The recent NXTcomm show in Chicago (2007) was brimming with IPTV equipment and demos. Perhaps most telling of all was the fact that many of the equipment vendors (notably Alcatel-Lucent) concentrated on IPTV applications as opposed to just showing their wares. Of course, there was a great deal of hardware to be seen, also. The availability of MPEG-4 set-top boxes was one piece of big news. Another major item of interest was the announcement that Verizon Business (old MCI) was accelerating its network buildup by adding optical cross-connects and going to a full deployment of ROADMs earlier than planned. The main driver for the network additions was the carriage of Verizon’s FiOS video traffic. All of this activity should indicate that IPTV is here to stay. Then how can we have an IPTV report with the somewhat negative title of “IPTV — To Be or Not to Be?” The answer is in the details of the differences of how video is being implemented by the two major RBOCs. One (AT&T) is using a pure IPTV approach, while what Verizon is doing is hardly recognizable as IPTV. To date Verizon is obviously the most successful. This report will look very closely at future drivers for residential video development and how this difference is likely to be played out — IPTV — To Be or Not to Be?
The RBOCs are making great progress in becoming creditable players in video delivery. Verizon has just announced the connection of its 500,000th FiOS video customer. While this is a long way from the top-tier cable companies (with around 24,000,000 subscribers), it is still a remarkable accomplishment in about a year and a half. This half-million subscribers would put Verizon on the top ten list of cable companies! In addition, Verizon is adding FiOS video customers at the rate of slightly over 50,000 a month. By the end of 2007, they should be over 800,000 subscribers, which would move them to eighth or ninth on the top ten cable company list. AT&T is also in the process of expanding its U-verse high-speed offering, with about 30,000+ video subscribers presently (mid-2007), and is adding about 500 new video subscribers per day. In addition to these major RBOCs’ activities in video, Qwest has made some beginnings in the field, and BellSouth (before its acquisition by AT&T) had very advanced in-house development work under way on a video offering of its own.
This progress is very impressive; however, there is more to the story. The two major constituents of this competition — Verizon and AT&T — have taken very different paths to delivering video. AT&T is using a "pure" IPTV approach, riding on an FTTN architecture that depends on copper for the last few thousand feet. Verizon in contrast uses an "rf overlay" — meaning a separate broadcast (on Verizon’s fiber network) wavelength that carries digital TV signals — and an IPTV stream for VoD and various other functions. Verizon’s delivery rides on an FTTP-based, passive optical network Are these just differences in approach to the same service, or is one approach inherently better? Can customer demand for video be satisfied by both approaches? Can we expect any changes in these approaches? What are the network implications for the delivery of this new traffic? We will use input gathered specifically for this report from the major players to help describe the RBOCs’ positions.
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