SingTel – BT

SingTel wires up to score with business

Coaxial cabling technology to help bring EPL matches to commercial pay-TV clients

Fresh from announcing its consumer pricing for the English Premier League matches, SingTel reveals that it has another plan up its sleeve.

The telco has been quietly conducting in-house trials aimed at allowing potentially tens of thousands of local businesses to tune in to the next season of the popular soccer tournament in August 2010.

Field deployment of the networking technology to wire up this lucrative customer segment will begin in the coming months.

In a phone interview with BT on Saturday, SingTel Singapore CEO Allen Lew said the company has carried out a series of in-house ‘technical laboratory trials’ to determine the feasibility of using coaxial cabling systems to carry its pay-television signals.

This approach is different from the technology used by SingTel’s existing mio TV platform. The operator’s pay-TV programmes are currently streamed over the Internet using its ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) broadband infrastructure.

With this method, customers are still required to have a phone line and there are also bandwidth limitations which could inhibit the number of high-definition channels that can be streamed at any one time.

The existing ADSL technology is also unsuitable for businesses such as hotels, restaurants, pubs and coffeeshops looking to screen soccer matches over multiple television screens within their premises. This is an important consideration for pay-TV operators as commercial customers typically pay twice or more for their subscription packages compared to consumers.

While the future nationwide fibre-optic network could solve the problem, the project is still a work-in-progress and it will only be fully completed in December 2012, towards the tail end of SingTel’s three-year EPL broadcast contract.

Coaxial cabling technology, on the other hand, has been used by StarHub and many telcos around the world to deliver their cable television and broadband services to consumers and businesses for some time. Coaxial cabling and ADSL lines are the two most prevalent copper-line networking technologies used by telcos today.

Coaxial cables are cheaper and faster to deploy compared to fibre-optic cabling while having a sufficient capacity to carry multiple channels of high-definition video and Internet content.

‘We will use our existing copper (cables),’ said Mr Lew.

SingTel currently owns the most extensive underground broadband infrastructure in Singapore, a complex mishmash of fibre-optic links and cheaper copper cables at the ‘last mile’ which connects to homes and businesses.

SingTel’s coaxial cabling plan looks to be the final piece of jigsaw to fulfil its promise of wiring up all homes and businesses ahead of the 2010 EPL season. It means the telco will be banking on a combination of technologies, including ADSL, fibre-optics and coaxial cabling, to meet this ambitious deadline.

‘The business community is where we are fundamentally strong,’ said Mr Lew. Dedicated account teams will be set up to service commercial pay-TV customers but pricing will be determined on a case-by-case basis as their needs are different, he added.

StarHub had questioned SingTel’s ability to pull off the feat of wiring up Singapore for EPL within 10 months but Mr Lew is bent on proving his arch-rival wrong. ‘We have never said something and not delivered,’ he stressed.

SingTel already held up its promise of not charging consumers more for EPL with the announcement of its price plans on Saturday.

Consumers will have to pay $23 a month to catch the 2010-2011 EPL season on mio TV without having to fork out extra for a basic pay-TV package or for set-top box rental.

As an added sweetener, SingTel will even throw in the Uefa Champion’s League and Europa League matches for free. For an additional $2, customers will get additional channels from ESPN Star Sports, the company which owns the broadcast rights to a bonanza of other sporting events including the Formula One, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open Golf Championship.

StarHub customers currently pay around $52 for their football fix. This includes a $25.58 monthly subscription fee for the firm’s basic tier, as well as the $26.75 it charges for the sports package.

Some market watchers have questioned SingTel’s ability to recoup its hefty EPL investment since rival StarHub and even Hong Kong’s PCCW failed to make money from screening the coveted soccer league.

But said Mr Lew: ‘We don’t just look at it (EPL) on a narrow basis – there’s a huge impact on our overall consumer business. We know what we have to achieve to make it (EPL) value-accretive.’

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