15 June 2010

Cyberspace July 2010

Cyberspace July 2010

Content delivery

Google recently announced "Google TV" (http://www.google.com/tv/), which promises to deliver internet video content to your TV. I'm a bit sceptical about it at present since recent travels to France and Hong Kong have opened my eyes to what we're missing out on today.
Everything over the internet

In Paris we had a Freebox (http://free.fr) connected to the TV instead of an aerial. It plugged into the powerpoint just like any other set-top box. Elsewhere in the apartment was a typical modem, and the TV box wirelessly received signal from it. It also provided a telephone service and a wi-fi network for the apartment. Calls to most countries were free, so you get internet, tv and telephone for €30 per month. The TV has 168 channels in the basic package, with up to 396, and Free is presently laying 100 MB fibre in Paris to further improve services.
Hong Kong has something similar, provided by PCCW (http://pccw.com) since 2003. As a subscriber, you get home internet access, 7,000 wi-fi hotspots around Hong Kong, 3G mobile data, and up to 170 channels of TV (which can be chosen singly). Because the TV is delivered over the network you can also shop, order take-away food and a number of other services optimised for delivery to the TV screen (not all web pages play nicely when rendered on a TV). You can even subscribe using an existing Sony PlayStation 3, rather than rent another box, and some video is on demand, rather than being scheduled.
Both of these services are easily "consumer accessible", but in Australia we have a mish-mash of product without simple delivery. Some ISPs provide unmetered bandwidth for certain activities; iiNet has its Freezone, BigPond doesn't charge to download from movies.bigpond.com, and Internode has several offerings including the ABC's iView, and internet radio. Optus "Zoo" tries, but doesn't satisfy. In fact, very few people would be satisfied if this these were their only "TV" connection. However, other things are on the horizon.
In May 2010 Foxtel lodged an exclusive dealing notification with the ACCC. Foxtel will supply video and associated services to iQ set top boxes via the internet, but only over Telstra's BigPond system. The data will be unmetered or very cheaply supplied, but if you don't use BigPond then you won't received the service. Users will be able to "download a wide variety of content such as movies and television programs... [and] watch the content on demand", purchasing content "on a per programme basis or on a bundled basis."
Putting aside the third line forcing issue, this is really only a very small step compared to the Freebox product. Products such as an unhacked Apple TV, TiVo or Windows Media Centre have virtually no commercial content in Australia. We also can't listen to Pandora internet radio, watch BBC iView, nor find anything watchable on Hulu or Boxee. There are many fragmented steps toward a simple IPTV delivery system (including the proposed Google TV, Telstra T-Box (http://www.telstra.com.au/latest_offers/tbox/) and iiNet's resale of FetchTV), but until content providers in Australia rethink their delivery channels we won't see anything like free.fr.

Even if there was a Freebox in Australia, could our infrastructure support it? Probably only for a few, since only ADSL2, cable, Ethernet or fibre could support this sort of content delivery. Legislation to require fibre to be laid in greenfield residential developments has been delayed again (although I think the government should prescribe performance requirements, rather than a particular type of technology). The NBN (http://nbnco.com.au) is focussed on regional areas at present, relies on local ISPs being interested in that area, and may use wireless and satellite, which often provides a poor internet experience due to latency.

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