Essays on HDTV, DTV, Datacasting and ADSL


Digital Television and Datacasting Legislation

Inquiry into Broadcasting : The Final Report

Full Document - (broadcst.zip)

Executive Summary - (executivesummaries.pdf)

Australia's plans for digital television - (ozgoing.pdf)

The ABC's plans for digital television


Highspeed Internet Services
After a sluggish start, companies are lining up to offer highspeed Internet services. Consumers will get faster services, but at what cost?   more


The History of Digital Television
Although HDTV production equipment had been available since 1984, standardization for broadcast service was slowed by lack of agreement on how the public could best be served. The primary consideration was whether to adopt a system compatible with NTSC or a simulcast system requiring additional transmission spectrum and equipment.   more

Will DSL Win Broadband Market?
High-speed, "always on" broadband access promises to revolutionize how we use the Internet and how information-based businesses operate.   more

Charting the progress of Digital Television around the globe
A regularly updated listing of several dozen countries and their status regarding the move to a digital television system.   more

"The Killer App is TV" : Designing The Digital TV InterfaceThe Future is Now. Or At Least Soon - A new area of interface design is about to explode on the scene (or should I say screen): interactive digital television.  more

Sony earmarks $200 million for broadband investments
Sony wants to reinvent itself as a "broadband entertainment company" and says it will fork over about $200 million to other companies to make it happen.  more

Will DSL Win Broadband Market?

McKinsey & Co., 04/17/00
Paul Roche


High-speed, "always on" broadband access promises to revolutionize how we use the Internet and how information-based businesses operate. Right now, cable enjoys some 2 million subscribers vs. DSL's 700,000. With that kind of lead, many believe the battle has already been decided. I think they're wrong. DSL is well-positioned to win big over the next few years and here's why.

Dedicated bandwidth

Cable systems use a shared network topology. As more people adopt broadband, the bandwidth delivered to each home drops; it's like taking a shower when someone else is doing laundry. Cable multisystem operators (MSOs) can increase bandwidth in two ways: by pushing the switching infrastructure closer to the neighborhood to reduce the number of homes shared by each switch, or by using additional video channels to increase overall network bandwidth. Both are expensive.

On the other hand, DSL's switched network offers dedicated bandwidth. This distinction is important because the applications of tomorrow -- such as streaming video, music on demand or interactive TV -- all require substantial bandwidth and likely will operate better on DSL. These services are being developed today by companies such as Akamai/InterVu, RealNetworks and Digital Island.

Competition and innovation

Except for a few cities where there have been cable overbuilds, most homes have a single, monopoly cable provider. DSL, by contrast has three to five major independent access providers and at least one regional Bell competing in each market. Cable is also less open to third-party enhancements. AT&T's Cable offering comes bundled with Internet service from Excite@Home. Customers who continue to use their previous service provider will end up paying twice. (AT&T has pledged to open its network once its exclusive contract with Excite@Home expires in 2002.)

The major ISPs and many hardware OEMs planning to bundle Internet service with their hardware are already partnering with DSL providers. The heightened competition and broader service offerings in DSL will drive faster product innovation and price declines. One example of this is Broadband Digital Group, an ISP that has announced plans to provide no-charge DSL access to customers willing to view advertisements.

Superior quality of service

Telephone companies measure downtime of their phone networks in minutes per year for a typical household. The digital cable TV I have at home (which uses the same network as broadband access) has also worked well, with few interruptions. Some of the issues, however, have taken several days to address.

Informal testing with colleagues and feedback from markets where broadband cable access has been rolled out suggest this is typical. Neither cable nor DSL is painless to install; both often require multiple calls or visits from technicians, delays and technical glitches. I believe, however, that DSL networks will offer substantially better quality of service in the long run.

Growing reach

In a few other important areas, DSL at least holds its own against cable. Cable and DSL will each be able to reach about 75 percent of U.S. homes by 2003 (after cable companies upgrade their networks for 750MHz to 860MHz, two-way data, and the phone companies address problems created by embedded digital loop carriers and optical fiber to the neighborhood).

