Cable giant plans gadget to rival Apple TV and Google TV

13 Oct 2010

The chief strategy officer of Liberty Global, which has 18 million customers worldwide, has predicted the cable industry will embrace Google TV-type services and revealed the cable giant is planning a revolutionary home gateway device called ‘Horizon’ for 2012.

Speaking at TIF’s annual conference yesterday at Dublin Castle, Shane O’Neill, who is also chairman of UPC in Ireland which has more than 600,000 customers – 170,000 of them using broadband – also said that tremendous consolidation of the mobile network operator market is coming.

UPC is on the eve of unveiling its new 100Mbps broadband network to 550,000 homes across Ireland. Liberty Global has more than 18 million customers in 14 countries.

Future Human

“In the future there will be fewer mobile networks – only wired networks with mobile base stations – these will in effect be mobile last miles.

“You will see tremendous consolidation between fixed and wireless networks because this will be the only way the industry will be able to meet demand for the wall of content, we are starting to see this already.

“Mobile networks are buying fixed-line companies,” O’Neill said.

The era of smart TV has arrived

O’Neill told the conference that the era of smart TV has arrived, as witnessed by new products such as Google TV and Apple TV, and new set-top box products from Logitech, Amino and Boxee that have transformed the traditional TV viewing experience into a web experience.

“If you ask me, the biggest threat is Google TV – a box that will sit between cable and TV screen – but which is also a very sophisticated search engine. If you’re looking for an episode of Mad Men, you will be able to search your cable or satellite service but also go out into the internet and find it on the internet with a menu of choices and cost options.

“This is not just going to be a box but will be embedded in consumer devices. Sony is already embedding Google TV into its newest products. As well as this, nine OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) plan to incorporate it into their products.”

O’Neill said the cable industry is ready for the challenge. “The cable industry will embrace innovation and incorporate these new innovations. There is a strong likelihood the cable industry will embed Google TV in their own set-top boxes.

“This, in our eyes, is not a threat but a cool new way to search for video.”

It’s TV Jim, but not as you knew it

“What customers want is on the one hand linear TV and the full internet. Secondly the want their service extensible via applications – a marriage of TV with social networking, this will bring a renewable social element to TV, people may not watch TV together anymore but certainly they want to debate and discuss what they’re watching.

“Finally, they want an intuitive and high quality user experience, not unlike the iPhone. This was a transformational success for three key reasons – first it was phone with a proper web browser, secondly Apple invented apps that expanded the telephone experience and thirdly it had an incredible touchscreen and accelerometer.

“The very same is going to happen in TV – web content and apps with a more intuitive experience.”

O’Neill gave an insight into what Liberty is planning in terms of a connected home gateway that functions as a remote control with a difference, code-named ‘Horizon’, which may soon replace set-top boxes in homes.

He showed an image of the device which on one side will have four buttons to control what you’re watching but on the other side will have a full QWERTY keyboard for social media interaction.

“With this, cable subscribers will be able to access internet content, as well as web TV. They will also access content across household – you can be watching in the living room any content you have on PCs and other digital devices – we will unveil a state-of-the-art user guide to navigate through this.

“It will be easy to use, it is cool and coming to Ireland in summer of mid-2012. This will be coming via UPC, not Apple.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years