Virgin Media Boosts XL Broadband to 20Mbps

Virgin Media have announced that they are to boost the top speed of their ‘XL’ cable broadband offering from 10Mbps to 20Mbps, starting in May.

Virgin Media Boosts XL Broadband to 20MbpsThe upload speed will also be upped to 768Kbs, not exactly setting the uploading world alight, but better than a poke in the eye with a stick, non?

While getting people excited about this, they’re also raising the price of their top service by £2 to £37/month.

They’re claiming it “will make the XL broadband service the fastest (widely available) home internet connection in Britain,” which is questionable, depending on your definition of “widely available.”

UK Online and Be Unlimited have been offering 22Mbps and 24Mbps broadband services (respectively) around the UK since the end of 2005, although Virgin Media has a wider reach than them. Both UK Online and Be Unlimited rely on their equipment being installed at the telephone exchange.

To us, these speed increases make it sound like they’re getting ready to start offering other IPTV/VoD-type services.

IPTV Growth To Boost Video Market To $277Bn By 2010: iSupply

IPTV Growth To Boost Video Market To $277Bn By 2010: iSupplyResearch house iSupply are predicting that IPTV will be boosting the reveneue generated by the premium video services market from its current level of less than $200Bn to a whopping $277Bn by 2010.

Their definition of the premium video services market takes in pay-TV, mobile video, DVD, broadband video and theatre/box office receipts, but when advertising revenues are added, the total market reaches a stunning $370Bn.

iSupply see IPTV growing at frankly amazing rates. In 2005 they saw IPTV worth $681m and, with their estimate of a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 103 percent (!), see it reaching a calculator-busting £23.5Bn in 2010.

It appears that they see the public’s willingness to pay for content expanding significantly. Strange, but we and our other tech-aware pals are finding ourselves just not watching that much mainstream content – even if it is available on-demand.

IPTV Growth To Boost Video Market To $277Bn By 2010: iSupplyThat aside, iSupply see the battle royal between two big, hairy beasts – the current pay-TV world of direct-to-home satellite and digital and analogue cable TV services – and the telcos who will be pushing quad-play.

On the physical format side, iSupply point out that DVD sales are slowing, and will continue to do so, with the decline over the next 3-4 years being as much as 15 percent to 20 percent.

One very interesting point that is raised by them is

With most movie libraries and television series already on DVD, Hollywood studios are generating more than half of their revenues from DVDs—and are running out of new content to sell, making this an issue of paramount importance to them. One cause of the DVD sales deceleration is the fact that consumers have become more price-sensitive, believing that the average DVD cost of $20 is too expensive, especially compared to renting.

It’s not clear where this leaves Blu-Ray and HD-DVD – both on the price of the media (which is expected to be higher than DVD) and on the material that is available. Given Hollywood’s slow ability to make new material, and that most of it will have been sold on DVD already – it’s not clear if the new formats will help them.

Information on Premium Video Services Market report

Sky To Pull Channels From Virgin Media: Offering Discounts

The spat between Virgin Media and Mr Murdoch’s Sky TV is getting uglier as Sky threatens to pull its Sky One, Two, Three, News and Sports News channels from Virgin Media at the end of the month.

Sky To Pull Channels From Virgin Media: Offering DiscountsThe frost started back in November last year when Virgin’s Richard Branson complained about Sky buying a £940m holding in the UK broadcaster, ITV. Branson jumped up and down and generally said how unfair it was.

A week ago Sky said it was considering a formal complaint against Virgin Media’s latest advertising campaign, which stated, “The cheapest place to get Sky Sports isn’t Sky.” Sky refuted Virgin’s claims, saying they were misleading.

Today sees the latest round. Virgin put out a statement this morning saying that they anticipated “a withdrawal of these channels by Sky at the end of February.”

Clearly angry, the statement continued,

“The nature of these negotiations leads us to believe that this outcome has been deliberately engineered by Sky in order to suppress competition and coerce Virgin Media’s customers into switching to its service by denying them access to the basic channels. (These negotiations do not impact Sky’s premium sports and movies channels which will continue to be available to Virgin Media customers.)

This view is reinforced by Sky’s decision to broadcast, at the height of negotiations on 12th February, a series of promotions claiming that the channels were about to disappear from Virgin Media’s network. This was nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to exert undue influence on the negotiating process.”

