Web on TV: Is your network ready for it?

Jessica Scarpati
08 Oct 2009

Web-enabled televisions are on their way to consumers, and telecom carriers need to be ready for the demands these devices will place on their networks. And what web on TV means is more demand for online HD video and bandwidth-intensive web applications.

Anticipating growing market demand for Web-enabled TV, manufacturers are racing to build the required chips for Internet-enabled televisions, while third-party content providers are developing more widget-like applications for them, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal cited a report from research firm iSuppli, which predicted web-enabled TVs will account for 40% of the global market by 2013, with sales of 88 million to 90 million units. But some analysts are skeptical of such rapid growth in the market.

“[That forecast] sounds a little aggressive, mainly because consumers are pretty hard to change in their habits," said Carl Howe, director of consumer research at the Yankee Group. "Somebody needs to work really, really hard on creating a very easy-to-understand and easy-to-use interface that not only the technically savvy could use, but also your grandmother could use."

Regardless of when Web-enabled TV may take off in the market, it is coming. And it could affect telecom networks in two ways: It will allow users to download online high-definition videos onto their televisions, and it will allow them to integrate web applications like Facebook into televisions.

"[Cable companies] didn't build their connections with the capacity to download a huge amount of HD videos at one time…. If everybody starts to do that, the cable internet connections will melt down," said Larry Hettick, a principal analyst at Current Analysis. "It's not just your bandwidth [capacity]. It's how you use the bandwidth."

Telecom providers that are already running their networks on fiber-optic cable and those switching over as much as possible to digital video will fare best if Web on television takes hold, according to Hettick. Those with bandwidth caps are going to find their networks quickly overloaded.

"Phone companies are in better shape, and Verizon is in the best shape of all," he said. "Verizon doesn't care if you watch [a movie] over an Internet connection or a video channel because Verizon FiOS is a non-blocked network with a 200-800 Mbps connection into every home. It has a huge capacity. Cable TV will eventually be able to overcome its capacity issues by switching to all-digital networks and all-digital video, but it's going to take them years to do that."

Users demand interactive features for Internet on television

Verizon has been well-positioned in the market with its use of a two-way set-top box, traditionally used for ordering movies on demand but capable of much more, said Maitreyi Krishnaswamy, product manager of interactive video services at Verizon.

When FiOS launched three years ago, the company introduced a handful of widgets that appeared while users watched television -- features that reported the weather, traffic and sports scores. But demand seemed to be swelling for more interactive features, Krishnaswamy said.

Customers reported that they would be checking their fantasy football league standings on their laptops while watching the game on TV, or following posts on Twitter during popular television shows, she said.

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