When it comes to IP-based networks' ability to simultaneously carry many different services and applications, the mix matters -- phone services demand more exacting quality of service (QoS) than e-mail, for instance -- but the basic underlying transport infrastructure is the same. What's different are the mechanisms that sit on the network or are tied to the protocol to allow the more demanding application to be delivered.
The melding of the technology platforms has a profound business impact. In the past, the success or failure of one service didn't matter much to the other, since they were carried on different networks and, for the most part, by different service providers. That isn't so any more. Since telcos and cable companies are delivering voice, video and data and all of these applications share the same infrastructure, the business plans put in place by network operators on any specific service will impact the others. Put more simply: If a cable company bets big on unified communications, for instance, and the initiative tanks, investments will be pulled back and the entire operation -- video, data, wireless and everything else -- will suffer.
In this landscape, the move to high-definition television is important, despite the fact that the type of television available is largely meaningless to businesses. During 2008, the ramp up to the transition to digital and the interrelated expansion of high definition will be on the minds of cable, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) and telephone companies. This News & Observer story describes the nascent battle in North Carolina. The level of competition it describes clearly is being repeated across the United States.
The Detroit Free Press describes a program by offered by the government to provide a $40 discount off the cost of converters. The post excerpts parts of a Q&A from a site run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Commerce that describes the changeover -- on February 17, 2009, full power television stations in the United States will switch from analog to digital -- and spells out what this means to consumers.
Of course, the piece doesn't deal with the importance of the situation to video service providers. It could have, however. Even if things all work out, it's frightening from their points of view. It's as if railroads were switching from one gauge to another.
On Monday, the FCC released The Third Periodic Review, which spelled out the rules for the transition to digital television. This Digital Media Wire piece relates the deadlines conveyed in the 108-page report. The writer does say that FCC Commissioner Michael Copps criticized the fact that the final rules were released only about 13 months before the transition. He suggested that the United States should copy other countries and run an early transition in a test market. This Reuters story on the subject adds that the FCC offered broadcasters some flexibility in the transition.
IT departments and planners should keep an eye on the always entertaining world of television as that industry gets serious about the transition from analog to digital -- the turning of the calendar to 2008 can be seen as the beginning of the home stretch -- and the success cable, satellite and telephone video providers have with HD beyond the early adopters. How these providers fare will affect the overall health of the networks they offer to businesses.