Friday, June 19, 2009

Triple Play Helps Wireline Fight Satellite

The consumer television service market is all but saturated. It used to be that TV service meant calling the guy with the suitcase full of vacuum tubes. Now service means programming delivery. Your choices are over-the-air, cable, satellite, telco (AT&T) and fiber optic (Verizon).

The recent shutdown of analog transmission was met with a yawn by all but a small group of consumers who made no effort to buy a converter or a new digital TV. Now they're scrambling to the electronics department to get a converter box, or on the phone with the cable company or one of the satellite companies, DirecTV or Dish Network, to get their TV working again.

Once this blows over, where will things stand? Right where they were before the conversion. There's so much programming that's not transmitted on the airwaves that most people opt for an alternate TV service. Satellite has the advantage of being available where cable doesn't run and over-the-air signals are weak. Cable has the advantage of giving you a solid signal in storms that knock out satellite signals. But cable has another trick up its sleeve. That's something called Triple Play.

What's triple play? It's a bundle of television, broadband and telephone service from a single provider. This is something unique to "wireline" services. Those are, as you might suspect, services that run a wire to your home or business. That wire might be a traditional twisted pair copper telephone wire that also carries broadband and TV, as AT&T's U-Verse service does. It may be a coaxial cable, the universal connectivity mechanism for cable TV companies. Or it might now be a fiber optic connection as provided by Verizon's FiOS.

What can wireline do that satellite can't? Both DirecTV and Dish Network have designed their systems to be one way transmissions from constellations of satellites hovering in geosynchronous orbits to small rooftop dishes. For broadcast television, even hundreds of channels, that's all you need. For pay-per-view movies, you need a phone line or Internet connection to connect back to the satellite company.

You can get broadband service by satellite, but not on the same dish you are using for TV. It's a different band of frequencies and requires a transmitter at the dish to make it two-way. You need to get satellite broadband from a different company.

Satellite is no good at all for telephone. The problem is a time delay, called latency, that's the result of the satellites being tens of thousands of miles above the Earth. The speed of light and delays through the equipment introduce a half-second or so delay between the time you say something and when the other party hears it. You have to treat satellite voice communications like using a walkie-talkie and wait before you speak.

Both the cable companies and the telephone companies realize that their circuits have the ability to give you the triple play option of TV, broadband and telephone. So they offer attractive bundles to get a competitive advantage over the satellite TV companies. How good are the deals? A quick way to find out is to check the Triple-Play offers available for your location. Then compare with what you spend for a combination of TV service, broadband Internet and local and long distance landline telephone service from separate providers to see if the offers will save you money.

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