Stop the press. New T-Mobile might be starting to take its TV business seriously, as documents appeared on the FCC this week showing a remote control for an Android TV streaming device. The glaring Google Assistant button at the remote’s heart is the big give away, alongside dedicated YouTube and Netflix buttons which have become stalwart features of Android TV Operator Tier platforms.
When the departure of theatrical CEO John Legere was announced towards the tail end of last year, Faultline pondered, “Surely, it’s only a matter of time before T-Mobile cans TVision?” – a prediction which is half coming true.
While the prototype remote includes the TVision branding, the arrival of Android TV at T-Mobile likely means only remnants remain (if any) of the Layer3 technology behind T-Mobile’s previous TVision platforms, including the latest DTH service that launched in April 2019 to a subdued response after months of delays.
Exactly one year later, T-Mobile has completed the merger with Sprint to form New T-Mobile, quickly forgetting that Layer3 was one of many carrots dangled in front of the FCC in order to receive regulatory approval. T-Mobile flaunted its Layer3 TV technology as capable of delivering 4K content wirelessly nationwide through the combined capacity of New T-Mobile.
Replacing Layer3 with Android TV could therefore be seen as a tad deceitful, although 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. Considering the inconsequential decisions by T-Mobile and Sprint around video, this is why the purchase of Layer3 TV in late 2017 was seen as so significant for New T-Mobile, up until Android TV began making a name for itself in the US. It’s likely the replacement platform will still be marketed strongly on TVision’s promise of a no-strings-attached cable TV alternative.
So, any Android TV-based set top or streaming dongle, whichever T-Mobile decides to roll with, will eventually replace the technology behind the broadband-delivered TVision with a white-label Android TV Operator Tier developed by multiple specialist vendors. Our bet is that Vewd (formerly Opera TV) is deeply involved with T-Mobile’s Android TV plans, as the telco is a fan of Vewd’s SDK to render 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 writing was on the wall for Layer3. Prior to the latest April 2019 launch of TVision, there were localized trials for a predecessor to the traditional Layer3 TV, which was viewed as virtually identical to the old Layer3 TV business according to early reviews. T-Mobile went ahead with the launch anyway, and it probably wasn’t long before T-Mobile wished it went with Android TV in the first place.
Chinese manufacturer SEI Robotics, a specialist in Android TV hardware, is behind T-Mobile’s Android TV remote control.
T-Mobile has made many questionable decisions in video and has settled comfortably into an aggregator strategy, leveraging its massive mobile subscriber base to deliver video, but this comes with far fewer monetization opportunities than the malleable Google-owned platform – one that fits well with TMO’s content aggregation model.