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IPTV Forum: FastWeb Turns On to OTT

LONDON -– IPTV World Forum 2010 -- Italian broadband service provider Fastweb SpA (Milan: FWB) was among the first operators to launch IPTV services way back in 2001, but the company has gained users at a relatively glacial rate in an increasingly competitive pay-TV market. It's now looking for ways to expand its reach more quickly. (See T Italia Set to Take IPTV Crown.) Speaking here in London, FastWeb’s head of TV experience, Angelo Busato, said the operator now has 220,000 TV customers, each of whom generates €200 (US$267) more in average revenue per year than non-TV customers. (That's the first time in a long time the company has provided an IPTV subscriber update -- many recent estimates have put FastWeb's tv-over-broadband user numbers much higher.)

Busato believes there's a potential market of 800,000 users for his company. To tap into this, the triple-play operator is now investigating how it can introduce over-the-top (OTT) content into its offerings so it can expand its content packages at a low cost.

"We're looking at OTT to expand our reach," said Butaso, adding that looking at wholesale agreements to expand its IPTV offering is not an option worth considering.

The operator, which was acquired by Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) in 2007, and which is currently embroiled in a fraud scandal, has been looking for ways to boost its IPTV uptake for a number of years. (See Italian Fraud Probe Intensifies and Swisscom Buys FastWeb.)

In 2006 it started selling its own hybrid set-top box, and recently the company set up a separate IPTV business unit to look at issues such as OTT, and to resolve other issues that might discourage potential customers as FastWeb battles with Telecom Italia (TIM) for telco TV customers.

The Italian incumbent launched its services in 2005 and now has more than 400,000 customers. It has also been looking into the potential of OTT services and recently launched its Cubo Vision device, which, the operator says, enables viewers to "view digital terrestrial TV channels and leading WebTV content on a home TV, purchase pay-per-view films, and manage personal content such as photos, videos and music offline."

For FastWeb, one of the major issues to overcome as it tries to capture more customers is that of home networking. To combat home wiring difficulties, the operator has started to deploy powerline technology at its customers' homes. "We are using this with very mixed success at the moment," noted Busato.

— Anne Morris, freelance editor, special to Light Reading

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