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T-Mobile's revamped TV service deemed 'tech-ready' – sources

A retooled version of T-Mobile's TVision service for the home and for mobile devices is go for launch from a technology standpoint. Still, the company is expected to delay the national debut until sometime this summer, while most of its retail stores remain closed, industry sources said.

"It's tech-ready for launch," on source said, noting that T-Mobile has essentially developed a new architecture for a pay-TV service that can be delivered to consumer homes and traditional TVs while also prioritizing delivery on smartphones.

T-Mobile has not announced a firm date for the national launch of TVision, so far only noting that "TVision and home entertainment remain important parts of our longer-term strategy" and that the company expects to share more detail about its pay-TV plans later in the year.

Some new information about T-Mobile's TV intentions could emerge Wednesday when the company reports first-quarter results. However, it's expected that the bulk of that call will center on the company's general response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its plans moving forward with 5G following its merger with Sprint.

Though TVision is said to be ready to scale up for a national launch, the pandemic has slowed initial plans to push ahead with it as many its stores, said to be an important marketing conduit for TVision, remain closed.

T-Mobile is expected to delay the launch to sometime this summer, two sources said, but added that timing could change depending on the speed at which the nation starts to open up.

That intended timeframe appears to jibe with T-Mobile's plans to ramp up a broader marketing initiative that will focus on a more integrated offering in the wake of the Sprint merger that, presumably, will also include T-Mobile's retooled video streaming service.

"Think about the summer time frame as being when we start to unify and market with all of our stores and all of our advertising and all our offers in a more unified way," T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert told CNBC last month. "Midsummer, we haven't picked a date yet. But that's certainly always been our intention."

A national launch would greatly expand T-Mobile's ability to bulk up its pay-TV base. The current form of TVision, formed from the $325 million acquisition of Denver-based Layer3 TV in 2018, is available in a handful of US markets – Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Washington, DC; and Longmont, Colo. T-Mobile inherited about 5,000 Layer3 TV customers from the deal and, according to a source, has about double that amount on the legacy, in-home video platform.

But the plan with the new offering and platform is to help T-Mobile ratchet up quickly and broaden its pay-TV base to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. "They are very bullish on their video plans," a source said.

It's not yet clear how T-Mobile intends to differentiate itself in the pay-TV market with packaging and pricing, though it's expected to try to bundle TVision with new wireless home Internet services powered by the 5G network that will result from the merger with Sprint. At the same time, T-Mobile will need to do some tweaking to TVision's current core offering, which starts at $90 per month, to grab attention.

To help fulfill its need to scale up the service with an app-based offering that can run on multiple streaming platforms and not cost it another small fortune to do so, T-Mobile has teamed up with MobiTV, a company that operates a multi-tenant headend and has the ability to deliver services under a software-as-a-serviced model. T-Mobile and MobiTV haven't announced the partnership, but two industry sources have confirmed the deal.

MobiTV has already teamed up with dozens of US telcos and cable operators on new pay-TV services and has a partnership in place with the National Cable Television Cooperative, an organization that represents hundreds of independent cable operators.

Aside from plans centered on TVision, T-Mobile has been aggressive on the streaming front via marketing partnerships with Netflix and Quibi, the new mobile-focused, short-form premium video service founded by Hollywood icon Jeffrey Katzenberg.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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