DSL will also reach nearly every small and medium-size business, a market where cable is practically a no-show. Customer equipment and installation costs will be higher for DSL than cable (about $500 per incremental subscriber vs. $225 for cable by 2004), but will be offset by more-variable network upgrade costs.

Excite@Home recently announced a partnership with Rhythms to resell DSL service to broaden their consumer reach (they've already resold NorthPoint DSL service in the small business market). Cisco has aggressively expanded its DSL product line through acquisition and has launched an educational Web site, DSL Depot. Does that sound like the battle is over?

In Part Two1 of this miniseries, I'll explain why DSL providers need to rethink their market strategies, despite this rosy environment. Paul Roche is a partner in McKinsey & Co.'s Silicon Valley Office where he has worked extensively in the areas of computer systems, data and telecommunications. He is a member of McKinsey's wireless leadership group, and over the past two years he has led internal efforts to understand the evolution of both the wireless voice and data markets.


1 in preparation

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Highspeed Internet Services

Australian Personal Computer, October 1999
Angus Kidman, William Maher, Stephen Withers and Roulla Yiacoumi


After a sluggish start, companies are lining up to offer highspeed Internet services. Consumers will get faster services, but at what cost? In January 1999, if you wanted a highspeed Internet service, you effectively had one option: Telstra's Big Pond Advance service. It currently offers the fastest available service, but uses a download charging model which is unpopular with many users.

By January 2000, at least two other companies will have entered the fray, but it's still not clear whether costs will be reduced significantly. Regional pay TV provider Austar has entered the increasingly active broadband space, promising to launch a highspeed Net satellite service by next year. Austar is establishing a separate operating company, Austar United Broadband, to offer highspeed Net access and enhanced television services.

Austar has a total of 350,000 subscribers, ranking it second behind Foxtel, and ahead of Optus in the pay TV market. In a statement to the ASX, Austar said that the rollout of services will begin in the fourth quarter of this year. A full launch is planned for early 2000. The service will be welcomed by rural residents, who have so far been largely untouched by Telstra's Big Pond Advance service and Optus' much hyped but yettobe realised alternative.

Optus, which is working in partnership with US company Excite@Home, plans to launch its Optus@Home service later this year. Although Optus has yet to compete directly with Telstra in the cable Internet market, it seems that a price war may already be brewing between the two companies. Telstra cut the price of its Big Pond Advance senice with a new installation deal for Foxtel subscribers.

The price of a cable modem dropped to $395 from $540, while installation and connection costs were cut by $95. Optus has consistently maintained that its cable service will be cheaper than Big Pond Advance. Excite@Home has indicated that Optus@Home is likely to charge a flat monthly fee, which could provide it with a significant advantage. Telstra, on the other hand, charges customers 35 cents per extra megabyte for downloading more than 100M of data each month.

Telstra still appears committed to this model, however, and plans to use it with a new satellite service, Big Pond Advance powered by Satellite (BPAS). BPAS and covers the whole country, but priority is given to users in areas without existing broadband services (which only reaches some parts of east coast capital cities). As the universal service obligation (USO) has been extended to include a 64Kbps data service, customers outside ISDN service areas will benefit from a 50% subsidy of the hardware costs, capped at $750.

However, the installed cost of the customer premise equipment varies from $1,548 to $4,915, so many users will still face bills of thousands of dollars. Prices vary according to the size of the satellite dish required and the remoteness of the location. The smallest dish (85cm) works in the area around Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and includes Tasmania. As you move away from that zone, the angle to the satellite changes and a 1.2m dish is required. In certain areas, notably Far North Queensland, a 1.5m dish is necessary for adequate performance in the wet season.

Residential customers are defined as those in single occupancy premises up to two storeys high everyone else must pay a premium of about $750. Under this scheme, someone living in a flat in Sydney would pay $2,215; a residential user in Far North Queensland living more than 1Okm from a town with a population of 1,000 would pay $4,915 plus $1 for each kilometre away from town (less any US0 subsidy). However, the setup costs are just the beginning; there are also monthly charges.

