The Sextuple Play
(sponsor: Lok Technology) Forget the "triple play" and on to the sextuple play -- landline/secure voice, wireless/mobile voice, data/Internet, video/TV, content/programming control, and utilities/security/power/HVAC. Here are some thoughts for 2005 while pondering which Bell CEO would do the best Hans Gruber impersonation to: "You asked for miracles. I give you the F C C."
Bill Gates, the most spammed person in the world he created (he gets 4 million messages a year (ed note*). You've been trying for years to take over the world with the sextuple play. No dice. The Bells cry foul on UNE and withhold investment but continue to innovate, sometimes even with your permission. Cable and wireless plays invest in extending their reach but fail to truly innovate. Finally, it all comes together with the help of some very understanding appeals courts (FCC? Can you hear me now? Good!).
UNE? Going away.
Bells? Investing again, with differing approaches to the role of fiber reach vs. DSL capability, but always always with a discriminating view toward the target market.
Cable? Getting wireless and preparing to advance on their modest triple play capabilities.
Wireless? Consolidating for strength and lining up partners toward the sextuple play march.
Bill? Smiling, but it's all relative (still has that damned EU with which to contend...the world is not conquered without lawyers, guns, and money).
So, Microsoft will be providing software to the Bells to compete against cable. They'll be providing hardware to the cable companies to better compete against the Bells. They've funded the wireless industry in the ten figures to date. And certain to fund nearly equally the Democrats and the Republicans.
In 2000 I read that Microsoft's stated platform was to "partner with industry players and to act as a catalyst to build out broadband networks; provide a software platform that enables innovative services and revenue opportunities; and develop services, applications or content on Microsoft platforms." And this year, they settle all unsettled scores: most notably the European Union. It's not horse's heads and kissing pinky rings, but it's not far from it either.
The Digital Home
At the heart of the sextuple play is the quest for the digital home. A new Forrester Research report gives cable the lead on the battle for the supremacy over your home, but the Bells are armed with the kind of legal mu$cle that got reciprocal compensation reversed when the CLEC/ISP combo began draining the coffers and maneuvered PUCs into saying there are 200 competitors in each market (six of whom actually exist). Next the Bells will leverage the courts and FCC in 2005 to declare them to be impaired in their access to video content and they will surely find their way back into the lead by whatever means necessary. They will lead the battle, and anybody else is purely a niche play, like a UTOPIA, municipality, pure wireless, or CLEC. With Bush declaring universal access to broadband in two years and the decennial Telecommunications Act rewrite forthcoming, the battle for ownership of the digital home will start to cook this year.
It will not be enough to provide a pipe and leave it up to you as to what you smoke in it. SBC announced yesterday its Home Entertainment Service through a venture with EchoStar, Yahoo!, and 2Wire that integrates digital video recording, Internet content (including music and photos), satellite TV programming, and video-on-demand into an in-home entertainment home network that brings computers and TV together. At the heart of the service will be a satellite TV receiver with a built-in digital video recorder that will ultimately serve as an interface of sorts between one's PC and TV. Whether the personal content you transfer to your TV or the programming content you load into your PC is actually entertaining will be up to you and Michael Powell to decide.
I'm thinking not this year either, but I remember when I was saying the same thing about VOIP and DWDM, and they both eventually came and conquered (yeah, a little early on VOIP, let's just say conquering is the thing). What's exciting to me about Wi-Max, and I think everyone will have to have a strategy that includes it to be viable in the sextuple play world (and yeah, I'm looking forward to the advertising campaigns for the sextuple play), is that when it becomes truly viable and reasonably perfected, then almost anyone will be able to compete for just about anything in the telecom world because the access hurdles to the premises will not be anywhere near as severe as they are today, provided municipalities, community associations, and property managers don't get...oh yeah, they probably will...but still, the genuine reasonable opportunity to get connectivity to any given premises will increase considerably through this technology. Wi-Fi will be nice for LAN campuses for schools and businesses, but Wi-Max will be the thing...just not this year, but making progress.
This week's International Consumer Electronics Show and CES extravaganza in Vegas certainly showcase that the tech world is ready to unleash the delivery of all things digital: music, photos, video; huge, flat-panel TVs with 100+-inch plasma screens, media servers to store and play back digital content, next-gen digital video recorders; and, slim, flat-panel high-def TVs; devices that will further bridge the gap between PC and TV; and, creative new wireless modes of communication (some of which are highly niche, like Motorola's products designed for skiers and motorcyclists). The race is not to get each of these fine products to you ... it's to be integral to delivering all of them to you on one nice, simple three-figure/month service bill that you'll view online, pay online, customize online, and take with you everywhere you go, tempted by plus-sales features at every turn. George Jetson never knew to call it the sextuple play, but I'm guessing Spacely always did.
*Ed Note -- orginally published with the now widely dispersed comment that Gates gets 4 million spam message a DAY -- but Mike Masnick wrote in to point us to this techdirt post that debunks this claim...