DTV and IPTV heading into technology battle led by CE, PC industry - report

Brussels (Belgium) - A few days ago, we noted the release of a report from European industry analyst firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which boldly predicted that digital television is likely to become available in 60% of European households by 2010, with the remainder of households left with either analog television or IPTV. Some of our readers may have been wondering why DTV and IPTV are different from one another. To that end, Booz Allen shared some further insights on the report with TG Daily this morning.

According to the firm, the report, entitled "The Future Role of Cable in Shaping the Digital Home in Europe," concludes that DTV will replace broadband Internet as "the principal driver of Europe's digital economy." What the report is alluding to is the existence and accelerated evolution of two digital communications standards, the Internet being just one of them. The other is the digital delivery channel for cable television programming, which is based on an entirely different set of standards, but which opts to provide many of the same interactive services typically considered the imminent domain of broadband ISPs.

The Booz Allen report subscribes to the theory that, in a search for convenience and consolidation among communications services, the consumer will choose a service provider capable of what US telecom companies have called the "triple play" - Internet, telephony, and television through the same source and the same pipeline. Because telecom companies and cable providers have the more established infrastructure, says the report's principal author, Thomas Kuenstner, and also because of pressure from European regulators to expedite convergence in the name of market fairness, the cable and telecom companies are in the best position to either share resources or merge. This way, they can more effectively compete with typical ISPs who may be able to provide one or two out of the three service classes.

European regulators, the Booz Allen report advises, should divorce themselves from the mindset that "digitalisation" of homes and businesses can only be made possible entirely through broadband Internet service. DTV services, it says, can offer competitive, if not superior, services in all three categories simultaneously, and eventually for lower prices. It's the infrastructure that's the key factor here: Countries where cable and telecom infrastructure are more thoroughly developed, says the report, are faster than ISPs at bringing competitive services to their consumers, and taking Internet access along with them for the ride.

If the Booz Allen Hamilton report is correct - and the firm is very highly respected in its home continent - then a new and startlingly foreign picture of the future of digital services is emerging: Rather than seeing interactive television emerge from interactive Internet platforms, as IPTV proponents such as Microsoft would rather see, the report paints a picture of a world where e-mail and Web exchanges are piggy-backed atop a much broader carrier wave, based on a European standards platform called Digital Video Broadcast (DVB), which is backed by many of that continent's major consumer electronics firms. It is the handheld derivative standard for this, DVB-H, which is the basis for the founding of the Mobile DTV Alliance, which we also covered last week. Its founding members include Nokia and Motorola, and its reach extends beyond Europe into Asia, and, yes, little ol' North America. DVB is based on technologies which would exclude Internet-derived standards, such as open Web standards, as well as Microsoft's technologies, in favor of a system which is based on intercommunication between consumer appliances - which may or may not include computers, and some would say, preferably not.

The report is but one indicator of a rapidly accelerating battle between certain leading CE manufacturers and certain leading PC technology manufacturers, with service providers, content providers, and infrastructure companies serving as referees, bestowing their favor upon one side or the other, thus setting the score. In Europe, at least - an area of the world whose brand of football has always been quite different from the American variety - it's the CE manufacturers that may have rallied to take back the lead.