Sky's router policy
by, 27-01-08 at 02:52 PM (24307 Views)
Sky are obviously very keen to make sure all its customers are using the router which Sky supplied to them, but why is that? A common explanation is that it makes things easier for customer support. Another reason that some people have suggested is that it's part of Sky company "dogma" - just as you're forced to use Sky's TV receiver, so too are you forced to use Sky's broadband router. There's probably some truth in these points, but I think there's a much bigger reason for this policy, and a clue to it is on the back of the Sky V2 routers.
Over in Italy, Sky Italia are involved in a joint venture with Telecom Italia which provides a service called Alice TV. This is a television service provided over ADSL - IPTV. Have a look at the back of the ADSL router they supply…
Note the multi-coloured Ethernet ports - remind you of anything?
The green port is used to connect, using an Ethernet cable, a second box which sits next to your television. All your television channels are supplied through the router - normal broadcast channels, Sky premium channels (encrypted using the same NDS encryption that Sky uses for its satellite channels), and true video-on-demand.
IPTV isn't new. There have been a number of niche markets which have been using IPTV for years now - hotel TV services, for example. But IPTV is set to become the "next big thing" in the coming few years, and Young Mr Murdoch has made it clear that Sky will be operating in that market, in the UK, just as they are in Italy.
Now, IPTV may not be new, but it is still an emerging technology. It depends on internet protocols, such as IGMP, which are not as firmly established as other protocols such as TCP/IP. Implementations on different routers seem to have their own "quirks" which have to be worked around. Essentially this makes it very difficult to operate an IPTV service on anything other than a specifically customised router. The router needs to offer "quality of service" facilities - if little Gianni upstairs in his bedroom is busy downloading mp3's from torrent sites, you don't want your television channel to freeze. In fact, it would be usual to implement a "VLAN", where specific ports on your router offer different levels of service - for example, one port has a higher priority and always gets the bandwidth it needs, whilst the other three get what's left.
Here in the UK, except in the very beginning, broadband services have been offered on the basis that you can use any ADSL hardware you wanted, and people have become accustomed to that. But to offer IPTV services, that mindset needs to change. Sky's V3 routers - already being designed now - will most likely be the first that offer specific support for IPTV, and by the time these routers are rolled out, Sky wants people to have gotten used to the idea that you don't use your own broadband hardware.
I'm in no doubt that in two or three years from now, a large proportion of Sky's TV services will be provided by IPTV. I expect they'll use the same "carrot and stick" approach as they did when people moved from analogue satellite to digital satellite - providing tempting new features to IPTV customers, whilst progressively removing channels from their satellite broadcasts. What must be particularly attractive to Sky is that instead of paying Astra large amounts of money in satellite transponder leasing costs, the "transport" costs are effectively being paid for by the customer themselves. Suddenly, offering low-cost broadband seems to make perfect sense. I doubt they'll shut down satellite broadcasting altogether - some customers simply live too far from their exchange for IPTV to work - but reducing the number of transponders leased from Astra would remove a considerable amount from Sky's overheads.
Hopefully, by the time the IPTV router is ready to be shipped, Sky will have learnt all the lessons about what people want from a broadband router, so their customers won't want to use a different router. And I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be such a bad idea if Sky actually came out and said, "we want people to use out broadband equipment so that when it comes to rolling out exciting new IPTV services, our existing broadband customers will be the first to be able to make use of those services." It might reduce the some of the "annoyance factor" that people feel over this policy, if it was made clear that Sky aren't simply being obnoxious. But then again, perhaps Sky should send their V3 prototypes to me first.
Just to be on the safe side.
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