Here we go again

Tue, 01/31/2006 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

DBS does video very well. In the U.S., it has attracted more than 27 million subs. What DBS has been unable to do (so far) is come to market with a high-speed bundle that doesn't rely on partnering with telephony companies in some sort of a quasi, revenue-sharing bundle that offers video from DBS and data and voice from the telco—but puts everything on one bill. There's lots of revenue sharing going on, and you can bet that someone is losing something somewhere in the translation.

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner
Some large and mid-sized telcos have also latched on to DBS in recent years so that they could add video to the bundle. But many of them have since gotten religion and embarked on delivering video over their own networks, although they might still rely on DBS to gain traction outside their traditional regions.

But just last month, DirecTV made a veiled stab at telling the world that it is once again getting serious about adding its own high-speed service bundle. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch told investors that, "you'll be hearing from us within two months on a very clear plan [of] what will happen, and it's not as expensive as you might think." In this case, "not as expensive" means less than $1 billion.

The belief is that DirecTV will move ahead with a plan that involves WiMAX, which recently saw its first group of vendors win certification. But that was for the fixed version of WiMAX. For mobile wireless, they'll have to wait for the 802.16e standard to come of age. The IEEE just approved a draft proposal on the super-charged 802.11n protocol, but there's been no indication that DirecTV plans to leverage it.

Whatever happens, it will be DirecTV's latest attempt to get it right. Direcway is still going, but it leaves much to be desired in terms of both speed and mobility. Remember the original plans for Spaceway? In the late 1990s, DirecTV said it would build three satellites with a total capacity of about 30 Gbps. Turning to today, the DBS giant will utilize the capacity of two Spaceway satellites to fuel a big high-definition television expansion.

As for EchoStar, it has been less vocal about creating its own two-way broadband service. It wrote off investments in Starband Communications and WildBlue Communications years ago, but presently is looking at ways to offer such a service, if it could be done "affordably and economically," according to a company spokesman.

As it has with HD-VOD, cable finds itself in an advantageous position—ahead of the technology curve on this particular issue. For many operators, the plant is already equipped for data and voice services. It will take some work and money to extend that plant wirelessly, but such plans appear to be on the agenda, based on what was said in Tampa at last month's SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies. Wireless mesh and mobility was a key topic at the confab, but I find it hard to believe that adding this important component is part of some far-reaching, five-year outlook. It will happen much sooner than that.


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