Virgin Media claim that Sky has been asking for “a carriage fee more than double the existing arrangement.”

Julian Closer is reporting that Virgin will be offering up to £9.75 in compensation for the loss of Sky-branded channels.

NTL 4 for £40 quad-play announced

NTL 4 for £40 quad-play announcedNTL, UK Cable provider, has announced a quad-play offering for £40.

The ‘4 for £40’ service (with the inevitable Virgin-inspired foreplay joke to come) is the first product of the tie-up between Virgin Mobile and NTL.

As we’ve reported extensively, all of the communication world is bringing out packages that bring together various elements of communication as mobile phone companies get together with fixed-line broadband providers. The additional part with the NTL deal is the Digital TV.

The ‘4 for £40’ package includes:


  • Up to 2Mb with no limits on downloads
  • Firewall and anti-virus software included
  • Installed by an expert and modem included

Digital TV

  • Over 30 channels, including Sky One, UKTV Gold, E4, Film4, ITV2 and LIVINGtv
  • On demand access to a huge library of programmes and films – watch what you want, when you want
  • Set-top box included and no need for a dish

Home phone

  • Unlimited weekend calls to any UK landline
  • Highly competitive mobile rates and simple tariffs at other times
  • Standard features including 1471 and 1571 voicemail


  • A Virgin Mobile SIM
  • 300 texts and 300 minutes a month, plus free voicemail
  • Access to Virgin Mobile Bites entertainment service
  • One interesting feature is that the broadband offered is unlimited, which is bound to appeal to the tech savvy.

    NTL 4 for £40 quad-play announcedBigging the service up and attempting to create extra excitement for the future, Neil Berkett, chief operating officer of ntl Telewest, enthused: “Quadplay demonstrates the unique power of the cable-Virgin Mobile union and this is just the beginning. Our new package represents unbeatable value while meeting a wide range of consumers’ entertainment and communication needs.

    Current subscribers to NTL won’t be left out in the cold, they’ll be able to take advantage of the new service for an additional £10/month on top of their current packages.

    NTL. (Strangely for such a big launch, the NTL site hasn’t been updated with details of the 4 for £40, at the time of publishing.)

    More PE Takeover Talk At NTL

    The much heralded NTL/Telewest merger, expected to be the saviour of the UK cable industry, has become the subject of another Private Equity takeover rumour and the likely winner, if it goes ahead, is Richard Branson.

    A quick recap
    Branson did a deal with NTL that saw Virgin mobile become part of a four-play (geddit?) proposition, allowing the operation to use the Virgin brand and in return received 10.6% of the company. The merger of the three companies has not yet bedded in, and customers across the country are still waiting for the promised improvements in the notoriously poor levels of customer support.

    Flextech the programming arm of the company, which was up for sale at the time of the earlier merger (I hope you’re paying attention), is likely to again be offered up for acquisition to media companies. A great way for potential new investors to make a chuck of their cash back.

    Market reaction
    The market has viewed the possible takeover positively, as it considered the cable company is still under valued following its 20% share price drop in the last three months. More recently shares in the company, quoted in the US, gained around 8% last week, on the possible fresh takeover.

    What would the impact be?
    If a takeover goes ahead, then the focus will be on installing a strong management team to leverage the offering against well established competition from BT and the newer entrants to the market, like Tiscali whose purchase of Homechoice has put them in the triple-play space, and Sky who are rolling out a broadband proposition under their own well known brand.

    AOL’s Steve Case Sorry for Time Warner Deal

    AOL's Steve Case Sorry for Time Warner DealSteve Case, co-founder of AOL, now ex-chairman of AOL-Time Warner, has said he was sorry for the merger between AOL and Time Warner. It is widely regarded as a deal that didn’t go very well, leading to internal wrangling and huge amounts of money being knocked of share values.

    In an interview with well known US journalist, Charlie Rose, Case said he still believed the ‘idea’ of bringing together Time Warners content and broadband infrastructure, RoadRunner, with AOL digital expertise was right.

    He resolved that “Ultimately it comes down to execution,” and that in this case that hadn’t been successful. Case said he missed the ‘power’ to execute what he thought was right.

