Full broadband TV is here at last

The announcement represents a significant step towards broadband TV

It doesn't seem that long since Cable & Wireless got out of the television business, first merging with Telewest and then selling its cable concern to Virgin Media . Seems like you can't keep a good, or even just OK, media provider down, though.

The telecommunications giant has just announced plans to start offering broadcast quality TV channels via broadband to its wholesale customers. In other words, it's back in the game.

Today's announcement that C&W is to partner with Inuk (pronounced In-ook, apparently) to offer Freewire stations to customers marks the first national deployment of full IPTV without an extra box. Freewire is currently available to university students. It features over 50 channels including the BBC and Channel Four line-ups. It's a similar offering to Freeview, less the ITV channels.

The service is in its early days, though, and continues to grow, with more advanced IPTV services like video-on-demand scheduled for launch soon. It's the first service which sends broadcast quality channels directly to a Windows PC without the need for a set-top box. And it's one more step on the way to television nirvana - download and watch any program, any time, on any screen in your home.

Virgin network

While C&W no longer owns the fibre optic cable network that makes up the Virgin network, it does still have a large wholesale broadband operation going on its LLU network. Indeed, it is Virgin's exclusive LLU partner in non-cabled areas for broadband access.

How exactly today's announcement that C&W is to start providing IPTV to its wholesale customers will affects its relationship with Virgin is unclear. It could well be that Virgin starts using C&W's services in areas which are outside its cabled networks.

It's a significant step forward for TV over the internet, but faces serious competition: by the end of the year Microsoft's Xbox 360 will be able to receive IPTV multicasts. And it's been speculated that BT could be a key partner for the already well established Xbox userbase. After all, its BT Vision service uses Microsoft's TV platform.

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