Bell Atlantic to launch trial of video network in N.J. Firm seeks to compete in cable TV industry with digital technology

November 30, 1995|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Bell Atlantic Corp.'s aspirations of competing with the cable television industry will take a significant step forward Dec. 18 when it launches a long-delayed technical trial of its futuristic digital video network in Dover Township, N.J.

The Philadelphia-based telephone company announced yesterday that the free trial will involve 200 households.

The trial will be the first public test of the digital technology Bell Atlantic is betting on to provide the fully interactive voice, video and data network of the future. Other tests have either focused on less sophisticated interim technologies or have been conducted entirely with employees and retirees.

Bell Atlantic said the "video dial tone" test would last six to eight weeks and would be followed by the gradual rollout of commercial service in the community.

Earlier this year, the company predicted it would be able to begin service in late summer or early fall, but the launch has been delayed by a series of technical difficulties.

The delays have raised questions about whether Bell Atlantic will be able to deliver the vast array of new services it has been promising to a significant number of customers before the end of the decade.

Marty Lafferty, president of the programming provider FutureVision, said Bell Atlantic has told him that it expects to begin the trial Dec. 18 and wind it up Jan. 22. If no major bugs are discovered, his company will then begin signing up paying customers, said Mr. Lafferty, whose Conshohocken, Pa.-based company will provide 112 of the 384 channels of programming on the system.

Mr. Lafferty said the first-stage test with a handful of employees uncovered a number of technical problems in the software and )) the hardware.

However, Mr. Lafferty said the test had shown a distinct improvement in picture quality.

Bell Atlantic said yesterday that the response to its initial mailing seeking volunteers had been encouraging, with 73 calls from the first batch of 232 postcards sent out.

The company said the volunteers would put the network through "rigorous stress testing."

The video dial tone service that Bell Atlantic is offering in New Jersey is not the "video on demand" service that company

executives have said is their goal. Mr. Lafferty said the servers, or high-capacity computers, that would be required to provide videos whenever a customer wanted to watch are too expensive at this time.

In the Dover Township system, Bell Atlantic is not directly providing the programs itself but is selling capacity to independent video providers.

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