Winning the triple play crown

21 Apr 2006

About seven years ago, cable company NTL was talking about triple play services in Ireland. It was going to deliver voice, broadband and TV down one pipe in a complete entertainment package.

NTL never got around to fulfilling its vision as it bit off, financially, more than it could chew in the late Nineties with the high cost of deploying cable broadband technology. However, with broadband back in the mix, the potential for NTL to serve homes with triple play services, including voice over IP telephony, are glaringly obvious.

NTL Ireland, now a subsidiary of global cable player Liberty Global, in recent weeks announced it is planning to launch a 6Mbps broadband product. It said its broadband services are now available to a potential market of 175,000 homes in Dublin, Galway and Waterford. According to the company, an estimated 25,000 homes have signed up for broadband services so far.

Triple play is a reality with companies such as Smart Telecom and Magnet rolling out these services to, predominantly, greenfield sites such as new housing and apartment developments.

Triple play now represents a strategic offering for the telco industry. The rollout of broadband has fuelled demand for more services to be utilised via its traffic stream. For telcos, providing broadband internet access and in many cases voice is no longer enough. If companies wish to gain new customers, hold on to their existing client base and grow the company, the move towards triple play is essential as a value-added service bundle.

For the companies offering triple play services across a common network a number of benefits are accrued. Infrastructure costs are spread across multiple revenue-producing services that can be delivered to customers over existing copper pairs or cable in the last mile. The IP network infrastructure is simplified and carriers can easily turn on new services and scale bandwidth to meet subscriber needs. Revenue per user can potentially triple, as new services generate new revenue streams. Margins improve because all services are offered over a single infrastructure.

In the highly competitive local and international markets, triple play services offer the retention of customers that carriers and providers want. Service bundling is key to this; the more services customers buy, the longer they stay with their provider and the more difficult it is for competitors to usurp the customer’s incumbent telco.

The good news for companies providing DSL broadband is that the majority of subscribers say they are interested in receiving triple play services. That’s according to a European survey by SupportSoft that revealed 81pc of broadband users would be interested in receiving an all-in-one package.

John Acton of Smart Telecom said the company is currently moving into new residential developments throughout Dublin and providing triple play services from its fibre backbone. “It’s an exciting and progressive area,” said Acton. “It’s a natural extension of where we want to go and we plan to bring our network to all new developments in Dublin and then to provide it nationally.”

Acton said Smart would also be bundling other services into its package such as VoIP and as soon as more exchanges were unbundled it could start offering triple play to existing and older residential areas.

Charlie Ardagh of triple play provider Magnet said the opportunities in the market were huge. “Anyone who subscribes to TV services, phone services and internet services are our target market. Obviously we’re limited to going into areas where we have network but we are already in major urban centres such as Galway, Cork and Dublin.”

Ardagh said Magnet plans to continue its rollout into greenfield sites and existing residential estates.

Acton pointed to deregulation as one of the prime movers for the rollout of triple play in Ireland. “With deregulation there are more carriers out there, more networks being laid and the technology is available to push the signal into the home and it’s being used as a competitive offering against other providers.

“So once the tracks are built and the road is laid it’s just a question of what you push over it — the capacity is there,” Acton concluded.

What is quad play?

Quad play is essentially the services you get with triple play but also adds mobile telephony. Many providers would argue that quad play could be anything including gaming and video on demand but at the moment mobile seems to be the underpinning fourth component of quad play services.

Interestingly, cable company NTL has just a signed a deal that it described as a milestone by acquiring the Virgin Mobile brand in Britain. This will allow NTL to offer mobile phone services under the Virgin label. NTL agreed to license the Virgin brand for 30 years.

This will be interesting news for NTL’s Irish customers as the company is currently undergoing a merger with Chorus and all eyes will be on the service offerings from the new entity.

By Neil Dillon