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Deutsche Telekom beats Unitymedia to 4K punch

Deutsche Telekom has launched its first 4K set top via the operator’s TDG Group subsidiary in Germany, powered by the Zenterio OS which has become one of DT’s favorite software suppliers. But the elephant in the room is why has it taken the German giant so long to get 4K hardware out to its pay TV subscriber base?

Over in the US, Comcast launched its first 4K-capable DVR earlier this year and was mocked for being late to the party. Concerns about the added strain that additional features will have on its network has meant Comcast is often late to launch with new viewing formats and functionalities, while DT prides itself on trend-setting moves, particularly in its US operations.

Rivals in Germany have already got the 4K T-shirt, notably Vodafone Deutschland, which launched its new cloud-based multiscreen 4K UHD video service GigaTV, delivered over the Kabel Deutschland cable network, in February 2017, while Tele Columbus rolled out a 4K home gateway in January this year. Sky launched a satellite 4K set top a year ago too.

Vodafone already has experience of 4K, having used the first SoC to market, the Broadcom 7252 delivered in a Cisco (Scientific Atlanta) set top design using NDS MediaHighway middleware. Elsewhere in Europe, the likes of SFR in France launched its first 4K set top way back in November 2015 and even in economy-ravaged countries such as Portugal, operators have beaten DT to 4K launches, with Vodafone adding a 4K device in Portugal in June last year, but this is very different, as there it uses Mediaroom.

The EntertainTV 4K set top launch is the latest move as part of DT’s strategy to harmonize its operations across Germany, Hungary, Greece, Romania and Croatia – a project which will certainly have delayed the roll out of 4K services significantly. Millions of subscribers, different languages, technologies, terrains and regulators, to name but a few, will have thrown up difficulties in this homogenization venture.

Zenterio’s OS played a pivotal role in speeding up the 4K deployment, with the company’s CEO, Jörgen Nilsson, saying, “Our common software platform was the key to the success of this service launch and two other major service launches for Deutsche Telekom Group recently, in Germany and Croatia.” Zenterio’s independent software stack has reduced DT’s set top costs dramatically, with support for a modern UI and features such as time-shift and fast channel change.

However, Liberty Global’s Unitymedia, DT’s key rival, is still yet to add 4K functionality to its Horizon TV service, but has now told German subscribers they will receive the 4K version some time in 2018, promising to deliver the service at a quicker pace than the 18-month deployment time for the last version of Horizon, putting this down to an open source RDK, as Unitymedia CEO Lutz Schüler spoke to Broadband TV News this week.

Liberty Global’s lateness is for an identical reason to Unitymedia, aiming to deploy the service in European countries where Horizon services are available, in Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Austria. Its UK subsidiary Virgin Media, which does not offer Horizon, launched the 4K-capable TiVo TV V6 set top over the summer. Its larger footprint naturally means Liberty Global has a bigger task on its hands, although in some of the territories mentioned it only offers the online service Horizon Go, not the full Horizon TV service.

Despite being Europe’s largest economy, the German pay TV sector is playing catch up with other major European markets as the region is dominated by ad-supported FTA channels and pure play OTT services. With 40 million subscribers, mobile is naturally Deutsche Telekom’s primary focus, compared to its 2.7 million IPTV customers in Germany, but EntertainTV is no push over and it includes live TV for out of home – implying some long term content negotiations.

Built around Huawei hardware and software, the new DT set top delivers live IPTV up to 4K resolution, VoD, YouTube, Netflix, and other third-party apps, advanced bandwidth and resource management, advanced parental control, interactivity with companion devices, and advanced data collection and monitoring capabilities.

The latest product builds on news from the IFA trade show in Berlin a couple of months ago, where DT unveiled a new UHD set top, the MR 401, in a further bid to re-energize interest in EntertainTV, which will provide access to UHD content from third party sources including Netflix, Sky and its own struggling VoD service Videoload, all via the EntertainTV platform.

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