IPTV group forms, but without two key players

Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent missing from Internet-based TV group

Several big telecommunications carriers and equipment suppliers hope to accelerate the deployment of Internet-based TV services by agreeing to a set of interoperable technology specifications.

Launched yesterday, the Open IPTV Forum plans to support efforts to create open standards and define deployment specifications for IPTV, which allows telecommunications and cable operators to deliver programs over broadband networks.

However, two key suppliers of IPTV technology, Microsoft Corp. and Alcatel-Lucent SA, are absent from the group.

In particular, Microsoft has pushed hard to capture a piece of the nascent IPTV market. It has won contracts for its deployment platform, Microsoft TV IPTV Edition, from several network operators, including AT&T Inc. and Telecom Italia SpA.

Despite not joining the new group, Microsoft said it participates in several other standards bodies that it said are related to IPTV, including the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, the International Telecommunication Union and OASIS.

Alcatel-Lucent did not respond to a request for comment.

Founding members of the Open IPTV Forum include network operators AT&T Inc., France Telecom SA and Telecom Italia, and vendors Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (Panasonic), Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Samsung Electronics Co., Siemens Networks GmbH & Co. KG (which is merging with the network division of Nokia Corp.) and Sony Corp.

"What we have today are many different groups working on very specific standards but not always aware of how these standards should enable an end-to-end service," said Ilyana Guzman, a spokeswoman for Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, another of the founding members. "We support open standards and want to create a specifications document that shows how these standards can be used for a complete IPTV delivery solution."

The forum comes as telecommunications companies around the world seek swift, reliable and cost-efficient ways to launch IPTV offerings to help offset the drop in demand for their traditional telephony service.

Numerous operators, including BT Group PLC, Deutsche Telekom AG and Swisscom AG, have already launched IPTV services. While many have chosen Microsoft's platform, others are mixing rival systems supplied by Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent.

None have found the deployment of IPTV to be easy, according to analysts.

"While the IPTV market is growing, the reality is, it's not an easy business for anyone," said Nate Elliot, an analyst at iSuppli Corp. "It's a challenge to connect all the dots and offer a seamless end-to-end service."

Although the Microsoft system boasts an end-to-end design, it requires operators, essentially, to rely on one vendor delivering all the necessary IPTV components across their networks, from content gathering and processing to end-user delivery, Elliot said.

Operators want a certain amount of flexibility, which they can have by working with more than one vendor, he said.

Forming a consortium that will address interoperability issues makes sense, Elliot said, and is certain to help accelerate the deployment of IPTV service.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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