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Triple Play Myths and Magic

By Brian Mahony, NetCentrex, Inc.

 


IP-based triple play deployments enjoyed a breakout year in 2005, both in terms of hype and reality. Most vendors and certainly any member of the IPlay3 Consortium will agree it was exciting to see the concept take flight and even morph into unexpected, but interesting variants. The entire industry woke up and it was encouraging to see investments in equipment and service deployments back up the hype most of the time. As the triple play industry grows a year older perhaps into its adolescent years it is most important to separate fact from fiction, magic from myth, behind the forces driving triple play.

The Major Benefit of Triple Play is Getting One Converged Bill

Myth: The point has been previously made, but it warrants restatement: Triple play must be more than just a converged bill, only capturing a small portion of the total value. We have seen early forays into converged services various service providers, using separate equipment and networks, offering customers the option of subscribing to all three services (voice/video/data) from them. But by now, most service providers have realized that this 1+1+1 approach is shortsighted, often giving customers the wrong impression. The customer receives a 20-page billing statement, and perhaps $5 off his total bill. Whats more, the service set-up and support are no easier, and sometimes even more convoluted and frustrating, leaving subscribers scratching their heads and wondering where the value is.

Quad Play Is Something More Than Triple Play


Myth: This myth derives from a basic human desire to show up your neighbor. It is reminiscent of the cult classic movie, This Is Spinal Tap, where brain-fried band member Nigel Tufnel tries to convince us that Taps Marshall amps could extend beyond the standard high volume mark of 10. Says Nigel: You see, most blokes will be playing at 10. Where can you go from there? Nowhere. But ours goes to eleven. Its one louder, isnt it?

Quad play refers to wireless/mobile access to services. But wireless is just another access technology, as are DSL, Fiber, or Cable technologies. It is understandable to think of it as a separate service because the addition of wireless access and mobility applications certainly improves the overall business model (and complexity) of triple play services. But a true definition of triple play is a service mix based on the trio of voice, video, and data regardless of the access technology. Each of these services must be looked at for how they can be uniquely tailored and integrated across multiple access devices (e.g., phone, TV, PC, mobile handset). Whereas wireless and mobility add a range of possibilities, quad play is a misnomer if it is meant to introduce something more than the three platform services that triple play has to offer. What would be next, Quintuple Play? When it gets to Undecuple Play, start laughing. Perhaps a reasonable compromise is simply Multi-Play.

There is a Killer App for Triple Play

Myth and Magic: Fair enough, this is, in fact, a trick question. There is not a so-called killer application for triple play, at least not in conventional terms, which usually involves one single service as the real draw and catalyst for rapid adoption. Obviously, in this sense it is a myth. That said, the real magic comes from the service mix itself. Paolo Tavazanni, head of advanced services at Italian service provider FastWeb, explained it at last years Triple Play Symposium. He noted that FastWeb, which has grown to more than 800,000 lines, began with a fairly modest all you can eat service package of voice, video, and data. As the firm grew, they kept finding more targeted versions of new and existing services to meet the needs of a specific vertical. Some of these service bundle integrated voice, video, and data in unique ways. Others provided greater choice for a specific application. For example, FastWeb rolled out a pay-per-use service for Internet access where customers could pay by the minute. While it seems odd to offer pay-per-use over an always available high-speed DSL or fiber connection, FastWeb found there was a significant minority (about 10%) who did not use the Internet very often and did not like the idea of paying a monthly flat fee (even though FastWebs analysis found many of them rang up charges more than the flat monthly fee would have cost them). The lesson is that a flexible service mix combining a range of all-you-can-eat and la carte options is the real killer application to meet the needs of many different subscriber demographics.

Triple Play Will Usher in a New Era of Service Creation

Magic: The major milestone for any triple play provider is delivering the services via a converged IP network. For many of them, this represents their first time building a converged network; it is a watershed of sorts for them as they realize the potential for service creation goes well beyond basic voice, video, and data services. In fact, once the IP network is in place (regardless of access technology) it becomes much easier to deploy other advanced IP services (e.g., gaming, presence applications, e-learning, e-medicine, music, collaboration, security, monitoring, meter reading, dating). All that is required is new service logic and, perhaps, some new CPE (e.g., video cameras for home monitoring).

