France Telecom: 'More IPTV, Please'
Benjamin Schwarz, the carrier's international IPTV projects manager who has helped France Telecom roll out Orange TV services in five countries, said the service provider would like to see more diversity in IPTV technology.
"We have a problem," Schwarz told conference delegates here in Paris. "We need more carriers to ramp up their IPTV rollouts." If that's done, said Schwarz, it would generate business for the specialist vendors, which can then invest more in R&D.
"We are currently the only big customer for a lot of these companies. We need a group of companies to use the same IPTV ecosystem as us" to give the smaller vendors the economies of scale that will enable them to remain competitive with bigger players, added Schwarz, who invited any other carrier to visit France Telecom's labs and see how the different technologies are integrated and work together.
The reference is a not-so-subtle hint that Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) may be gaining too much power in the market.
"Microsoft is rolling out fast -- 2007 will see a lot of services," noted Schwarz. Conference delegates saw this is a warning to the industry not to become over-reliant on the software giant's systems, and to support alternative suppliers.
So what is it that FT is using that Schwarz wants others to adopt? Well, it has some of the usual suspects when it comes to DSLAMs, with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and ECI Telecom Ltd. its two suppliers. But it's in the video-specific areas that Schwarz wants others to copy FT's proven ecosystem.
For headend encoders, FT uses Envivio Inc. (NASDAQ: ENVI) for its mobile TV services and Tandberg Television and Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) for its fixed-line services. Tandberg TV, of course, is set to become part of Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS). (See Arris Pounces on Tandberg TV.)
For IPTV middleware, FT uses some of its own inhouse components and Thomson's Smartvision, a service delivery platform that can be used for fixed and mobile TV services. Thomson acquired its way into this part of FT's network through an acquisition in December 2005. (See Thomson Buys IPTV Player.)
Smartvision is not widely deployed and not a huge brand in IPTV middleware circles -- FT is by far its biggest user, though it has also been deployed in Iceland, South Africa, and by Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM). Wider deployments would likely help the platform to mature and encourage further development by Thomson.
For set-top boxes, FT uses Thomson (again) and Sagem Télécommunications SA . And, while Schwarz didn't talk about video servers, Light Reading understands the carrier is using an ageing legacy platform and a few Thomson Sapphire servers, but may be forced to look further afield as its customer base grows.
Where FT uses much smaller and specialized companies is in content security and test and measurement, which Schwarz rates as one of the most important areas for carriers to concentrate on. For digital rights management the carrier uses Viaccess , though this is a company owned by France Telecom, so a bit of a shoo-in.
For its service monitoring and network probes, FT uses a specialist French company called Witbe for monitoring the quality of service a residential customer is receiving, Alcatel-Lucent 5530 DSL line analyzers, unspecified network probes from JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) (Acterna), and video stream monitoring tools from IneoQuest Technologies Inc. .
"This is a major challenge," noted Schwarz. "The operations side of IPTV is the big issue for carriers. We have launched services five times now, and each time we have underestimated the operational challenge. People will stop watching their TV if they have interrupted services. Believe me, you will have operational problems when you launch."
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading