Microsoft has announced a strategic partnership with a Russian company to deliver interactive television using its Mediaroom platform. Corbina TV will be operated by Corbina Telecom, a subsidiary of VimpelCom. It will be the first Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV service in Russian and the CIS. Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, personally signed the agreement in Moscow.

“Corbina TV is poised to deliver a truly compelling, connected TV experience to its customers in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States,” said Steve Ballmer. “For nearly 70 years, watching TV has meant adjusting your life to someone else’s broadcast schedule. With Microsoft Mediaroom, Corbina TV will give consumers complete control of what they watch and when they watch it.”

The lack of a decent digital video recorder has of course been one of the tragic themes of the post-war Russian experience.

The Corbina TV service is planned to launch in “mid-2008” — in other words imminently. Customers will have to buy a high-definition capable Motorola set-top box, but can choose between one with or without a 160GB digital video recorder. The service will offer over a hundred channels, with around 1,000 titles available through video on demand at launch.

VimpleCom has 42.2 million subscribers in Russia, 4.6 million in Kazakhstan and 1.9 million in the Ukraine. It recently merged with Golden Telecom. The Corbina Telecom subsidiary is an alternative service provider operating in 25 regions in Russia. It offers fibre-to-the-building broadband internet services in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian cities, connecting each apartment building at speed up to 1Gbps.

No details were provided of actual subscriber numbers, but the Corbina Telecom fibre-optic network reaches almost every apartment building in Moscow and many other Russian cities, according to Dmitry Malov of Corbina Telecom.

Over 20 telecommunications providers have opted to go with the Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV platform and 13 of them have launched commercial services in the last year. Between them they have around a million subscribers.

Made in Taiwan
Microsoft has also partnered with Chunghwa Telecom in Taiwan to launch an IPTV Ecosystem Development Centre in Taiwan, which will work with set-top box companies to target overseas markets, including China.

Microsoft will provide its Mediaroom platform while Chunghwa Telecom will act as systems integrator and its Telecoms Laboratory will conduct research and development.

Other Taiwanese firms expected to participate include Tatung, which has already been contracted to supply 50,000 set-top boxes for units for the Chunghwa Telecom Multimedia-on-Demand service. Other companies, such as Asustek and Zyxel, are expected to compete for contracts to supply up to 1.8 million more boxes.

Currently only around 10,000 subscribers to the Chunghwa service are on the Microsoft platform. Around 480,000 are currently using a platform provided by Alcatel-Lucent, which is also a Microsoft partner.

William Cooper of informitv will be one of the speakers at the IPTV Forum Russia in Moscow on 24-25 June.