Friday, July 20, 2007

The 700 megahertz auction

When television goes to digital in 2009, the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum currently used for analog television broadcast will become available for other uses. Om Malik posted an educational summary about the situation.

The best proposal I've seen so far, to govern the use of this 700 mhz territory, is "The four Opens" proposed in a letter filed on July 18 by Google, Skype & a number of policy advocacy groups. They are:

* Open Devices
* Open Applications
* Open Services
and
* Open Networks

Personally, I find it sad that few people outside the activist community are talking about this 700mhz auction in terms other than financial.

When any large media company, Internet portal provider or carrier succeeds in asserting "ownership" over any spectrum, it further diminishes the availability of the electromagnetic spectrum as a public resource that benefits modern democracy.

After all, the lower part of the 700 mhz spectrum is already used by QualComm and others for mobile communications and video - in effect, making it unavailable to others.

"700mhz" is another face of the "low power FM" and "net neutrality" discussions. In my opinion, public resources ahould not be handed over to private ownership.

And if the current US government hadn't spent our treasury surplus into oblivion, this auction wouldn't feel so much like a bake sale.

That's my $0.02 (=£0.01)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

An "Out of Box" Experience

This week, I bought an Apple MacBook Pro, to replace my 3+ year old PowerBook. Anyone who has purchased a Mac recently can attest to its ability to transfer everything from your old computer to your new one via FireWire. It works as advertised: everything - from my files, to my software licenses, to my applications, even my desktop wallpaper - transferred over automagically.

But a couple of days into my new computer, I launched Entourage, the Mac equivalent to Outlook, in Microsoft Office for the Mac. Suddenly, when trying to send email, I got a "Sorry...." error message. Then, the program crashed and offered me the option to "Rebuild the Database." Ominous indeed. So I did, and it didn't solve the problem. I thought: "Oh no! It was too good to be true. That's six years of my business, all the correspondence with my clients, all my contacts... I'm (in big trouble)!"

So I got onto Microsoft's Mactopia web site, which directed me to Microsoft Office support newsgroups (ironically, they are on Google). Several people made suggestions (including two Microsoft support engineers), but alas I ended up solving the problem myself.

As it turned out, Apple ships the Mac with a trial version of Microsoft Office pre-installed. It had interfered with my licensed version and had hosed-up all my settings. After reinstalling MacOS X and fully deleting and reinstalling MS Office (both the trial and my licensed version), and then, re-installing all the updates (by using Microsoft's Office Auto Updater and Apple's Software Update), it worked fine.

Lesson 1: you have to be vigilent of even the smartest technology.

Lesson 2: you can't assume that I'm going to bash Microsoft in my blog. They must be credited for watching their support newsgroups and for supporting the Mac

Lesson 3: Microsoft must be credited not only for their Mac efforts (which, in my opinion are better then their Windows efforts), but also for believing in their unique IPTV system and sticking with it. A senior person at T-Online France emailed me yesterday that their Club Internet IPTV service is scaling and is about to cross 100,000 subscribers.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Apple Benz, BMW iDrive - I'm So Confused

In a recent post, I waxed poetic about Apple's real product: Human Factors Engineering. Now, in the ongoing battle of the German "Über Cars" (BMW, Mercedes and Audi), it looks as if at least one of them is finally waking up to its value: Mercedes-Benz has gone right to the source, to co-develop a new driver navigation system.

While BMW has touted its iDrive as being elegant (and I'd bet that BMW put the 'i' in front of the name because it wanted to have an unspoken association with a cool brand), the automotive press has called it unusable for years. (I should ask my friend Xero to rate that feature in his car)

You saw it here second...

Friday, July 6, 2007

What about Microsoft?

Yesterday, I posted an entry about AT&T's U-verse IPTV service. No discussion that has "AT&T" and "IPTV" in the same sentence can overlook the years of delays associated with AT&T's deployment of the Microsoft TV middleware platform, which uses a combination of Microsoft technologies and requires System-on-Chip (SoC)-based set-top boxes. In fairness, Microsoft has had to deal with significant external dependencies, including the volume availability of SoC chips, availability of development tools from the SoC vendors, and as a result, the set-top boxes themselves. Other dependencies have been the implementation of features by Microsoft and of the platform by third-party integrators.

