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IPTV Forum: Optimus Hails New Discovery

LONDON -- IPTV World Forum 2010 -- In an effort to counter the threat from its rivals in the highly competitive Portuguese IPTV market, Optimus, the brand name of multi-service operator Sonaecom , is deploying a content discovery and recommendation engine from its IPTV middleware supplier, Orca Interactive Ltd. . (See Orca Scores at Optimus.)

The carrier launched its IPTV service in 2007, but in a country with fewer than 4 million households, finds itself competing against a number of triple-play competitors (with true high-speed broadband) from the telco and cable sectors. (See FTTH Europe: Now That's What I Call Broadband, Vodafone Launches IPTV in Portugal, Cabovisão Joins Europe's Speed Club , and PT Uses DS2 for IPTV.)

The company, which has just started using the Optimus brand for its fixed line as well as mobile services, doesn't disclose how many IPTV customers it has (though it's believed to be fewer than 50,000), but it's clear about which companies it's working with to develop its IPTV services.

Orca, a subsidiary of French firm Viaccess S.A. , is a long-term a key partner that hasn't, despite some suggestions to the contrary, been usurped by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See FT Unit Reels In Orca.)

In September 2008, Ericsson announced an engagement at the Portuguese operator whereby it was to "upgrade Sonaecom's IPTV system by delivering and integrating a next-generation, end-to-end IPTV solution. This will bring together Ericsson solutions including its new IMS-based IPTV middleware and network infrastructure, as well as Tandberg Television's high-definition and standard-definition video processing platform. Deployment and trial has started." (See Ericsson Sets IPTV Trial.)

That made it seem that Ericsson was replacing the incumbent system, which was Orca. (See Sonaecom Deploys Orca.)

Joao Mendes Pedro, IPTV marketing manager for the fixed and mobile operator, says Optimus did trial Ericsson equipment for around two months, but decided to stick with Orca. "You have to have a very good reason to change your middleware," says Pedro. "We never announced any swap."

Other key partners are Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), which has been supplying Optimus with its set-top-boxes since the advent of MPEG-4, and Cisco. (See Sonaecom Enhances IPTV.)

Now Optimus is deploying Orca's new Compass content discovery and recommendation platform, the product of many years of development at Orca that will soon also include integrated plug-ins for social networking service such as Facebook and Twitter Inc.

"It's a challenge to bring the right content in front of the consumer," says Pedro, noting that Optimus now offers 140 live TV channels, 3,000 video-on-demand titles, and 12 HD channels in its lineup. "In future we will be able to give personalized recommendations."

All of which require greater bandwidth for optimum service quality, but the carrier is working on that too. In addition to its flat rate of 24 Mbit/s for all users of its ADSL2+ unbundled service, it has been building out fiber-to-the home connections using GPON in order to provide a future-proof network for its IPTV and broadband services. Pedro says the network now passes 200,000 homes, and this number will be doubled next year. Portugal Telecom SGPS SA (NYSE: PT) is also building out fiber and now passes 800,000 homes. All operators were helped by a government program to support fiber rollouts. Portugal has 3.6 million households, "of which 2.6 million are 'interesting,'" says Pedro.

He says other solutions, such as integrating over-the-top content, will be an interesting way to further expand coverage. (See Internet Video: Problem Unsolved.)

"It's a totally new challenge," he says. "We are working on a PC/TV solution," whereby content would be brought to the PC but in a managed environment. Optimus is also considering how it might use its 3G network to deliver content. "We are now evaluating the best solutions," says Pedro.

He adds that digital terrestrial TV has not yet come to Portugal, and says the analogue TV network is unlikely to be switched off before the deadline in 2012. But when DTT comes, Optimus will be ready, and would consider offering free and premium DTT services as a complementary offering to its IPTV service.

Optimus currently offers TV services on its FTTH network as part of triple-play packages that cost from €39.99 to €64.50 (US$53.30 to $85.96) per month, with its €49.99 ($66.62) package the most popular. This includes 100 TV channels, 50-Mbit/s broadband, and unlimited voice calls.

Quad-play could be next: Pedro says the move to bring all services under the Optimus brand is the first step in this direction.

As for Orca, it has more than the Optimus deployment of Compass to boast about, as IPTV giant Orange (NYSE: FTE) is also set to deploy the Compass system. That deal is more of a shoo-in, though, as FT owns Orca's parent, Viaccess. (See FT Finds Its Way With Orca's Compass.)

— Anne Morris, freelance editor, special to Light Reading

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