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Microsoft IPTV: Now That's Italian!

Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) TV division has landed another European carrier scalp in the form of national operator Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI).

Late last month, the software firm boosted its standing in the TV-over-broadband sector with the announcement of a full-service trial with Swisscom AG's (NYSE: SCM) Bluewin unit (see Is Microsoft Finally Carrier Grade?).

Both carriers are part of what Microsoft TV's marketing chief, Ed Graczyk, calls the "early adopter program," though the Italian carrier isn't as advanced as its Swiss neighbor, as it has the TV-over-DSL system in lab trials only. "We expect consumer trials to start in early 2005, and for Telecom Italia to quickly scale up to thousands of households," says Graczyk, who is in Amsterdam for the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) 2004 that starts today.

To what extent Telecom Italia will use Microsoft's system, designed to handle and deliver TV content over carrier networks, in any commercial deployment is uncertain. The operator has also been putting Alcatel SA's (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) system through its paces (see Alcatel Unveils Open Media Suite).

But Graczyk is bullish about his unit's prospects of success and says the two European operators are among a small group of operators from around the world that have been involved in the development of the vendor's system. The end result for each of the operators involved is a turnkey system at a fixed price that takes the carrier from scratch to a full trial, and involves the provision of hardware, software, and support.

Other operators in the program include Canada's BCE Inc. (NYSE/Toronto: BCE), India's Reliance Infocomm Ltd., and RBOC SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC). (See Bell Thinks Outside the Box, Reliance, Microsoft Team on IP TV, and SBC's $6 Billion Banquet.)

That's not all that Microsoft has to crow about at the IBC event. It will also announce the fruits of collaboration with several specialist vendors in the TV system market. Encoder vendor Tandberg Television has had its EN5920 system integrated with Microsoft's IPTV platform, while set-top box player Thomson is announcing products that support the software company's platform.

Microsoft is far from the only company making TV-over-broadband announcements at and around the IBC event. Pre-show snippets of interest include:

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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