Is This the Beginning of the End for the Set-Top Box?

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C Spire started out as a privately owned wireless competitor in Mississippi. Since then, it has expanded in several directions.

Its focus last year was on installing high-speed Internet in a few Mississippi cities. Now it is partnering with MobiTV to offer a new television service for the home.

The service will not use the set-top boxes common with cable TV. Rather, it will use a variety of connected streaming services and devices, including Apple TV, Amazon's Fire TV and Roku, as well as smartphones and tablets running iOS and Android.

This represents a new direction for both companies. There is a need for innovative thinking, and this could clean up the mess of boxes and wires connecting our growing variety of TV devices. The question is, how well will this new service work?

Testing will begin in November. C Spire will offer a variety of services, from a full lineup to skinny bundles. It will offer a service that will include local television stations, video on-demand, a cloud DVR service, seven-day replay or catch-up, and more. If testing goes well, the company will roll out the service broadly.

This seems very interesting and forward-thinking. While I hope it is a successful service for C Spire and its customers, it raises several nagging questions.

For example, if you use your smartphone or tablet rather than a set-top box, does that mean the phone or tablet must be physically present to make the system work? What it you -- and your smartphone -- are not home? Can your kids watch TV even if your phone isn't on the premises?

I have always liked C Spire -- it's a very innovative and forward-thinking wireless company. Even so, it needs to address these questions.

App-based pay TV is popping up at the right time. There is an outcry for lower costs and skinnier bundles. The traditional cable television industry really screwed itself by continuing to raise prices and by ticking off customers, year after year.

So the timing is right. The FCC is looking at the matter, and the entire television industry is looking at options. That's something that should have happened a decade ago, but at least it's happening now.

It appears C Spire will use the new fiber infrastructure it has been installing in several communities. So while this service will be available only in the C Spire region of Mississippi, this is a test other carriers will watch closely.

While MobiTV traditionally has focused on the mobile TV or wireless TV marketplace, the in-home opportunity is growing too rapidly to ignore.

The question is, will both C Spire and MobiTV succeed? This will be an interesting trial. Every player has lessons to learn as the television space continues to grow and change.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected]

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