IPTV is access to the content. In order to offer an IP TV service, the phone companies will need access to movies and TV programming that is already available to cable and satellite operators. While content providers such as Viacom, Disney and NBC Universal welcome the addition of a new distribution channel for their content, the details of how this can be done using IP technology haven't been worked out yet.
"We are a content company," said Carl Folta, a spokesman for Viacom. "In our view, any additional distribution channel is a good thing for us. But there are a lot of considerations, such as piracy and copyright, that have to be dealt with when you look at distributing content other ways."
While these agreements will most definitely be worked out at some point, it will take time, he added. Unfortunately, time is not something the Bells have in great supply.Forced to make compromises
"It's been much easier and much less expensive for the cable companies to add voice to their networks than for the Bells to add TV to theirs," Penhune said. "So if the Bells are going to compete, they need something and they need it fast."
In order to get to market quickly, Verizon has been forced to make some compromises in terms of the technology and the kind of service it will offer. Instead of using the more cutting-edge IP technology, Verizon's television service will initially be based on traditional broadcast technology that will allow it to deliver digital and high-definition television over its network, a service that is almost identical to what cable companies currently offer. It plans to add IP capabilities to the service later.
By contrast, SBC Communications, which is the next Bell in line to deliver TV services, plans to go straight for IP-based TV. The nation's second-largest phone company has earmarked $4 billion to upgrade its network with fiber-optic lines and newer DSL technology to boost enough bandwidth to support video.
Called "Project Lightspeed," SBC has already signed up two technology heavyweights--Microsoft and Alcatel--to build out the system for consumers. Microsoft will provide software to power the interface that consumers see on their TV screens, representing a huge coup for the company.
SBC's IPTV service, called "U-Verse," allows SBC to add more digital features, such as digital video recording and more high-definition stations, without needing a lot of bandwidth. SBC hinted that viewers will get on-screen caller ID when someone calls, and the ability to watch multiple screens showing multiple angles during live events.
While Verizon has already struck agreements with several content providers, SBC has yet to announce any deals. Company spokesman Wes Warnock said SBC continues to meet with TV executives, but declined to comment on the progress of these talks. He pointed out that SBC has hired a number of satellite TV executives to help the Bell strike deals to host outside content.
Warnock said SBC will begin launching U-Verse to select customers by the end of 2005 or the beginning 2006. The company had previously said it would launch U-Verse by the end of 2005.
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