The set-top box that’s highly likely to be used by T-Mobile for its upcoming TV service has now been spotted passing through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The listing went live on November 8 and indicates T-Mobile is now a step closer to officially launching its TV solution in the US.
FCC listings can be a little hit and miss when it comes to new information and on this occasion while the new listing does not provide anything too substantial, it does include external images of the set-top box. This is in addition to the user manual which among other things, all but confirms the set-top box will be branded as the “T-Mobile Mini” and utilizing the VM2011C model number. The box itself is fairly nondescript considering it is just a small black box with the T-Mobile logo appearing on the front of the device. Moving to the rear of the set-top box and the selection of ports included do further support the idea this will be an internet-only streaming box as it lacks a coaxial connection port. Instead, the set-top box comes equipped with a USB port, an Ethernet port, the main power port, as well as both HDMI in and out ports - suggesting users will be able to connect additional devices in the home directly to the set-top box.
Background: T-Mobile entering the TV frame has been on the agenda ever since the self-appointed un-carrier announced it had acquired Layer3 TV in a deal understood to be worth $325 million. Since the initial announcement, details on the service T-Mobile plans to offer have been coming through routinely, but slowly and typically without providing any significant details. This latest FCC listing is a prime example of this as although it does offer some new information, it actual raises more questions than it answers. Due to this it still remains unclear what sort of TV service consumers can or should expect from T-Mobile.
What is clear though is that this box only represents the first stage of the company’s TV product and therefore should be viewed more as the starting point than a finished product. For example, while it has always been understood T-Mobile’s TV solution would be highly linked to mobile, the company recently revealed the first stage would arrive in the form of a broadband unit designed solely for use in the home. Presumably, the one specifically detailed here in this new FCC filing.
Impact: The arrival of a T-Mobile TV service could prove to be an interesting development for consumers and especially if T-Mobile adopts a similar stance to TV as it has to its wireless mobile product. However, the FCC filing, along with recent comments made by the company indicate consumers should not really expect the same sort of market impact or un-carrier momentum to being with. For example, it seems highly likely the initial version of the TV service offered by T-Mobile will be very similar to the service already offered by Layer3 TV. To the point where the two might be somewhat indistinguishable at first, outside of software branding and marketing materials.
Take this box as further proof of this as the design is not that dissimilar to the box already available from Layer3 TV with the exception that it looks a little more basic and compact - basically, more generic and symptomatic of a white-label solution. In fact, this is exactly what this box is considering it was manufactured and registered with the FCC by KAONMEDIA -- a Pay-TV white-label device maker -- on behalf of T-Mobile. In addition, while there are no full images of the remote control in the FCC listing the user manual does provide a limited look at the top portion of the remote control and this is identical to the remote control that’s currently showcased on the Layer3 TV website, with the same overall design and the same key buttons and features. Further adding to the building evidence that the arrival of T-Mobile’s TV service will be more of a branding exercise to begin with while the company fully pads out the service.
There’s also the possibility this will not be the only box launched by T-Mobile either at first, or over time, considering Layer3 TV offers both a standard version of its set-top box along with a “Lite” one. Needless to say, the “Lite” branding seems to tally very neatly with the “Mini” branding detailed here. This seems unlikely to be a coincidence and does further lend to the possibility of a standard set-top box becoming available from T-Mobile along with the Mini version. For reference, the difference between the standard and Lite versions of the Layer3 TV boxes comes down to wireless - the Lite model is wireless while the standard box requires a wired connection. While T-Mobile’s solution is largely understood to be built on a wireless-first approach, that's not quite the same as the wireless difference noted between the Layer3 TV boxes which is more relevant to how the box connects to the internet. So it is possible a similar distinction will be in effect if two different set-top boxes arrive from T-Mobile, although it's equally as possible there could be different defining features between two boxes. If no secondary (technically, primary) box is launched then it remains unclear why T-Mobile has opted for the “Mini” branding shown in the user manual.
In the grander scene of things, T-Mobile previously explained that it wants this TV service to be highly entwined with its general rollout of a 5G network in the US and at which point the service is expected to become a more robust solution which includes varying form factors and platforms, including mobile. While that is expected to happen at some point in 2019, the company has made it clear it will launch the initial stage of its service, presumably with this T-Mobile Mini box before the end of this year. A time-frame which not only means the service should officially launch within the next few weeks, but one that now seems to be even more more on track following the FCC's approval of the set-top box. Although based on the similarities between this and the Layer3 TV option, approval was unlikely to have ever been much of a concern.