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26 November 2020

T-Mobile’s deceitful TVision transition marks end of Layer 3

When former T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere departed the uncarrier last year, Faultline suggested this might mark the end for TVision, the Layer3-based video platform that was supposed to mirror T-Mobile’s relentless mobile disruption onto the pay TV market. While TVision has enjoyed a recent injection of OTT video, our prediction was on the money.

In confirming that the full-fat pay TV version of TVision is being put down before the end of this year, the news all-but cements another of Faultline’s premonitions about the underlying technologies in play at T-Mobile USA.

Upon the arrival of Android TV at the US telco, we projected that any reincarnation of TVision as a video streaming service would be unlikely to be based on very little – if any – of the original Layer 3 TV technology. More modern infrastructure purpose built for the IP video era have swept this legacy technology aside, and so by saying goodbye to TVision Home, we also bid farewell to Layer 3 TV.

Layer3 TV was named after layer 3 of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model, the networking layer which is where most of the routing in IP networks occurs. The service, as it was when T-Mobile acquired the business in late 2017, consisted of a large bundle of streaming pay TV channels, in either 1080p HD or UHD resolutions, available to watch via a wireless set top, anywhere in the home. T-Mobile promised that it would overnight be delivered to connected TVs and through a variety of other devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, tablets and smartphones.

It didn’t quite happen overnight, as the Sprint merger took priority, but it did plug a huge strategic hole in T-Mobile’s business.

T-Mobile has consistently flaunted Layer3 TV as capable of delivering 4K content wirelessly nationwide through the combined capacity of New T-Mobile, which proved a core argument in receiving regulatory approval. Deprioritizing the Layer 3 TV technology so soon after completion of the merger may therefore be seen as a cheap shot by T-Mobile, and we suspect the telco might be erased from the regulatory good books going forwards. Not that T-Mobile will care, having been granted virtually everything it could dream of by the FCC.

T-Mobile will argue that the “immense capacity” of New T-Mobile’s 5G network – which was supposed to make the operator competitive in video – remains true to its word.

Looking at T-Mobile’s video stack today, the operator has stated that multiple specialist vendors were involved in the 2020 TVision revamp, without naming a single one. Our bet is that Vewd (formerly Opera TV) is deeply involved with T-Mobile’s Android TV plans, as the telco has been a fan of Vewd’s SDK for rendering UIs on set tops. Rival Verizon uses the same Vewd SDK, and Verizon recently rolled out the Android TV-based Stream TV hardware, following in the footsteps of AT&T TV streaming devices.

The Android-based TVision streaming device uses the same HDMI hardware as Dish Network’s AirTV, and Chinese manufacturer SEI Robotics, a specialist in Android TV hardware, is behind TVision’s remote control.

The changing face of TVision has been spurred on by the recent relaunches of TVision as a multi-tiered OTT video package just a few weeks ago, which distracted from what a revamped TVision really represented – which was a clear precursor to shutting down the original TVision platform.

New TVision from New T-Mobile (following the Sprint merger) has not arrived without its controversy, however, ruffling the feathers of several networks by deciding to relegate services to a cheaper TVision package. Discovery’s CEO, David Zaslav, told a Q3 2020 investor call that T-Mobile had no right to do what it was doing, while execs at ViacomCBS were also riled by placement in a low-value package.

T-Mobile has spun up a solution this week, appeasing displeased partners by throwing in an extra 33 entertainment channels to the TVision Live package – meaning programming from the likes of Discovery, ViacomCBS and AMC Networks are now upgraded from the low priced $10 a month Vibe to the core $40 a month Live tier.

T-Mobile now faces a rush to convert as many TVision Home customers to TVision Live subscribers as it possibly can before the New Year. However, New T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert has publicly stated he is under no illusions that TVision is a serious cash cow, claiming that you won’t see T-Mobile investing tens of $billions owning content or media.

“TVision Home was just the start of our mission to make TV better for everyone and remove customer pain points. We’ve been hard at work on a streaming solution since we started this journey in 2017. We believe that TVision Live will give customers the best possible choice in TV,” said the uncarrier in a statement to subs.