The Triple Play User Experience Transcends the Services Themselves




Magic: This is the core message about the value of triple play not only that the converged services will save subscribers money, but also that the services themselves may be exceeded by the way they are experienced by the subscriber. Lets say you have subscribed to a converged triple play package of high-speed internet, IPTV/VoD, and VoIP. This is good, and you are probably already the envy of your neighbors. But lets also look at a scenario for how you might use them. You are settling in for a Friday night, and have selected a VoD movie to watch with your family. Grandma calls, her caller ID is displayed on the screen, and with a click of the remote, you initiate a video calling session so Grandma can say good night to the kids before going to bed. Later an old college buddy calls. Again with one click of the remote, you send Larry to voicemail. Still later, when you take a break from the movie to make popcorn, you retrieve Larrys voicemail and hear it through your TVs speaker system. Then, through a similar look and feel on your laptop interface, you program all the phones not to ring but to go directly into voicemail so as not to wake the baby. You also set up your call forwarding rules for the next day, so that all calls automatically get routed to your ski house where you will spend the weekend. Not only do you get to enjoy the services, but the way you interact with them can enhance your overall communications and entertainment and, indeed, your living experience.

The Future of Triple Play Will Be Built on an IMS Architecture


Magic: All indications are that IMS is the converged architecture of the future. Based largely on the SIP protocol coming out of the softswitch world, combined with mobile concepts like HSS/HLR intelligence, IMS is here to stay. One of the key value points is that IMS defines a layered architecture that allows applications to be created independently of the underlying access technology and with little knowledge of the network equipment. Since a major driver and benefit of triple play deployments is service creation, IMS will play a significant role in motivating both third-party ISVs and service providers to innovate ways to combine and build upon the basic voice/video/data building blocks triple play has to offer.

Cable Company MSOs Have a Huge Lead in the Triple Play Wars


Myth: It defies conventional wisdom, but when you peel the onion back a little, you will see a more level playing field between the cable MSOs and their older Telco siblings. First, cable companies do not exactly have the reputation of being purveyors of premium customer service. Indeed, some have even earned years of enmity from subscribers who do not easily forgive (or forget) past grievances.

Second, Telcos are now leaner and better equipped to fight the nascent battle for subscribers triple play loyalties. Voice revenues have declined significantly and have forced telcos to trim down and become more aggressive, while video service revenues have stayed comparatively fat. This means video revenues have a way to go before becoming fully commoditized due to competitive pressures, and cable companies core business will be pinched more than the telcos.

Finally, looking at the underlying complexity of the technologies themselves, Mr. Tavazanni of FastWeb fame reminds us that the telephony portion of triple play becomes the true measure of service quality, because the ears are less forgiving than the eyes. Furthermore, the future of triple play seems to lie in interactive services. Telcos have become adept at management of massive real-time conversations, while it could be argued that video broadcast, or even VoD, services are inherently less complex. Whereas telephone calls and signaling require constant management and vigilance of the quality and state of the session, TV channels, once set up, are mostly stateless push services (or simple pull services in the case of VoD).

The best merger of the two worlds is video calling. In one sense, video calling requires a mastery of video streaming codecs and other technologies with which the cable companies are quite familiar. On the other, video calling requires an entirely interactive communications environment, where sight and sound need to be blended in a precise way, and adjunct non-real-time applications, such as video voicemail, need to be integrated seamlessly as part of the experience. The provider that masters video calling may well win the triple play wars.

Triple Play Service Stickiness Can Build Customer Loyalty

Magic and Myth: By now, it should be clear that triple play will create quite a spark. However, defined, deployed, and supported improperly, it could also cause disaster for service providers that do not invest wisely. For sure, service providers will be able to build service revenues and customer loyalty in ways never before possible, but the stakes are also considerably higher the triple threat. Now, if a service provider fails in one area, perhaps not providing a quality VoD product, the customer could take ALL his triple play service business to a provider that can provide a more compelling service mix or better customer service. The balance of power still rests with the incumbents, all of whom are trying to lock up the loyalty of as many customers as possible before the real head-to-head triple play competition heats up. But the definition of what constitutes sufficient service stickiness will evolve over time as even more innovative services are offered by the competition (perhaps driven by IMS) and customers are given a greater range of broadband upgrade options (DSL, fiber, fixed/mobile wireless). This is where magic and myth will give way to legend that story is still being written. IT

Brian Mahony is Vice President of Marketing for NetCentrex, Inc., and currently leads marketing efforts for the IPlay3 Consortium, dedicated to promoting the benefits of integrated triple play solutions. For more, visit www.netcentrex.net or www.iplay3.com.

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