Alcatel and Microsoft have announced a global collaboration agreement to accelerate the availability of IPTV or internet protocol television services.

The alliance aims to offer broadband service providers a one-stop shop for the technology for next-generation television services.

“Together, Alcatel and Microsoft will usher in a new generation of exciting entertainment, information and communication services, enabled by the marriage of powerful broadband networks and advanced software,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft.

“Alcatel’s deep understanding of broadband service providers and leadership in broadband solutions and integration make it a natural partner for us. Aligning our efforts will give customers an unmatched network-access, software-delivery and systems-integration solution.”

The companies will derive revenues for their respective products and services and say that they expect the agreement will “help expand the quickly-growing ecosystem of IPTV industry partners and enable telecommunication providers to take advantage of global economies of scale fuelled by large-scale IPTV deployments planned across the globe.”

It is claimed that the integrated solution from Alcatel and Microsoft will help service providers reduce deployment costs and shorten time-to-market as they transition to mass-market deployments of IPTV.

They say that consumers will benefit from receiving unique, seamless, personalised services through multiple devices, including the television, with applications including on-demand video streaming, interactive TV, video and voice communication, photo, music and home video sharing and online gaming.

The two companies plan to pursue a series of joint initiatives, including developing and customising new applications to meet the unique needs of different cultures and markets around the world. They also plan to enhance application and network resilience for better reliability in large-scale deployments, integrate content, security and digitial rights management, manage quality of service, and provide end-to-end integration of management systems.

“We are committed to integrate the current Alcatel video solutions with Microsoft TV IPTV Edition, resulting in a market-leading integrated offering,” said Serge Tchuruk, chairman and chief executive of Alcatel.

The Microsoft TV division and Alcatel both have teams working in Mountain View, California, and according to Alan Mottran of Alcatel, “walks across the street are going to become even more frequent. We are going to be spending a lot of time at each other’s houses”.

The two companies have been working closely together for a couple of years and have apparently been having ongoing discussions for quite some time. “The recent momentum in the market has allowed us to really get to know each other,” said Moshe Lichtman of Microsoft TV.

“This partnership is really a relationship that will move the whole industry more quickly towards the more widespread delivery of IPTV and through those deployments enable an amazing new generation of entertainment and communications services for consumers in their homes,” said Lichtman.

News of the possibility of such an alliance was first reported by informitv at the end of 2004. Alcatel is involved in the integration of an IPTV roll-out at SBC, which has a $400m ten-year deal with Microsoft. SBC is currently seeking regulatory approval to merge with AT&T.

“The worlds of communications and computing are rapidly converging, not so much in a single device as in the network,” commented Dr William Cooper of informitv. “While companies such as Alcatel and Microsoft might have previously appeared to be unlikely partners, such an alliance makes some sense in a world in which telcos seem to be falling over each other to embrace video services and create the next generation of interactive television.”

What customers want, said Alan Mottran of Alcatel, “is some assurance that it’s all going to work, because big bets are currently being placed in the industry on how this is all going to come together.” He said the partnership was a challenge to the industry to “come and join us and make a difference,” adding “We’re doing this because its the right way to move this industry to its inflection point.”

However, such a potentially powerful partnership will undoubtedly put pressure on other, smaller, systems integrators and middleware providers.

It also poses an interesting question about the future of Alcatel’s own Open Media Platform, part of its Open Media Suite of middleware. Alcatel insists that it will continue support its existing customers but adds that it will explore with them ways in which they can benefit from the Microsoft partnership and going forward it will offer a joint solution with Microsoft.

“It’s not really a question of OMP versus Microsoft,” claimed Mottran. “It’s more a question of getting together all the intellectual property rights that we have created and the teams that are now being bonded and finding the best total cost of solution to get out onto the market.”

This solution will be a proposition that is exclusive to Alcatel and Microsoft, although the companies say that they will share details of interfaces to help “build the ecosystem”.