How to Get TV Service from a Phone Company

Some telephone companies now offer TV broadcast services. These phone companies have installed high-speed technologies that allow them to compete with the cable TV companies. It seems fair enough, considering that some cable companies offer Internet access and long distance services.

A phone company can offer television services in two ways:

  • By providing cable-like services over their phone networks: This is what Verizon is doing with its FiOS service — using a separate wavelength (or color of light) on its newly installed fiber optic to carry what is essentially a standard digital cable TV signal to the home. In this case, the cable signal is carried over fiber right up to the side of the house, and then converted to a traditional coaxial cable network inside the home. This isn’t all that different than what the cable companies do — they have a lot of fiber in their networks too, but the “last mile” of cable connecting to the sides of customers homes is copper coaxial cable.

  • By providing IPTV services: IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) is an entirely different way of offering TV services, using the same standard Internet systems used for carrying Web pages, e-mail (and yes, even Web video) to your TV over a broadband Internet connection. This is what AT&T is doing with its uVerse system and what many smaller TV providers are doing throughout the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world.

The biggest difference between IPTV and more traditional TV services (whether they’re carried over the phone network or a cable company’s network) is what is being carried over those wires at any given time. In a traditional system, all channels being broadcast are sent to everyone’s home all at once. IPTV is a radical shift because the wires running into your home and TVs carry only the channels you have selected to watch right now. When you change channels, a signal is sent back to the network, and a video server device in the network selects that different channel and begins to stream it to your TV.

So what’s the difference from a user perspective? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • IPTV can potentially offer you more channels. Any cable or cable-like system has a limited amount of bandwidth. At some point, that big fire hose of 500 channels that you’re drinking from will be full, and there won’t be room for any additional channels. In an IPTV network, there’s essentially an unlimited capacity for new channels (even HDTV channels), as long as the TV provider can make a business justification to offer it to you. Because IPTV doesn’t need to fit all those channels onto the cables running into everyone’s home all at once, it can offer a wider range of channels.

  • Conversely, IPTV can’t offer you as many channels at once. IPTV is limited by the bandwidth of the broadband (DSL or fiber-optic) connection running into your home. If you have a fast DSL connection, you might be getting 20 or 30 Mbps of bandwidth. Each TV channel (standard definition) can take up 2 to 4 Mbps of that bandwidth, while each HDTV channel you want to watch can take between 10 and 20.

Which technology a phone company uses isn’t a huge deal. The technologies have a good deal of overlap. And over time, as the technology improves, even cable companies are considering a move to IPTV. What you should keep in mind are the attributes of the services you have available:

  • What do they cost?

  • How many channels do they offer?

  • Which channels do they offer?

  • What are the hidden costs (monthly rentals for set-top boxes, for example)?

  • How many channels can you receive at one time (for IPTV)?

  • How many HDTV channels can you receive at one time (again, for IPTV)?

  • What other features are offered (VoD, audio/radio channels, and so on)?

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