For those of us old enough to remember life before cell phones and the internet, the speed at which technology changes today is sometimes bewildering. We used to make calls from a phone, watch TV through our cable provider (or maybe even over the air waves), and work at our desktop computer through a hard-wired internet connection. Now the lines are so blurred between phone companies, internet service providers, cable providers, satellite companies, and cellular providers, we should probably just call them technology providers.
In the past few years, technology companies have been attempting to gain market share and maximize profits by “bundling” services, or offering as many of these technologies as possible to their customers. Regulatory and technological changes over the last decade have made this possible and it has proven to be a fairly competitive weapon. “The goal is to get people into the bundle. That’s where they realize the savings,” said Nick Pavlis, Director of Government Relations for Charter Communications. Of course, customers who subscribe to multiple services are much less likely to leave, or so the theory goes.
But technology changes so fast that just when you think you’ve got the best deal going, everything changes again. Beginning October 5th, St. Tammany residents in the Mandeville, Covington, and Slidell areas have yet another choice with the introduction of AT&T’s new U- verse technology.
“U-verse allows us to provide a full suite of communications and entertainment products and gives us a major competitive advantage – nobody else can do it,” said Sue Sperry, AT&T Corporate Communications.
Not only does U-Verse allow AT&T to bundle everything, but it also allows them to take advantage of the other major trend in technology: being mobile and “on-the-go”. “U-verse uses Internet Protocol (IP) technology, which enables all your devices to talk to each other.
AT&T’s U-verse services are delivered over AT&T’s fiber-rich network. “Between 2006 and 2008 we invested almost $1.3 billion in Louisiana infrastructure. The fiber network has been upgraded extensively,” said Sperry. Fiber optic cable has several advantages over standard copper wiring or coaxial cable. It is faster, more reliable, and allows for multiple simultaneous high speed transmissions. “U-verse only delivers what you choose and bandwidth is potentially unlimited,” said Sperry.
“We are thrilled to start offering this innovative video choice in southeast Louisiana. Area residents have asked for more choices in television service and today we’re delivering,” said William A. Oliver, President, AT&T Louisiana.
“Cable has been the only game in town for too long and we’re excited to change that,” said Bonnie Denson, General Manager, Consumer Markets – Gulf States.
Internet protocol television (IPTV) is a different technology than traditional cable or satellite TV. IPTV allows for two-way interactivity which means viewers will have more options to interact, personalize, and control their viewing experience.
IPTV is also different from streaming videos over the public internet. The U-verse programming is carried over a managed network so quality and reliability is controlled and not subject to delays due to lower bandwidth, high traffic, or poor connection quality.
With Total Home DVR, you can record up to four channels simultaneously and manage and watch your recorded programs from just one set-top box for the entire house (up to four TVs). U-verse can support up to eight TVs in one house. You can pause a program on one TV and resume play on another. You can program your DVR recordings from your mobile phone or PC.
Part of the interactive menu is U-Bar, a customizable bar at the bottom of the screen allowing you to personalize on-screen information like stocks, weather, traffic, or sports, all in real time. You also have the ability to check the current weather conditions and forecasts in any U.S. city with Weather on Demand.
Other great features include the ability to search your local Yellow Pages on your TV screen and initiate a call from your TV. There’s also built-in picture in picture and the ability to watch slideshows or browse your online photos that have been uploaded to Flickr.
U-verse has all these features plus more HD channels than most local cable companies and an extensive Video on Demand library with unique search features. “We’ll continue to make U-verse TV even better for customers with regular upgrades and new cool features you can’t get anywhere else,” said Denson.
Customers benefit from U-verse Central, an online portal to manage your call preferences and settings from any computer. Customers also get a single combined voice mailbox for both home and mobile phones, the ability to view your call logs from your PC or your recent incoming calls on your TV, and the ability to initiate a call from your PC or TV using Click to Call.
U-verse broadband customers will be able to enjoy even faster downstream speeds of up to 18 Mbps, as compared to the typical 6-10 Mbps most people enjoy right now with DSL or cable high speed internet. Also included with this service at no extra cost are wireless home or office networking and access to the nation’s largest Wi-Fi network with unlimited connectivity at more than 20,000 hot spot locations.
“The iPhone changed everything in this industry. It has just exploded in the past 24 months,” said Sperry. Indeed, this is one segment of the marketplace that is still very robust and hasn’t been affected by the economic downturn. “Our challenge is that we’ve had to spend the money to keep growing it”.
AT&T has already launched the Mobile Remote Access App for iPhone, giving U-verse TV and internet customers another simple way to manage their recordings. Sperry said AT&T is the only carrier that has simultaneous voice and data. In other words, you don’t have to end your call to use your applications. Their mobile broadband service also boasts the fastest download speed of any mobile broadband service, with speeds up to 1.7 Mbps that can be accessed with any netbook or laptop using air cards.
“What makes people fall in love with U-verse is the quality of it. We’ve really put the whole puzzle together,” said Sperry.
What about Tangipahoa Parish?
Sperry said AT&T has no immediate plans to roll out U-verse technology in Tangipahoa Parish. Right now, only St. Tammany Parish, Houma, and Thibodaux will be getting U-verse. Charter Communications is nearing completion of a $1 million plant replacement project in the Hammond area. “This will bring more reliability and consistency to our product in that area,” said Pavlis.
But there are plans afoot to bring comprehensive fiber-based broadband technology to Tangipahoa Parish in the near future.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $7.2 billion was earmarked for the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to expand and accelerate broadband deployment to unserved and underserved communities across America. Tangipahoa Parish is considered one of those underserved areas. This investment is also meant to increase jobs, spur investments in technology and infrastructure, and provide long-term economic benefits.
The result is the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The Broadband Initiatives Program will make loans and grants for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas. “We have applied to provide services to Tangipahoa Parish,” said Hunter McAllister, Vice President Business Development for Xfone USA in Hammond (previously I-55). “It’s very difficult to get loans from banks in this economy, which is why this program is so appealing,” said McAllister.
If Xfone USA is awarded this project, it will be no small task. McAllister estimates a four to six year project that will involve running fiber throughout the parish and will bring fiber-based telephone and television, as well as broadband service to all of Tangipahoa Parish.
Xfone’s sister company, NTS Communications in Lubbock, TX, has already completed a similar project. “We think our chances are good and we’re hoping that having already completed another program successfully will help us tremendously. Initially we had hoped to begin the project early next year, but we’re still waiting to hear,” said McAllister.