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Industry goes mad for IPTV

London forum feeding frenzy

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There was a queue at IPTV Forum in London last week, all the way back past the lifts and round into the bar area. That was the first statement about what should have been yet another unsurprising show about IPTV, that there is real main stream interest out there now and everyone wants to get in on the action.

As the dazed organisers tried to get everyone into the keynote session, delay was inevitable and a certain amount of chaos ensued, a pithy analogy for the industry itself. But the reason for the size of the audience and the unexpected success of the show was surely because each of the companies that have made the IPTV industry over the past five years had brought their big guns to the fore with CEOs on the speaking program of IPTV pioneers Kasenna, Entone, BT Entertainment, BitBand, Video Networks, Widevine, and the keynote opened with someone who is perhaps symbolic of IPTV in Europe, Myrio CEO Chris Coles.

Coles represents the "other" side of IPTV, how the industry likes to see itself, made up of small innovators who have gleaned important secrets in how to make IPTV and triple play work. Although Myrio is one of the two leading middleware companies (the other is Orca), it is now owned by Siemens, which in itself represents the counterpoint to a US IPTV world that is now coming to be dominated by Microsoft.

So giving Myrio the keynote and not having Microsoft talk until the third day gives the impression that all is right with the world and that IPTV is still a domain for investment and innovation, and that it is not going through a period of consolidation.

However the truth is that IPTV is going through a first round of consolidation.

We talked to Kreatel at the show which said that it was "business as usual for 2006", after its acquisition by Motorola and that they "hope" that they will become the centre for R&D for IPTV for Motorola, but weren’t really too sure.

Scientific Atlanta were in evidence, but how long will its logo be seen at these shows, when the Cisco one is so well known, and also we saw Skystream, recently acquired by Tandberg TV in what might be its last year as a separate organization. Already missing was Philips’ CryptoWorks, acquired recently by Irdeto, but already having its marketing efforts absorbed into its new parent.

And consolidation won’t stop there. Does the world have room for 60 set top suppliers? Surely not now that Kreatel has gone. Does the world need more than a handful of alternative conditional access suppliers and companies like Telenor’s Conax and France Telecom’s ViaAccess, seem superfluous and ripe for acquisition despite being owner by notable parents.

At the end of Coles keynote he called on Telcos to go beyond the role of merely providing data transport systems and there and then he stated the idea that divides the entire 2,000 or so people at the show...

If Telcos do try to operate a triple play, and try to become more than just the data transport system, they will come to threaten everything and everyone. Two such believers in the walled garden approach to telcos have made enough big news this week with AT&T (nee SBC Communications) CEO Ed Whitacre and his counterpart at Bellsouth Duane Ackerman, both well known for their forthright views on charging companies like Google to use their access highways.

A merged AT&T and Bellsouth will represent a bigger lobbying force in favor of walled gardens, because these guys think they should own a piece of everything that comes through their network, by right.

Whispers of the merger went around the show like wildfire on Monday and then it was announced later in the US. It looks like a done deal. Twenty years ago when the RBOCs were formed and AT&T was broken up by consent decree, there was no competition to AT&T.

Now the cable companies and Sprint and other wireless networks, potentially in partnership with satellite TV companies, along with VoIP operations from Vonage to Skype, all represent some kind of competition and Bellsouth and AT&T being brought together will look, at least in the wireline world, more like tying together two stones to see if "now" they’ll float.

The two companies will get through the regulatory and monopolies issues comfortably, but still have all of the issues they had before the merger. Before, they were two companies that did not compete anywhere and even shared the largest mobile operator in the US. Now, with the exception of the being a singularity of direction at Cingular (which needs it badly as it is being outflanked day to day by Verizon Wireless), there is little changed.

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