SBC CTO says IPTV is on track

SBC claims its Project Lightspeed fiber build out is not delayed, even though it's now scheduled to pass 18 million homes six months later than initially intended.

SBC is now saying Lightspeed will pass those homes in mid-2008 instead of year-end 2007 as first planned when it announced the project last year. Lightspeed is the carrier's $4 billion to $6 billion effort to provide fiber- and DSL-based voice, data and video services to consumers and businesses.

"It's not falling behind," says SBC CTO Chris Rice at this week's Telecom '05 conference in Las Vegas. "What we've done is a controlled launch to allow us to get our processes in place to ensure that we can scale. This isn't a Lightspeed technology or IPTV problem; this is all about, if we're going to roll it out, roll it out on a very controlled basis initially to get all the processes in place…(and to) ensure that you're not going to have problems with servicing at that scale."

Rice says SBC has been quoting the new timeframe since April but it came to light this week during an SBC keynote presentation at the conference.

IPTV technology from Microsoft and infrastructure equipment from Alcatel is "all working as expected," Rice says.

Rice also took issue with recent assertions by analysts that the RBOCs will backpedal from IPTV due to the cost of trying to maintain video service parity with cable companies, among other factors.

"Have any of them ever watched IPTV," Rice asked rhetorically. "Probably not." Rice asserts that IPTV is at parity with cable service today. But IPTV today also surpasses cable in that it can do, for example, picture-in-picture not only on TVs, but in PDAs, cell phones, laptops and other portable devices. Cable also has to eliminate content or use extra channel capacity to deliver similar functionality, Rice says.

"I think (analysts are) missing the boat because they don't know IPTV, they don't know what the infrastructure looks like, they never experienced it to know how advanced it is today," he says. "I think they need to take a harder look instead of writing the analysis and actually experiencing it to know whether we are going to back away or not."

Rice believes cable companies will ultimately adopt IPTV in order to stay competitive.

Another technology coming into its own, according to Rice, is IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). In a conference session earlier this week, Rice said IMS was complex and immature. "It's like IPTV was a year ago," he says.

But by next year, IMS will be ready to provide a standard, non-proprietary infrastructure for consumer VoIP, Rice says. And by 2007, it will be ready to deliver on the wireline/wireless integration the technology promises, he says. From there, new services, applications and capabilities will follow.

In addition to IMS and IPTV, SBC has some WiMAX trials on tap for later this year to evaluate the technology for nice applications, such as broadband fill-in, wireless loop and special access replacement on licensed spectrum; and up to 1.5M bit/sec service in areas where there is no broadband, using unlicensed spectrum.

"WiMAX may be a good economic way to do that because I can't get DSL out there economically, everywhere," he says. "It just isn't feasible. Once I get 90% DSL coverage WiMAX may be how I get the next 10%."

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.