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BT Vision Delayed Until Spring of 2007 in UK

Informitv reports that BT Vision, the long-awaited video service from the UK telecom company, will 'soft launch' to a limited number of existing broadband subscribers next month, with a full launch and its complete programming line-up now not expected until next spring.

BT is denying that it amounts to a delay in the launch, which it has always promised to deliver before the end of the year. The service is currently being used by a limited number of BT employees prior to being seen by the public. The company is adopting a cautious approach with what it describes as a 'sensible' rollout to avoid disappointing customers and initially it will not have 'all the bells and whistles.'

Speaking at the Streaming Media Europe conference in London, Richard Griffiths, technology strategy director for BT Retail TV Services, gave a few insights into the broadband video plans, while stressing the difficulties of delivering video over the existing BT network.

As a result of the structural separation of the national telecommunications company into separate wholesale and retail divisions, the consumer arm is required by regulation to acquire services from its parent on equivalent terms to other broadband resellers.

The BT network was simply not designed to deliver video, and does not support multicasting, making it uneconomic to distribute live television channels. For this reason, the BT Vision service will combine broadcast programming delivered over the air through digital terrestrial television in conjunction with broadband video-on-demand services.

Essentially, it will provide an easy-to-use dual-tuner personal video recorder for Freeview channels, with a network connection that links to a home hub broadband gateway device. BT Wholesale has developed an application driven quality of service mechanism, ADQ, which will be productised as 'Advanced Services' allowing the creation of a temporary fixed bandwidth pipe over a broadband connection.

BT Vision is planning to use a 1.5Mbps data stream to deliver video-on-demand services, significantly less then some other providers, even using MPEG-4 H.264 compression, to ensure that it can provide the widest coverage over its existing broadband network. It remains to be seen how the quality of the video will compare to current broadcast services.

Richard Griffiths revealed that BT Vision will use its own content delivery network, with nodes sited at ten locations around the UK, with 3 or 4 in London. BT is planning to invest billions in a next-generation network known as 21CN, based on internet protocols, which will support multicasting.

BT first acknowledged plans for a broadband video service in July 2004, but its ambitions in this area go back considerably further. As the full launch of the BT Vision service slips into next year, the broadband access market is becoming increasingly competitive. Here in the U.S. market, AT&T can fully appreciate BT's unfortunate dilemma.

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