If you're in the market for an IPTV service and you live in the U.S., chances are two companies come to mind: AT&T and Verizon. And for the most part you're right - they are the only two operators with (somewhat) significant deployments and a decent chance for success. If you live in Europe, however, you're much more likely to be able to get IPTV now, with a larger number of operators having much wider coverage areas. Coverage in the U.S. is much more limited, and your chances of living in a service area are somewhat slim. Nevertheless, the market is ready and growing, and more customers are signing up every day.
Aside from coverage limitations, other issues still exist between operators and customers. "I think U.S.-based operators are going to have a difficult time being hugely successful because cable and satellite is already so well-entrenched," said Jeff Heynen, directing analyst for broadband and IPTV at Infonetics Research. "The only way Verizon and AT&T are going to have some degree of success is if they really offer a solution that transforms and improves how subscribers watch television. Integration of Internet-based content, a wide variety of VOD content, and a user interface that is intuitive and allows users to really personalize and customize their viewing habits will help."
Nevertheless, Heynen noted that some U.S. providers are leading in innovation, which boosts their chances for success. "Right now, most of the IPTV offerings out there are really "me-too" offerings that essentially replicate the cable broadcast model. This is completely understandable since delivering video isn't a trivial task. However, AT&T's U-Verse service, which just rolled out HD, is a unique and compelling service. Also, SureWest in CA, which was the first to roll out MPEG-4-based HD, delivers video over both ADSL2+ and FTTH, with VOD and integration with IM clients for messaging and Caller ID screen pops is [another] very intriguing service." It should be noted that while Verizon's FiOS fiber-to-the-home offering is often referred to as true IPTV, this isn't really the case since they're using technology similar to that of regular cable companies.
So at this point you may be wondering which service to (try to) get if, indeed, you are sold on the benefits of IPTV. The following list should help since it is based on those with the best chances for success according to Heynen. After all, you don't want to get a service that will disappear in a few months or a year, not to mention wanting a quality service.
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AT&T: U-Verse TV offers up to 300 channels including majors like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz. Features include DVR, VOD, and HD. Packages range from $59 to $119 per month, and custom packages are also available. HD service costs an extra $10. Service available in various cities in CA, TX, CT, WI, and IN.
Verizon: FiOS TV offers up to 200 channels including all the majors plus international channels. Features include VOD, HD, and Multi-Room DVR (control and watch DVR programs from multiple rooms). Pricing is generally $39.99 per month but varies depending on location. Some popular cable channels involve additional costs. Service available in various cities in CA, CT, DE, FL, IN, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, VA, and WA.
SureWest: IPTV service offers 260 channels including international programming. Features include VOD, HD, and TiVO service. VOD service provides unlimited viewing with a 24-hour window, where you can watch as many times as wanted with full DVR functionality. Pricing varies and involves extra costs for some popular channels. Service only available in Sacramento, CA at the moment but is expected to expand.
Deutsche Telekom: T-Home service includes up to 60 channels including major broadcast networks as well as private stations belonging to the RTL and ProSiebenSat1 groups. HD, VOD and TV archives are available. Service is offered as part of a bundled package including telephone and net access. Pricing varies but starts at about 65 EUR per month. Service available across Germany.
Belgacom: Belgacom TV includes the Classic+ package of 70 channels, VOD, thematic channel packages, and "11," the channel that broadcasts all Belgian first-division matches. Pricing varies. Belgacom TV will eventually cover the whole Belgian territory.
France Telecom: MaLigne TV (now Orange TV) offers over 200 channels of movies, documentaries, programs, and cartoons with access to TPS L and Canal Plus program packages. Includes services such as HD and VOD. Pricing varies. Currently available in France, Poland, and Spain.
Telecom Italia: Alice Home TV offers 53 channels including Sky, MTV, and VH1. Standard features such as VOD are included. Pricing varies. The service is available in over 250 cities in Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
British Telecom: BT Vision service offers 40 standard channels plus "rent on demand" popular movies using a DVR. Service requires a one-time installation and connection fee of 90 GBP (about $176) and pay-as-you-go or subscription service (up to 14 GBP per month, or about $28), with added fees for on-demand rentals. Also requires a standard broadband service subscription. Currently only available in the UK.
Telefonica: Imagenio service offers over 70 channels including more than 1,000 hours of TV series, documentaries, concerts, video clips and news, including some English-language channels such as CNN and BBC. For certain channels, the service allows the viewer to switch instantly between dubbed Spanish and original language versions. Pricing varies. Available in major cities and province capitals in Spain.
Swisscom: Bluewin TV offers over 100 television channels and 70-plus radio channels including many majors regionally and internationally. DVR and VOD are offered, as is the ability to set recordings remotely via web or mobile access. Pricing varies and involves some premium channels, and a broadband subscription is required. Available in select locations in Switzerland.
Heynen notes that the European providers listed have a good chance for success since cable penetration is significantly lower there, and because they are incumbent operators and have direct broadband access to millions of subscribers. And given the large number of European operators on the above list, it's important not to leave Asia out of the mix. According to Heynen, many in the region hold much promise. "In terms of sheer numbers of addressable subscribers, I think you have to look to China where China Telecom and China Unicom have the largest potential footprints. From there, NTT in Japan and KT in Korea have the next biggest potential markets," he said.
While these 10 providers look promising, the list is not all-inclusive. Many smaller startups hope to compete in the space, so it may be worth asking around if one of these isn't available in your area. It just might be one of those smaller providers that offers the highest quality, most innovative service and comes out ahead.
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