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September 23, 2006

IPTV, Belgium and Instant Gratification

Belgacomchocolate2_1People in Belgium are beginning to like IPTV better than chocolate.  Here's why:

Ever ordered cable TV?  What a pain in the rumpus.

"We can have an installer come to your residence from 9 to 1 p.m. or 1 to 5 p.m., what is your preference?" robots some "customer service representative" with a headset, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on in some sweatshop cubical in some dilapidated building located who knows where.

This has been the way TV installation has worked for as long a most can remember. But now it needs to change and technology is making it possible.  And surprisingly some companies - many you'd never expect - are leading the charge. 

Belgacom is one -a harbinger of sorts in how this new "TV when you want it" model is panning out.

Belgacom delivers a very popular IPTV service called Belgacom TV to about 100,000 subscribers (there are some 4.2 million households in Belgium). Of those, some 60 percent install the service themselves with wires and soon without.  Since most Belgians have broadband connectivity, enabling TV should be fast and easy - especially if TV is delivered over broadband.

Belgacom_tvlogo Instead of calling Belgacom to schedule an installer to come to their home, consumers can go to one of Belgacom's 150 retail or dealer outlets to purchase equipment (soon wireless) to enable IPTV when they want.

Smart Wi-Fi technology will make that even simpler.  These devices are pre-configured so all the consumer needs to do is simply plug in the device and connect it to the broadband gateway (where the broadband connection terminates) and the set top box (where the TV is). 

And with new remote management technology, operators are able to actually see into the consumer's Wi-Fi environment, see packet error rates, SNR over a specific link, check the link state of connected devices and even run diagnostics - like PING and other more sophisticated link-level  quality checks - from within the home. Until now this just hasn't been possible.

Soon, enabling TV will be as simple as going to the mall, buying what you need and plugging it in.  It is in Belgium. And once installed, troubleshooting and fixing problems should be easily handled by the service provider and transparent to the user.

Aside from lots and lots of chocolate, people everywhere have an insatiable desire for: 1) as much bandwidth as humanly possible 2)  location-freedom for every type media 3) instant gratification and 4) no configuration configuration....with or without a ruckus.  Belgacom realized this early and so will others.

September 02, 2006

The Anti-Carrier

Thefinger_1 A new breed of carrier is emerging that challenges convention.  We call them the anti-carrier.

This is a new class of provider focused on content and services. Ultimately this is what compels consumers to connect in the first place.

The difference is, anti-carriers don't (typically) own facilities, fiber, spectrum or any broadband infrastructure.  But they DO own (or provide a portal into) value-added content and/or services that millions of people crave.

The You-Tube's and GoogleVideo's of the world could turn out to be broadband operators worst nightmare if they find a way to make the Internet reliable enough to do what cable companies and phone companies have been doing for decades.

Meedio1_2 A germane example is Yahoo!'s recent purchase of Meedio. Meedio creates software that manages and controls home entertainment, information, and automation systems using customizable graphical interfaces that run on TVs, PCs, touchscreens, and wireless PDAs. Meedio's IP, technology, and staff are being folded into their Digital Home team.

Ultimately these anti-carriers threaten to relegate traditional broadband operators to merely dumb bit-pipers. As content providers digitize their content or offer content-based services and make them available over the Internet or some broadband infrastructure, what role to traditional service provider then play?  Consumers seems to be more willing to pay big monthly fees for content and service than for broadband connectivity.

Ducks_1 The best example(s) of a would-be anti-carrier would be Google, Yahoo!, Ebay or even FON. These companies recognize how broadband penetration into the home opens the door to innovative services, like SKYPE or Google video, that potentially take the focus off of the carrier and onto them and their advertisers.

Anti-carriers see billions of dollars in opportunity revenue from ads linked to searches for ringtones, games, local listings and mobile Web content. But in the US. large carriers still control access to a vast majority of the nation's subscribers.  This WSJ article does a good job of capturing some of the issues.

Blogosphere So is the conventional carrier threatened to become merely a cheap conduit to some new service? Will differentiating their business is primarily performed by price, coverage or customer service with commoditization to quickly ensue?  Nah.  It makes for good blogspew but carriers have big bucks and can be quite smart with them.  Then again, Google's has amassed a massive valuation in one-tenth the time it took any telecom carrier to do the same.

And we should see a day soon when connectivity is free if/when certain content or services are purchased. Connectivity just gets subsidized with the content or service. Google’s PR rep. Barry Schnitt recently chirped..."We believe consumers are already paying to support broadband access to the Internet through subscription fees and, as a result, consumers should have the freedom to use this connection without limitations.”

Google has started erecting broadband Wi-Fi networks, like the one in Mountain View, CA, that provide free connectivity to users. While users can't really run or purchase TV services over such a network, that's not to say they won't be able to in the future.

Yahooadvert AT&T (SBC) smartly teamed with Yahoo! and is bundling services with their broadband offerings.  To survive, others will follow suit or perhaps even purchase those who do.  So, it would seem, that Time Warner's purchase of AOL was a smart one after all - and even though it hasn't looked that way recently.  Time Warner owns content that people want and the infrastructure to get it there.

That's seems to be a winning combo...and perhaps signs of things to come?