BitDepth 518 - April 04

TSTT's DSL line can carry more than data. The utility plans to add television to its feed before the end of the year...
TSTT tunes in TV

Ronald Lessey, TSTT's Head of Broadband Marketing. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Let's get it out of the way right from the start. TSTT has paid a significant cash bond on their licence to provide a broadcast television service and they lose it if they haven't delivered a signal before the end of 2006 to at least half of its current subscribers.
"I can't remember exactly how much it is," says TSTT's head of broadcast marketing, Ronald Lessey, "but it's substantial and we will launch this year."

But Mr Lessey and his team face some intriguing problems in delivering entertainment to the home and much of it centres around issues of licensing.
It's possible, for instance, for TSTT to pursue a telecom quadruple play, building an entertainment delivery mechanism around not just its existing line into customer homes but also on its upcoming CDMA based EVDO network, which can deliver the same experience wirelessly. But would that be legal? (See Lessey's liabilities, below)

Then there's the licensing of content, a legal quagmire because large content suppliers are often skittish about opening up revenue streams in the Caribbean, a miniscule market from their perspective, without the returns to support an official feed. So several channels that we view today on cable exist in a legal phantom zone.
The more immediate hurdle that the telecommunications company must cross is widening data highways to existing DSL and DSL capable subscribers to be able to deliver that content, whatever it turns out to be. The buildout of the network's fibre physical capacity is being matched by a quiet changeover in the technology that's being used to deliver it.

Lessey lives in a world congested with acronyms, so we'll try to stick with the principles involved in this digital update. The end goal is to move IP (Internet protocol) based packets of information closer to the home, which gives the utility more freedom to add capacity and manage its network more efficiently.
That technology, TSTT's next generation network (NGN), replaces the existing public switches with a network of digital subscriber line access modules (DSLAMs) at the exchanges and matches them with digital line concentrators (DLC's) at the remotes, the gray boxes you find on street corners.
Many of these remotes will be updated from the older switch technology to IP capable DLCs and new remotes will be added to increase capacity in growth areas.

If we think of IP packets, the information that ferries your e-mail, web pages and um, short movies to your computer as envelopes of snail mail, this rat's nest of acronyms make it possible for those packets to move more efficiently to your home in a "fast lane" for delivery. Increasing the density of DLCs and DSLAMs puts more virtual mailmen on the route.
To stretch the analogy to its limit, Lessey describes a major change in the way these packets will be routed at the point they leave and arrive in the country with the introduction of a new postmaster general at TSTT's version of the central post office for IP packets (they call it the "cloud"), a new technology called multi-protocol label switching (MPLS).

Why do all this? Because sending you entertainment on the existing network would be like putting a tractor sitting on a sixteen-wheeler on a muddy dirt track to bring you your IP data packets.
In a house with three televisions viewing three different channels, you need a capacity of 10 megabits or more to deliver watchable video. Add the potential for high-definition content and that feed gets congested pretty fast.
Preparing their wired and future wireless networks for IPTV offers other possibilities, bringing videoconferencing and voice over IP technologies along for the ride. Even more compelling is entertainment that's pulled by consumers instead of pushed like cable is.
An IP based network is silent until a request for information is received and that request can be for a streamed feed, like a cable channel or for downloadable content like a vidcast.

The most popular vidcast on the iTunes Music Store isn't the clips from ESPN or Saturday Night Live, it's PhotoshopTV, an hour's worth of tips and chatter from three middle-aged white guys that's focused entirely on users of the Adobe's image editing software.
Vidcasts offer an intriguing future option for an IP based television network that may need to depend on local content providers for compelling programming with fewer legal hassles. Local documentaries, episodes of local programming content and new local content still to be imagined could be part of a bottomless well of digital video files and the popularity of pull programming is defined by users, not programming executives.

Lessey's liabilities
TSTT currently uses 3 STMI's to deliver a connection to the Internet backbone. The company hopes to double that capacity, at 155 megabits per second for each STMI but faces limits in available capacity. There are five cable runs delivering telecommunications access into the country and the last connection, Americas 2, was sold out within a couple of years. TSTT hopes to buy its additional capacity from other providers who are holding, but not using their bandwidth.

If TSTT offers entertainment programming is that broadcasting or narrowcasting? The traditional definition of broadcasting includes the concept of "open to air," the cost of admission being the cost of the receiver. You'll have to pay to access the network, even the wireless one, putting the content in the same category as cable television, but the feed is, technically, open to air but can't be received without appropriate authorisation or inappropriate hacking.
TATT will have to make a ruling on what's legal under the license awarded to TSTT.
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