IPTV stalls in Korea

01 Feb 2006

With Korea moving into phase two of its national NGN and broadband convergence network (BcN), what the people behind the project call 'BcN's killer application' - IPTV - remains stalled as the Korean Broadcasting Commission (KBC) puts up a rearguard action to keep it within its jurisdiction.

This is not the first time that Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) and KBC have crossed swords over the convergence of telecoms and broadcasting in the BcN project, and the project's planners often complain government turf wars are a bigger problem than technology and product development.

This time KBC fears that if the telcos offer IPTV, the nation's cable TV industry will be severely damaged, even though one of the four BcN consortiums is made up of cable TV networks. KBC even announced it would conduct its own IPTV trials. For its part, MIC has even come up with a new quasi-IPTV service called ICOD (internet contents on demand), which excluded real-time terrestrial broadcast contents.

This month Korean's National Assembly will discuss the issue and the MIC plans to pass a piece of BcN-specific legislation that will classify IPTV as a convergence service rather that a broadcasting service. Another more comprehensive law proposed by an Uri party member is also to be debated.

The word from MIC and BcN project leaders is that, barring an unexpected development, the laws won't be passed, so IPTV will not be one of the services on offer in June from the KT Octavu consortium, the first of the BcN consortiums to go commercial.

KT has been trialing BcN in Seoul, Taejeon and Daegu. As much as $1.2 billion of its spending in 2006 will be BcN-related (nearly half on WiBro) and it has developed around 100 services for BcN. Around 50 of those are expected to be on offer in June.

KT has its IPTV infrastructure ready to go, but ironically it will not be so enthusiastic about another key service of BcN: VoIP. 'KT has the most advanced IP network, but it doesn't want to offer VoIP aggressively because it will damage its PSTN revenue,' said K.S. Ha, research manager at IDC Korea.

'The biggest problem facing BcN is how to make money,' explained Dr. Shin Sang-chul, VP of the National Computerization Agency, the man in overall control of the project. Dr Shin expects that clear BcN business models to appear this year.

Korea will not be the first country with IPTV, but it is likely to be the first country with IP HDTV. The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute forecasts that there will be 3.5 million IPTV subscribers in 2010.

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