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Tuesday, 03 June 2008 08:24

Ericsson wants to be telcos' 'Televisionary'

The 'holy grail' of service providers as broadcasting and fixed and mobile communications converge is the 'three screens' model: the ability to deliver, and receive, integrated video content via PCs, TVs and mobile devices, and Ericsson is making a big push to be the preferred supplier to deliver on this vision.

Ericsson sees five key aspects to the vision: personalisation; interactivity; multiple modes of communication allowing users to choose services such as voice, SMS, MMS, or instant messaging; high-definition picture quality; and user-generated content.

It has put together a global 'Televisionary Roadshow ' complete with snazzy videos, slide shows and lots of hard-copy collateral to tout its credentials. The show was launched in February and rolled into Sydney this week with Ericsson promising to "showcase new technologies and services designed for the emerging television and video market..[and] share [our] vision for a future of personalised, interactive communication services available across all three screens: TV, PC and mobile."

The vision, however, is shared by most of the leading vendors, and their service provider customers. So the roadshow was a useful window on the way the world is moving. Ericsson claims that the market opportunity for consumer multimedia services is vast and that video/TV will be the largest segment in the global multimedia business by 2011 driven by changing consumer behaviour, digitisation of content, and broadband penetration. Video and TV will also be the primary driver of transformation in carrier networks because of the high demands it places on networks to delivery a high quality service.

In particular, Ericsson says the demand for as personalised TV experience – watching television, anywhere, anytime, on any device – will represent "a strategic shift for the industry and a key business growth area for telecom network operators over the coming decade." And it will, of course place huge demands on the networks used to deliver this personalised experience.

Research commissioned by Ericsson from IDC forecasts that the global market for consumer digital multimedia presents a massive revenue opportunity for service providers, growing from $US27 billion in 2006 to $US149 billion in 2011. The global TV/video market is forecast to grow from $US3 billion in 2006 to $US35 billion in 2011. In Australia, the consumer multimedia market will grow from $US154 million in 2006 to $US975 million in 2011, according to IDC.

According to Kursten Leins, strategic marketing manager - multimedia for Ericsson Australia, the opportunities presented by television will require new business approaches, models and technologies. "Video services, such as IPTV, WebTV and Mobile TV, will account for the vast majority of network traffic in the near future. However, this will pose significant challenges for Australian broadband networks, both fixed and wireless, as the delivery of high-quality video services requires new network capabilities such as broadcast and multicast, as well as guaranteed quality of service."

According to Ericsson, today the delivery of video over telco networks is well established, but the integration between the different technologies and networks is lacking. It says there are around 650 commercial IPTV services in operation, and some 170 mobile TV services, the vast majority over 3G or HSPA networks

IPTV, according to Ericsson, is having a huge impact on operators as they become transformed into media and lifestyle providers. "Leading overseas IPTV operators, such as PCCW in Hong Kong and AT&T and Verizon in the US, have strong content, combined with such features as network PVR and time-shift playback capability."

Mobile TV services, however, have yet to achieve their full potential. "Services have been marked by slow customer take-up and consumer studies point to the need for better pricing, usability, service performance and interesting content," according to Ericsson. "Global TV experiences shows that 60-75 percent of viewers watch the three to five most popular channels."

Ericsson may not be a name that immediately springs to mind in the context of television, but the company contends that a string of recent strategic acquisitions have left it well placed to participate in all facets of the market from content management to the fixed and mobile networks over which this video will be delivered.

These acquisitions include:
- Tandberg Television (snatched from would be acquirer Arris in early 2007 and billed as a world-leader in video head-end, encoding and compression technology critical to maximising picture quality while minimising bandwidth within IPTV applications";
 - Redback Networks a company with "a strong position in multiservice edge routing technology, helps carriers deliver broadband, telephone, TV and mobility services over internet-based infrastructures";
- Entrisphere which "provides fibre access technology, which is essential for high-definition IPTV and other IP-based services that place a high demand on bandwidth and cost-effectiveness."

As a result of these acquisitions, Ericsson now claims to offer "a complete end-to-end IPTV and mobile TV solution based on [an] open-architecture approach..[and including] multimedia solutions, network infrastructure, IP multimedia system (IMS), advertising solutions, as well as the professional services and support necessary to implement them."

Ericsson's new expanded ambitions are well beyond its previous core competencies of fixed and mobile telecoms networks, but the company claims that these acquisitions have equipped it well. According to Lien, "based on our market leading position in mobile access, core network solutions and fixed broadband, we are ready to be the prime driver for the converged TV world in the future."

Not only that, the company says it intends to "do to television what we did to telephony; that is, taking it from the public phone booth on the town square, into the homes and then helping it go mobile." It adds that "Likewise, the new model for individualised television is set to emerge as a mass-market reality," and no doubt it intends to play a leading role in this also.

However neither Ericsson nor any other player will be able to deliver all pieces of the jigsaw to enable any individual service provider, constrained by numerous legacy systems, to realise this vision: standards and interoperability will be important. And earlier this year, Ericsson along with Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, TeliaSonera, Nokia Siemens Networks, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung announced a joint effort - the Rich Communication Suite Initiative to facilitate the evolution of mobile communication towards rich communication.

They agreed a set of features originating from profiled IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standards and a set of implementation guidelines with the intention of having interoperable rich communication services available in 2008. The initial offerings were planned to be: phonebook, with service capabilities and presence enhanced contacts information; enhanced messaging, which will include a large variety of messaging options including chat and messaging history; enriched call, which will include multimedia content sharing during a voice call.

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