It's within the realm of conjecture that AT&T could "suspend" U-verse (over copper access) and offer DBS (to copper subscribers, in its place) in the short term. Pursuing such an option would allow AT&T to save face while scrambling to replace both Microsoft and copper access with something else over fiber (AT&T is already running fiber for greenfields). But AT&T has invested a lot of pride and effort into defending both their Microsoft relationship and their Fiber-to-the-Curb/Copper-to-the-home access strategy, so, we'll see.

In any case, all of this is my OPINION, not to be confused with any actual plans afoot at AT&T. But in the meantime, look at Verizon, which just crossed 500K FiOS TV (ie: over -> FI <- ber) subscribers, as AT&T labors away...

Also, Microsoft is hardly alone in the middleware game. According to "Multimedia Research Group Inc (MRG)", the largest IPTV deployments in the world run on Thomson SmartVision TV (formerly from Thales/Grass Valley), Cascade QualiTVision (developed internally by Hong Kong's incumbent, PCCW), MiView TV (developed internally and deployed by Telefonica in Spain and Chile and marketed worldwide by Alcatel-Lucent despite A-L's Microsoft relationship), UTStarcom RollingStream (several >100k in China, plus SoftBank in Japan) and Myrio with two midsized incumbents in Europe, an operator in Thailand, plus over 80 IOCs. Then there are Minerva Networks with over 100 (including a large incumbent) and Orca Interactive with number of mid-sized deployments of their own.

(This information is current as I write this, as I just completed a 350 page report on IPTV middleware for MRG, for which I had in-depth discussions with all of the major platform companies, and obtained details of their deployments, technologies, products and roadmaps; during the first and second quarters of this year).

Meanwhile, Microsoft just re-branded the platform formerly known as the "Microsoft TV IPTV Edition," to "Microsoft Mediaroom". In my own opinion, Microsoft did this for two reasons. First, to make a clean break from past criticism by showing evidence that the platform has progressed (Microsoft did demo some new applications for the platform at NXTcomm in June). Second, because both Comcast and Verizon retreated from their full-on deployments of the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition. Without a "Foundation Edition," why would they need an "IPTV Edition" or any other edition? So let's re-name the platform altogether...

(c) Steven C. Hawley
Contact steve@tvstrategies.com for permission to use

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What about U-verse?

A friend asked me for comments about "AT&T's U-verse IPTV service", for an article he's writing. Soon, I was asking myself "which comments does he want?" So I sent him all of these, plus a few that don't merit repeating here.

It took a lot of pent-up frustration, not to mention a lot of guts, for AT&T to get up in front of investors, the industry, God and everyone else, to admit delays and blame its platform vendor for its woes, as "AT&T's former CEO Ed Whitacre did this past January".

But don't cry for AT&T, Argentina, because U-verse is just part of the interesting portfolio of converged services that AT&T is building. At the June 2007 NXTcomm conference, AT&T launched " Video Share", which allows (guess what) consumers to share videos between mobile phones without interrupting calls; in three test markets. They also have HomeZone, a satellite TV service augmented by the Internet, and they partner with MobiTV to send video the PC, and Akimbo for VOD. Oh, yes, AT&T is also a reseller for this little company that makes jewelry - Apple I think they're called?

The cynic in me says AT&T is doing all of this to hedge their bets for "when" U-verse fails (See my July 6 blog entry, which I had initially published here), but in reality, it's because AT&T wants to do what telecom operators going back to AT&T v1.0 have always done: provide a like range of services to all subscribers; and if one access network can't do it, use another.

A very interesting competitive dynamic is emerging, where in many larger and midsized markets, you'll have the local cable TV operator, one or more direct-broadcast satellite ops (like Sky, Dish or ExpressVu), over-the-air/digital terrestrial TV and one or more IPTV providers.

In large to mid-sized markets, the IPTV competitors will be AT&T and/or Verizon and/or the local ILEC and maybe even the local municipality. In small to mid-sized markets, the local IOC may see competition from Verizon or AT&T. In rural areas, it will remain the IOC vs the non-Telco competitors; maybe even the county PUD or a consortium of suburban communities.

But then, cutting a big gaping red swath through all of them is Internet TV, to anyone that has broadband access. Internet TV will be the interesting wild card in all of this, as some incumbents embrace it, others try to limit and manage it, and still others ignore it as if it didn't exist (to their peril).

(c) Steven C Hawley
contact steve@tvstrategies.com for permission to use