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France first in MS IPTV rollout

But will the long-awaited service impress?

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Comment Right on schedule, T-Online France, trading as Club Internet, an ISP subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom operating in France, will deliver the first live Microsoft IPTV service in Europe later this month.

The service not only offers full multicasting, but also comes as a hybrid including Digital Terrestrial TV, and a VoD library of 1,000 films. It is also a full triple play, offering VoIP, video conferencing and broadband lines as well, on Lucent hardware.

Eventually Club Internet will be deployed within reach of 10m French homes, but must go up against France Telecom's MaLigne TV and unbundled IPTV systems such as Free, as well as a virtually identically structured services from AliceBox, a subsidiary of Telecom Italia, based on Alcatel OMP middleware.

The Lucent hardware is based on its Stinger FS+ DSL Concentrators with the IP 2100 Control Module and Gigabit Ethernet enhancements. The service will offer a high definition ready set top, picture in picture capability so two channels can be viewed at once, and has the new server based fast channel change that Microsoft has pushed so hard as a differentiating feature of the service.

A DVR is supplied with Wi-Fi capability offering 50 hours of recording time and will come integrated into the HD and DTT-ready set top boxes.

The Electronic Program Guide shows a two week look ahead view similar to most pay TV systems in Europe, and the entire VoD library, which also includes some 150 TV series as well as movies, can be searched by program or even actor name while viewers continue to watch a current program. The VoD service will be a combination of subscription VoD and pay as you go.

It will become obvious over the next few months whether the naysayers are right and Microsoft has bitten off more than it can chew, or whether or not the long anticipated system will perform the way it has in demonstrations around the world for the past year.

Most of Microsoft's partners have suffered some form of setback, most of which have been attributed to the long wait for set top chips, a wait that is now deemed to be over.

T-Online was in fact the eighth contract that Microsoft signed, but it is virtually the first service to be delivered. Certainly the AT&T service that has been launched in the US has not yet seen a wide roll-out, while other services have failed to materialise at all, with British Telecom and Swisscom putting off launches, Telstra dropping the product entirely and Telecom Italia going, initially at least, with the earlier Alcatel OMP middleware.

Club Internet claims to be the first broadband portal that put TV over ADSL and offered the first bundled Wi-Fi option and its new access network is fully VDSL2 ready. Club Internet claims to have over 13m registered subscribers.

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