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TV Dominates a Telco Stage

TV took center stage last week at the inaugural Nxtcomm show in Chicago, where members of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) gathered to see the latest in fixed-line and wireless distribution technologies.

Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) vendors dominated the show floor, and keynotes by major players such as AT&T, Verizon, Cisco and Motorola touted the increasing role of video in driving traffic down ever-expanding telecommunications networks. And GE Vice-Chairman/NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright demonstrated how NBC Universal will offer some 1,000 hours of live streaming Internet coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and called on telcos to help fight content piracy.

“Entertainment has to be an overall part of the communications package we serve,” declared newly appointed AT&T Chairman/CEO Randall Stephenson, who described the preparations that AT&T is making for the debut of the video-friendly Apple iPhone this week.

Stephenson introduced AT&T Video Share, a wireless application that lets a mobile-phone user transmit a live video stream from the handset's camera to another user while engaging in a two-way voice conversation; he also detailed the progress of the U-verse IPTV service.

While U-verse currently counts fewer than 50,000 subscribers, AT&T is performing up to 600 U-Verse installations a day and expects to be doing 10,000 per week by year-end, said Stephenson. The company's plan is to pass some 18 million homes with U-verse capability by the end of 2008.

“Our goal is to have the biggest video footprint of any of our competitors in 22 states,” said Stephenson.

A steady surge in video traffic is currently pushing sales of large Cisco routers, said company Chairman/CEO John Chambers, who predicts that the broadband traffic from just 20 U.S. homes in 2010 will be more than the traffic of the entire Internet backbone in 1995.

He also demonstrated how fixed and wireless networks can join in what Cisco brands the “connected life.” One demo showed a consumer watching a hi-def broadcast of a baseball game while instant-messaging with a friend over fantasy-baseball scores and then buying tickets to a game, all through the television-screen interface.

Motorola Chairman/CEO Ed Zander predicted that the “spontaneous generation” of content by consumers will continue to grow. Motorola will introduce Razr mobile phones this summer with video-sharing capability and two hours of video storage.

Verizon's fiber-optic network will soon be providing its FiOS TV service to half a million customers, said Chairman/CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who also proclaimed the superiority of Verizon's FiOS high-speed–data service to its cable competitors.

Verizon is testing a 100-megabit-per-second data service that it will roll out this fall with bandwidth-hogging hi-def video downloads in mind. Seidenberg said video will drive future growth for both FiOS and Verizon Wireless.

He is pleased with the initial response to V Cast Mobile TV, the broadcast service Verizon began marketing in March. Most customers signing up for the $15-a-month, eight-channel V Cast service add a robust data package.

“The ARPU [average revenue per unit] on those customers is much higher than our embedded customer base,” said Seidenberg.

V Cast should be available in 40 markets by the end of July, he said, and some 120 cities by year-end. He added that, so far, consumers are happy with the programming choices, which include a mix of simulcast, time-shifted and original content from such programmers as NBC, CBS and ESPN.

“There were doubters as to whether people will watch a small screen,” he says. “I'll tell you that people will absolutely watch the small screen.”