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Friday, January 19, 2007

Xbox IPTV and... Telkom?

Xbox IPTV and... Telkom?, originally uploaded by FlintZA.

I managed to miss yet another week! Big surprise, except this time I have a
really, really good excuse, even better than the stupid Siemens UI. I spent
the weekend (including Friday afternoon and Monday morning) drinking saline
through a straw in hospital, thanks to the dodgy water down in the Natal
midlands where we went for a wedding. Actually to be entirely accurate it
was the food prepared with that water-we avoided the water itself (which was
a yellowy brown colour) after we first saw it oozing out of the taps. Natz
also got quite sick (as did some of the other guests) but fortunately not
sick enough to end up in hospital.

The main event

Anyway, it's a pity I missed last Friday of all days, because I was really
looking forward to writing the post. Last week was CES (the Consumer
Electronics Expo) which is an event that dwarfs even the now defunct E3 in
just about every respect. Of course all the major international players that
have anything to do with cool gadgets and software were there, and it was a
platform for some pretty huge announcements, including Apples long rumored
iPhone, which will be released later this year in most territories. Still no
news of an SA release though, I don't think Apple realize that while SA is
small potatoes when it comes to media players, it is a major market in the
cellular industry thanks to our phenomenally high penetration rate. Of
course I'm not that interested in the iPhone, not least of all because it
will be a closed development platform, and the big stuff as far as my
interest is concerned came from Microsoft.

After the unexpected success of the Video Marketplace on Xbox Live last
year, Microsoft happily punted a new use for the '360- that of an IPTV
set-top box. Now this on it's own is no big surprise, I have been predicting
a move like this for the Xbox brand for some time. In fact it's been pretty
obvious since the 360 came out and it's media capabilities became evident
that the whole Xbox 'project' has been an elaborate (and very successful)
way to get hard core gamers, the fanatic zealots of the consumer electronics
world, to do their marketing for them. After the dismal failure of
Microsoft's Web TV devices, some smart suit in Redmond realized by giving
gamers a console with kickass capabilities and a robust online service, they
would sell any additional functionality to other consumers in their homes.
That's my theory anyway, and every move Microsoft has made in recent months
(Zune, a unified micropayment system, XBLA, Video Marketplace) seems to
validate it.

Anyway, as I said, no big surprise. What was interesting, was a partners
slide from the presentation that started doing the rounds on the web.
Together with the expected logos some of the large American and European
telcos, who's logo should appear but our own much maligned fixed-line
monopoly, Telkom. It is widely known that Telkom has been testing IPTV
technology in preparation to begin offering media services, possibly within
the next couple of months. Telkom themselves admitted to such technology
testing in partnership with Microsoft. So the big question now is: will Xbox
360 be the delivery mechanism Telkom chooses for IPTV? There have been all
sorts of questions along the lines of how this will affect capping and so
on, but they are for all intents and purposes irrelevant. There is no reason
why Telkom couldn't exclude certain ports in cap calculations or use some
similar mechanism to get around their infamous data caps. Line speed
capability has also been questioned, but again I think this is a minor
issue, Telkom may not offer customers any speeds higher than 4Mbps, but that
does not mean that is the physical limit of their infrastructure. They are
simply offering customers a service just fast enough to outpace their
competition and still maintain control over their dismally low cap
allocations (to prevent competition with their own business data products
that are priced at much higher points and earn them even more of a profit).

Any IPTV offering that Telkom invests in would need a number of things.
Obviously some kind of TV 'decoder' would be a must, and the Xbox 360 is a
proven multimedia device that is already accepted by many as a primary means
of viewing and listening to content. Services would also be required, the
ability to browse available content, parental controls, guides, storage,
DRM, etc. All of this is offered 'out the box' by Microsoft's Live service,
and the backend technology behind that system is tried and tested and in
place all over the world. Content is of course another issue, and once again
Microsoft is already ahead of the curve on this, with agreements with major
networks and studios already wrapped up (of course localized agreements will
need to be established, but this is nothing new).

Finally, one of the biggest technical arguments is international bandwidth.
Well that too, is a non-issue. Microsoft's Live service is not a centralized
one, it already makes use of regional caching, with nodes in critical areas
to increase performance. Both MS and Telkom are more than capable of
providing such a data center locally. So perhaps it's time to start
considering whether renewing that DSTV subscription is such a great idea..
Maybe Telkom and Microsoft will be the ones to save South Africans from the
pay-TV monopoly that MNet spawned.. won't that be ironic.


Justin Paver said...

Any hope of reasonable practises from Telkom is a fools hope.


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