    When questioned further about it, Case then refered to his current company, Revolution, saying that they will only enter into agreements where they have a controlling interest, so they can “Take a long term view.” We take this as implying that this wasn’t the case when dealing with Time Warner.

    When Rose asked him straight, “Was it a good idea, or not?”, Case gave a half smile and then laughed, trying to avoid a direct answer.

    AOL's Steve Case Sorry for Time Warner DealWhen pushed, Case said from the point of shareholders of the two companies, employees & customers – it didn’t go as he’d hoped, it had been a disappointment and a source for frustration. Given the wide range of those included by Case, we don’t know who else might be disappointed who wasn’t included.

    Given the stark choice of, “Sorry, Yes or No?”, Case said, “Yes I’m sorry I did it.”

    Watch the video. The section relevant to this story starts at 30 minutes in.

    Cisco and Scientific Atlanta Converge

    Cisco and SA ConvergeConvergence took a step forward Friday past as Cisco announced the takeover of Scientific Atlanta (SA). The price? $6.9 billion cash.

    SA shareholders don’t get a big premium (around 4%). The markets had already priced the shares to allow for a takeover talk, of which has been ongoing for some time – Sony being rumoured as one of the prospective suitors. Conversely, Cisco stockholders aren’t too enthused with the takeover, and see the cable business as riskier than the high margin routers that have been Cisco’s cash cows.

    Cisco and SA ConvergeThe acquisition looks a good fit though, Cisco are keen to push their IPTV proposition, SA’s strength in the US set-top-box market (they have around 40% market share) will allow them to capitalise on the access to the home that video brings. The companies’ combined news release majors on this, John Chambers, president and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems said “Video is emerging as the key strategic application in the service provider triple play bundle of consumer entertainment, communication and online services.”

    The release also notes that the coming together of the two companies “creates a world class, end-to-end triple play solution for carrier networks and the digital home”

    Cisco and SA ConvergeFormed in 1951, SA has long been a market leader in Cable TV, has a healthy balance sheet and already has one large IPTV customer in the shape of SBC Communications. The critical mass of SA as part of Cisco should help it win more.

    Expect both Motorola (SA’s main US competitor) and Microsoft to consider how best to respond to this strategic move by the dominant Internet hardware backbone provider.

    Scientific Atlanta

    Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System

    Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living SystemSony are keen for us to ‘redefine’ our living rooms with the release of their new VAIO XL1 Digital Living System, a twin box offering combining a high-end multimedia PC with a 200-disc media changer/recorder.

    Clad in natty silver and black casings, the combo runs on Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and connects to a television via an HDMI cable, outputting high-definition video and multi-channel digital audio in a single connection.

    Boasting unique functionality as the result of a “close collaboration with Microsoft”, discs inserted into the changer are automatically detected by the PC which connects to the Web (via wired or wireless network) to download any available metadata, including jewel case covers and artist information.

    Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living SystemA similar process takes place for movies, where an in-depth synopsis and star, cast, director and producer details etc are automatically downloaded and made accessible onscreen through the included wireless keyboard or remote control.

    Sony has innovated once again by introducing a product that is a monumental step forward in defining the way consumers enjoy digital entertainment,” insisted Mike Abary, vice president of VAIO product marketing for Sony Electronics in the US.

    “With the XL1, users can still manage all their meaningful entertainment content such as downloaded music, home movies and personal photos. But the really groundbreaking functionality is the additional ability to easily organize, sort, and access packaged content – all of the DVD movies and audio CDs that have been traditionally relegated to a bookshelf,” he added.

    Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living SystemThere’s no denying that the recording functionality seems mighty impressive to us, with the XL1 able to automatically and sequentially record up to 200 audio CDs from the media changer to the hard drive.

    Users can also record a series of television show episodes to the hard drive, and transfer them to blank DVDs stored in the changer

    Beating in the heart of the XL1 A/V system is a powerful PC boasting an Intel Pentium D dual-core processor, half a gig of DDR2 memory, PCI-E graphics and space for up to three SATA hard drives (RAID ready).

    Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living SystemTo ensure that your late night listening pleasure isn’t spoilt by the sound of a mass of Boeing 747-like fans starting up, the XL1 system uses liquid-cooled components for quiet operation.

