By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff
The next big thing in television could be a technology borrowed from
the Internet. IPTV (the 'IP' stands for Internet protocol) will let
users choose from a vast variety of video entertainment, available on
demand through a simple piece of wire. Telephone wire, to be exact,
because phone companies -- not cable TV firms -- are leading the way.
SBC Communications Inc., which offers phone service in 13 US states,
is spending $5 billion to build the first IPTV network in the United
States, set for launch late this year or in early 2006. Verizon
Communications Inc., which is spending $3 billion to bring TV service
to its customers, will use IPTV to deliver on-demand movies.
Cable companies could adopt IPTV technology as well. But for telephone
companies the technology offers the first chance to sell TV
services. It's also an opportunity for Microsoft Corp., which is
providing much of the underlying technology, to become as powerful in
entertainment technology as it is in software. IPTV could shake up the
cable industry in the same way that voice-over-Internet phone systems
have roiled SBC's own voice telephone business
Already, about a million people use IPTV systems, mostly in Hong Kong
and Italy. Last month, British Telecom said it would work with
Microsoft to deploy IPTV in Britain. On this side of the Atlantic, SBC
spokesman Michael Coe said his company expects to make IPTV available
to 18 million homes over the next three years.