A consortium consisting of Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson, internet infrastructure builder Cisco and IBM is bidding to build an IP TV network for Lattelekom, this blogger has learned. In this case, IP TV means delivering DVD quality image and sound over 100 + channels over a DSL type connection at around 20 Mbps.
The ongoing bid also explains the eagerness of IBM's representatives in Latvia to demo what it said was "its" triple-play product. To be sure, the slides had many other company names and the IBM people said they were only "integrators", which is the role assigned them in the three-member consortium. At the same time, the IBM guys did an excellent job of leaving the general feeling that somehow, it was their "show".
The fact that Lattelekom is set to build out an IP TV network is nothing new for the readers of this blog -- what is interesting is that IBM was packaging it as "triple play". That means there is a very low cost, and, in many cases, practically free internationa and domestic voice element in the solution. Indeed, I would call "triple play" more like 2.5 play, because with the heavy duty internet pipe needed for IP TV, one has the capacity for most high quality do-it-yourself VOIP solutions. So the third element is probably going to be a Cisco VOIP phone handset that makes phone-to-phone calling easier, as well as making it possible to charge extra for the equipment and, possibly, minutes on some kinds of calls.
As things look now, Lattelekom has quietly let the "soon after Easter" goal for some kind of experimental IP TV pass and is apparently looking for a serious, heavy-duty pilot level solution that will almost certainly involve the same partners it will keep for the final, commercial roll-out. I don't think it will be that soon -- maybe a Christmas offering?
If I were Lattelekom, I would hit the market with a "shock and awe" offering - voice, interactivity, games, and a hard-disk based set-top box that would allow recording of programs. I would position it so that the middle to higher income end of the draugiem.lv crowd (275 000 18 to 40 year olds who feel at home on the net) would go after it. In fact, I would make part of the launch on draugiem. This is no partiality to draugiem, just that this is one of the largest and most focused attention platforms available in Latvia after TV itself.
The IBM demo, run off a server in the basement with snippets of real programming (I think this is what they were doing) looked impressive, especially the video-on demand features and the ability to package one's own set of subscriber channels (and skip the half-dozen Russian language channels that seem to come with local cable packages, since I don't speak Russian). Interactive features are also part of the solution, so Baltcom TV, which is going digital with its own MMDS or (limited) optical fiber solution should start watching out. So far, Baltcom is the only player offering triple play, but when Lattelekom gears up and starts, Baltcom will face some very serious competition.
However, a caution to all is that despite its high number of cable TV subscribers, Baltcom has relatively few triple-play users (partly due to geographical constraints of their network).