Microsoft, Alcatel IPTV deal yields fuzzy partnership

Microsoft Corp. and newly merged Alcatel-Lucent SA have partnered to deliver Internet-based television technology to Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel), the companies said Thursday.

But it's not business as usual: The two partners could be headed to court over alleged patent infringements and, depending on the outcome of their dispute, may choose to go their separate ways.

SingTel is the second Asian carrier to test Microsoft's IPTV (Internet Protocol television) software, bringing the total number of operators either conducting trials or commercially deploying the technology to 16.

The deal is part of a partnership agreement made in 2005 under which Alcatel-Lucent sells the Microsoft IPTV platform to smaller network operators, according to Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft's TV unit.

"We're selling our platform directly to around three dozen Tier 1 carriers and partnering with Alcatel-Lucent to sell to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators," Graczyk said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Telecommunication Union's Telecom World conference and exhibition in Hong Kong.

The continued scope of that partnership, however, is now as fuzzy as the initial IPTV technology that Microsoft delivered to the first carrier customers of its early adopter program.

In November, Alcatel filed lawsuits against Microsoft for several alleged patent infringements. The IPTV patents in question stem from the work of Oracle Corp. engineers who had developed fast-forward and rewind features for its video server technology. The patents were sold to a company Alcatel later acquired.

Alcatel now maintains that some of the technology developed by the Oracle engineers has resurfaced in Microsoft TV IPTV Edition software as a result of several members of the original development team joining the U.S. software company.

Both Alcatel and Lucent had developed IPTV expertise prior to their merger. Together, they now appear keen to stake their own claim.

"We can offer carriers choice," John Giere, chief marketing officer at Alcatel-Lucent, said during an interview in Hong Kong. "We can provide the Microsoft solution if that is what carriers want. But with our technology, we can also provide an open system with open interfaces. Many operators don't want to be overly dependent on Microsoft, which offers a proprietary system."

Even after forming its partnership with Microsoft in 2005, Alcatel continued to fund its Open Media Platform, which it acquired from iMagicTV Inc. The technology is deployed by a number of operators, including Free in France and Telecom Italia.

Another IPTV system in the Alcatel-Lucent camp is the MyViewTV platform developed with Spain's Telefónica SA.

Around 400,000 consumers are currently using the company's IPTV systems.

The SingTel project is based on a combination of Alcatel-Lucent's services integration system and the Microsoft IPTV platform. It will include testing of broadcast TV and video on demand, with content featuring high-definition-quality picture resolution.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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