Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is SingTel front running StarHub’s race for IPTV?

Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) has launched its IPTV service, the first-ever pay TV challenge to monopoly cable-TV provider StarHub. SingTel is also the first operator in Asia to commercially launch an IPTV service based on the Microsoft IPTV platform.

SingTel, Southeast Asia's largest telephone operator, says its IPTV offering, dubbed the "mio TV" service, will have 33 channels and will be cheaper than StarHub's monthly minimum cable TV fee of $19.82. It won't have a mandated basic package, with subscribers free to pick and choose on an a la carte basis - all they have to do is meet a $10.61 per month "minimum spend" on content. The cheapest choice is $2.12 per month for a music channel (it appears to be the local equivalent of MTV) to $8.49 per month for a high-definition-channel package. "Customers have been calling for choice and flexibility in the pay-TV market, and now they have it," claims SingTel CEO Allen Lew.

The service will come with all the goodies - high-definition channels, video on demand (VoD) with both international blockbuster and Cantonese movies (for as little as 33 cents per film in a 25-films-per-month package) and time-shifting using a personal video recording (PVR) function via an 80 GB hard drive in the set-top boxes. There's also a plan afoot to dish up content from some channels via mobile TV to viewers with compatible mobile phones.

Although sign-ups start on 21st July, the first set-top boxes won't be installed until August 6th. Some lucky Singaporeans, though, have been getting the service for months. Trials of the service began late December last year. Indeed, as we reported, SingTel got such a large response to a call for volunteers to test the service that it quickly closed the sign-up list. In addition to Microsoft, the big winner in Singapore is Alcatel-Lucent, which is providing the hardware plus a complete services-integration solution that brings together the network infrastructure and software platform. HP ProLiant servers are being used in the system Alcatel-Lucent has put together, and Harmonic reportedly is providing the video head-end systems.

SingTel is further planning future "mio"-based services, including video conferencing and instant messaging, displaying photos and playing music, all from a PC but displayed on the TV set. SingTel also is said to be preparing to take the IPTV service to various other Asia Pacific countries where it has telephone operations.

So with StarHub facing competition from SingTel’s new product will they be forced to alter their product to rise to the challenge? mio TV comes into the competition as a front runner for homes where StarHub cable TV is still not available – a surprisingly large area of the nation. Furthermore, SingTel is offering its PVR function at a far more affordable price than the S$304.95 StarHub currently asks for the ‘Hub Station’ box, which carries out the same smart-TV features. With SingTel’s new product will StarHub be forced to alter its pricing or add extra, and superior, features to its pricy alternative?