A consortium of powerful telecommunications companies announced today that they are forming the Open IPTV Forum to promote the standardization of IP-based television.
At present, the Forum is limited to its founding members -- which include AT&T, Ericsson, France Telecom, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Siemens Networks, Sony, and Telecom Italia -- but the Forum's Web site states that other companies will be invited to join at a later date.
In a press release, the companies said that they "will focus on development of open standards that could help to streamline and accelerate deployments of IPTV technologies, and help to maximize the benefits of IPTV for consumers, network operators, content providers, service providers, consumer electronics manufacturers and infrastructure providers."
"This is actually a fairly significant move," said Colin Dixon, the Practice Manager for IP Media at The Diffusion Group, a Texas-based media analysis firm. "It's very interesting. The major company most notably absent from the list is Microsoft. My suspicion is that they may not have been included, since the Siemens Networks IPTV solution is a direct competitor to Microsoft's own IPTV product."
The primary goal of the Open IPTV Forum, Dixon said, is to create a body of standards that will support the rollout of telco IP-based TV around the world.
"This forum is focused on the provision of television services on IP on closed networks, not on the Internet," he explained. "I wouldn't expect what they're looking at to impact anything that goes on the Internet, at least not right away."
The Open IPTV Forum is focusing on standardizing the end-to-end technology, including a component called the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), Dixon explained.
"IMS is a back-end service that telcos are starting to implement to provide services across all of their media devices and delivery platforms," he said. "If they can standardize the complete IP-based TV for telcos, then people who make components for those networks can do so without having to worry about integration, which will lower network costs for these companies."
Dixon predicted that one of the first applications coming from the standards group will be an IPTV-ready television. "Broadband connections are already planned for television sets," he noted. "What that means is that when you sign up with a provider like AT&T, you won't need a set-top box. The Internet cable will plug directly into the TV; it will be exactly like a cable-ready TV today, except that it will offer two-way communication and not incidentally, save the telco roughly $100 per subscriber."
The Diffusion Group predicts that by 2010, there will be approximately 33 million subscribers of telco IP-based TV; right now, there are an estimated four million or so subscribers. By comparison, Comcast alone has 21 to 22 million cable TV subscribers in the United States.
"I do see a good future for telco IP-based TV," Dixon said. "The operators will do quite well, although it will take some time."