    The Digital Living System will be sold as a package and will be available next month for about US$2,300 (~£1,300, ~€1,930).

    Sony VAIO XL1

    France Telecom Announces Ultra Fast VDSL2 Broadband

    France Telecom Announces Ultra Fast VDSL2 BroadbandAfter demonstrating that high-definition television over copper was achievable through networks with increased bandwidth capabilities and compression techniques, France Telecom is looking to develop the technology and is currently testing VDSL2 transmission systems in its R&D Laboratories.

    The technology is based on DMT modulation, like ADSL and ADSL2+, and was dreamt up in the quest to enable data transmission speeds of up to 100 Mbps using standard telephone cables.

    These super fast speeds were achieved by extending the frequency band to 30MHz.

    In their quest to bring super fast connections into the home, France Telecom has been working with international DSL standardisation bodies and after evaluating various technologies, they have managed to successfully test VDSL technology.

    The company is now conducting lab tests of VDSL2, based on the xDSL family.

    The explanation for how this works is way too hard for my hungover head to work out, so I’m sure you’ll excuse me if I quote from the press announcement instead:

    “VDSL technology, which is an offspring of the xDSL family, features the possibility of supplying, through a fiber optic connection, the sub-cross-connected equipment with high transmission rates, which are then distributed to customers using cross-connect specific DSLAM equipment and the copper pair.”

    France Telecom Announces Ultra Fast VDSL2 BroadbandAll clear on that, now?

    The current testing is also intended to evaluate the feasibility of future services for home and business use, and a demonstration scheduled for today will showcase some of the initial applications for this technology.

    This will include the simultaneous delivery of two high-definition television streams, i.e. (MPEG-4) and one simple definition stream (MPEG-2), a high definition videophone and an FTP file transfer at the scorchio rate of 40 Mbps.

    That FTP transfer rate works out at twice as fast as is possible using currently deployed DSL technologies, and would make it possible for someone to download a 90 minute film in just three minutes.

    We should point out that France Telecom were at pains to say that the 90 minute film in question would only be downloaded from “a legally authorised Website” because, as they are compelled to remind us, “Piracy has a damaging effect on artistic creation.”

    The company will be presenting this new technology to the media today, at the France Telecom Jardins de l’Innovation at Issy-les-Moulineaux.

    NTL To Give 10Mb Broadband, Eventually

    NTL To Give 10Mb Broadband, EventuallyAfter a period of speculation, a press release on UK cable company NTL’s Web site makes it official that they intend to move their customers to broadband connection “up to 10Mb as standard.”

    Don’t get too excited yet. Clearly that could mean anything, even 2,400 baud fits into that category.

    NTL tell us that they will be first upgrading their current 3Mb customers to the 10Mb service, while expanding these customer download restirctions form 30Gb/month to 75Gb.

    We at Digital-Lifestyles hate a limit on traffic – we see it as another way to extract cash from punters when they start to have their TV/video content delivered via their broadband – an extra reason for a cable TV company to restrict you.

    Well, when this all going to happen? It’s pretty unclear, but according to NTL, ‘by the end of 2006, the roll out of this new product portfolio will be complete,’ which gives them a lot of leeway doesn’t it?

    NTL To Give 10Mb Broadband, EventuallyWe think it may be some time before this actually gets to the customers, as NTL are also talking of introducing an interim service, ‘The Turbo Button,’ which will burst a connection to higher speeds, when customers are downloading bandwidth heavy content like video.

    NTL and their broadband service have for a very long time been damned by many of their subscribers, past and present. They were recently voted the very worst broadband provider in the UK in a poll of member by the consumers organisation, Which?

    Such dreadful service lead one particular subscriber, Bryan Stevens, to take action online four years ago, forming ntl:hell, a news and discussion board that was solely focused on how bad NTL’s service was. Its membership expanded at a frightening rate … up to the point were NTL offered Mr Stevens a job running the board for ‘the good of NTL subscribers’. A look at the discussion board today give a clear indication of how effective embarassing your harshest critics works.

    Many of you will already know that the person who was managing director and chief operation officer at NTL during the time ntl:hell was born – Stephen Carter. He now runs the UK super regulator OfCom.

    NTL’s PR