Philippine telco puts Internet on TV

Local carrier Smart Communications unveils new set-top box and service that enables users to access Internet via their television set.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor on

MANILA--Local carrier Smart Communications, which parent company PLDT recently bought local television station TV5, has unveiled a new service that allows a TV set to access the Internet through a set-top box.

Dubbed SurfTV, Smart's chief wireless advisor Orlando Vea, trumpeted the initiative during the launch here Tuesday as the "first in the Philippines". A similar offering, however, was introduced in the country as early as 2002 but it failed to take off.

Company executives said the country's low PC ownership at just 18 percent--compared with the global average of 25 percent--will be the primary driver for SurfTV.

"On the other hand, 90 percent of homes [in the Philippines] have a TV set. It is the most common home appliance in the country," said Vea, who is also a co-founder of Smart.

The new service works by connecting the SurfTV device--a set-top box made by a third-party Chinese manufacturer--to the RCA port of a television set. The apparatus provides Web access through Smart's 3G network.

A SurfTV kit includes the set-top box, a Smart Bro USB modem equipped with a pre-loaded SIM--which is then plugged into the set-top box--keyboard, mouse, remote control and is priced at 4,500 pesos (US$97.2). Internet access costs 10 pesos (22 US cents) for every 30 minutes. It is available as a prepaid service for now, according to Smart.

Danilo Mojica, head of Smart's wireless division, said SurfTV widens the company's Internet service portfolio through its wireless broadband unit Smart Bro, which reported 1 million broadband subscribers at the end of 2009.

The company had conducted nationwide tests before launching SurfTV commercially and ensured that "3G indoor signals are appropriate", Mojica said, adding that the network is designed to deliver speeds of up to 7Mbps.

The Smart executives played down suggestions that the "Internet-in-the-TV" offering would suffer the same fate as that of the earlier 2002 venture by another local IT company, which failed primarily because TV is public in nature while a PC is intended for private use.

"If you look at the trends, the Internet is very different now. A lot has changed over the last few years with Internet users now having shared-viewing habits," said Vea. With regard to private viewing, he suggested that subscribers could opt to buy personal TV sets that they can place in their rooms.

Mojica added that a similar TV initiative would not have worked in the past when Internet connectivity was still slow, at dialup speeds.

Each SurfTV set-top box is limited to one TV set, and cannot be shared among multiple TV units. In addition, the settop box does not have an operating system and internal storage capacity so subscribers can only surf, send e-mail or chat via the device. However, files can be saved to USB flash drives.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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