Two services are offered: Basic 64 and Standard 400. Basic 64 is capped at 64Kbps, and costs $40 per month plus 35 cents per megabyte after the first 50M. Standard 400 (up to 400Kbps) is $55 a month plus 35 cents per megabyte after the first 1OOM. Other plans will be developed as patterns of use emerge. Users will also have to pay for dialup ISP access to carry data from their computers to the Internet (the `back channel'). There's no requirement for them to use Big Pond, so at least they can use the provider with the closest POP to reduce STD charges. That will add around $20 to $50 per month, plus phone charges to their total bill.

To offset this problem, BPAS offers a 'push' service where selected content (newsgroups as well as the most popular Web sites) will be scheduled for automatic download to the user's PC without requiring a dialup connection. In the meantime, the general use of pay TV systems such as broadband cable is coming under increasing scrutiny. Content providers have been given the green light to supply programming to existing pay TV cable systems, following a declaration by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The regulator, which first outlined its plans to declare the service in June this year, said the decision will promote competition for retail pay TV services.

Through declaration, the ACCC can force carriers to provide rivals with access to the services required to supply competitive services to consumers. However, the regulator has stopped short of allowing the same access to `technology neutral' digital networks, saying the move is premature. "The ACCC will continue to monitor the development of digital services, including digital broadcasting services, to assess whether declaration of digital broadband access services would promote the longterm interest of consumers," said ACCC chairperson Allan Fels.

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Sony earmarks $200 million for broadband investments

News.com, November 16, 1999
Jim Davis and Michael Kanellos


LAS VEGAS--Sony wants to reinvent itself as a "broadband entertainment company" and says it will fork over about $200 million to other companies to make it happen.

The consumer electronics giant has established a $100 million investment fund in the United States and created a similar stockpile for the Japanese market. Both will invest in a variety of companies, Sony executives have said over the past few days, giving few specifics. At the Comdex computer trade show here, executives said the company is gearing up for a networked world in which commonly used household devices offer speedy access to online news and information, entertainment, and goods and services.

But the ability to deliver will depend on the existence of high-speed connections to the Internet. Recognizing that the infrastructure still needs to be built, Sony has decided to give the process a push. "We're going to invest in any technology that will accelerate 'broadband' use," Sony chief executive Nobuyuki Idei said Monday at a press conference after a keynote speech in which he outlined Sony's plans to become a leading company in the post-PC era.

Sony's investment funds won't be used to replicate the work of others such as MCI Worldcom or AT&T. "We don't plan to build our own broadband infrastructure," said Kazuo "Kaz" Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment America. "We're talking to cable companies and making sure the technology details work together."

Hirai talked during Idei's keynote about new capabilities of the highly anticipated Sony PlayStation 2, including the ability to download games to a machine, rather than having to buy them from a store. However, that would be a tedious download indeed at today's dial-up modem speeds. Sony is hoping to help establish infrastructure for cable and DSL modems that can reach a large concentration of households.

Sony has an obvious interest at stake in broadband investments. By investing in a faster Net, Sony is hoping to recoup the investment on its new PlayStation in a hurry. Analysts say the chip that lies at the heart of the new system is complicated and expensive, with the cost to make PlayStation 2 estimated to come out at around $300. The retail price of the system could go higher, depending on how much Sony wants to subsidize the price.

The hardware isn't where Sony makes its money, though. Downloading software directly to the system would help boost profit margins on the most profitable part of the PlayStation business: game sales. The stock market and venture capital firms have recently been favoring companies that are working on Internet infrastructure issues.

Money flowing into the communications category during the third quarter of 1999 alone nearly tripled compared to the year-ago quarter to $2.6 billion, according to the most recent Money Tree Survey from consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The size of Sony's planned investments isn't particularly significant in light of what others are spending. Microsoft invested $5 billion in AT&T in May, $200 million in broadband service provider Teligent earlier this month and $30 million in DSL provider Northpoint in April, just to name a few.

What the fund does signal is a shift in strategy on the part of Sony. In the past, big Japanese companies such as Sony have favored partnering over investing in companies--and usually when investments have taken place, it's to gain access to a specific technology, analysts have said.

News.com's Jim Davis reported from San Francisco and Michael Kanellos from Las Vegas.


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Visioneering the Future is a work in progress and is © Copyright Dr Russell Naughton
The site was first published on July 7, 1999. This is Version 1.7

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