Co-Op Brings IPTV to OK

Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, which operates 72 local telephone exchanges and has 140,000 subscribers in 30 central and western Oklahoma counties, has begun rolling out digital-video service over an IPTV platform.

Service kicked off last July in Pioneer's home base of Kingfisher, Okla., said Pioneer video product manager Scott Ulsaker. Ten more towns launched last year, and five more came online in January, he said.

“We're on schedule every quarter to launch another phase,” he said.

The rollout is about one-third complete, with Pioneer hoping to provide service to all areas by year-end.

“We launched it very conservatively,” Ulsaker said. “It's new technology, and we're new in the business.”

Used to Own Cable

Video-subscriber penetration just passed the 1,000 mark, he said.

Although the IPTV technology is new, Pioneer is not a complete stranger to the video business. “We've owned and sold cable companies in the past,” Ulsaker said. The company also operated a “wireless-cable” microwave multipoint distribution system (MMDS) in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was later sold.

In addition to phone, Pioneer offers wireless, DSL, paging and long-distance phone service.

At this point, a return to video was part of the natural evolution of the business, Ulskaer said. Pioneer executives asked themselves how the company would maintain its customer base, he said.

The company launched video service with a 166-channel digital package. It offers a $42.95 per month limited-basic tier including local broadcasters, 59 cable networks, an interactive guide and access to pay-per-view programs.

A complete basic package, selling for $49.95, includes everything in the lower tier, plus another 62 cable networks and Digital Music Express.

Pioneer carries all the major premium networks and offers two pay TV channels for a monthly fee of $21.50, three for $27.50 and four for $32.50.

The company has a 256-Kbps digital subscriber line offering for $34.95 a month, a 512-Kbps offering for $39.95 and a 1.5-Mbps service for $49.95. Any DSL subscriber that also takes video gets $5 off their bill.

A subscriber who purchases a long-distance telephone package receives further discounts.

Key Vendors

Cambridge, U.K.-based Amino Communications supplies the set-top box, the AminoNET110. Myrio Corp. supplies the middleware and the guide. Video is delivered over ADSL2-plus technology, the same platform being considered by SBC Communications Inc.

Pioneer has built three fiber rings to connect its telephone network, Ulsaker said. From the telco's central offices, Pioneer will deliver about 20 Mbps of throughput, enough for three 4.4-Mb video channels to three TVs in each home, plus a separate channel for DSL service.

Tut Systems built Pioneer's video headend. Its deployment uses Calix transport and DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM) equipment and Xiaz modems.

“We've had no real problems with the [IPTV] software,” Ulsaker said. “There have been no screen freezes. The Myrio product has been real solid. We've been really pleased with the service, and a lot of that has to do with your plant.”

Ulsaker believes the video initiative will help Pioneer stay competitive. Cable systems serve about 75% of Pioneer's telephone exchanges, but only half of those markets have launched high-speed cable modems. “We have our DSL product well into the rural areas,” he said.

In the short-term, Pioneer is planning to launch video on demand and digital video recorders. It's evaluating video-server vendors at the moment.

Over the long haul, Pioneer plans to offer high speeds, perhaps as much as 50 Mbps for video, voice and data services. “The demand is going to drive higher bandwidth speeds,” he said.