Cable network coming but content lacking

Content details of Telecom's planned cable network have not yet been finalised despite completion of the project's planning phase and commencement of construction of the physical network in the Auckland area.

Content details of Telecom's planned cable network have not yet been finalised despite completion of the project's planning phase and commencement of construction of the physical network in the Auckland area.

"From our point of view, the important thing is to start getting the network out there," says John Proctor, Telecom's director of video and information services.

"We need the physical network to do a lot of what we have planned, and I think there are going to be a lot of interesting and useful things that are going to change the way people do business, and even perhaps the way they live their lives."

However, don't expect your life to be transformed in the short-term, because the only content available initially will be the television programming that has been fed to those involved in the cable pilot project.

Proctor says Telecom currently installing the hardware necessary to supply the cable network to 76,000 homes in the Auckland area. The homes are in East Tamaki, Howick, Auckland's central business district and the North Shore.

"The network goes from our head-ends to hub-ends, then to an optical network unit via fibre-optic cable," Proctor says. "Nodes serve around 350 homes.

"The optical network unit translates the signals into RF so it can go down co-axial to the 'taps' placed outside every other home. Once the customer says they would like the cable access, we run the cable from the tap to the house."

Inside each connected house will be what Proctor calls a "set-top"--a unit that will allow a two-way data stream driven by remote control. This will permit such services as interactive television and Internet access.

Asked if cable subscribers would be restricted to getting Internet access via Telecom's Xtra ISP, Proctor seemed uncertain of the answer. "No, not at all . . . I have to admit to not being an avid expert on Internet connection at all. There may well be some advantages in using the Xtra system to get on to the Internet. This is not something we are launching with, but I think it will give high-speed Internet connections."

Though the planned installation of the cable network has concentrated on residential customers, Proctor foresees some big benefits for doing business on the network. "Businesses will be able to look at advertising at a macro level, so you can actually get down to individuals with some sort of return notification from the set-top boxes.

"This sort of thing may be a little bit down the track in terms of interactive applications, but I think there is the opportunity for business to start using the network to communicate with residential customers."

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