Motorola Preps Phone-Enabled TV Remote


Hello? It's your TV remote calling.

Motorola is adding telephony features to its rechargeable remote control for IPTV set-top boxes that would allow subscribers to pick up and place phone calls while channel-surfing in front of the television.

The product is expected to begin production in the fourth quarter of 2009, and could be offered to IPTV subscribers by the early part of 2010.

AT&T is Motorola's biggest U.S. customer for IPTV set-tops. The telco had more than 1.3 million U-verse TV subscribers at the end of March.

The Motorola R331 VIP rechargeable remote, which the company announced at CES in January, already includes a speaker. The device comes with a base station, and includes a "find" feature that uses a radio-frequency signal to trigger the handset to play a ringtone and display a flashing light to help locate a lost remote.

Mostafa Reza, product line manager in Motorola's IP Video Solutions group, said voice-enabling the remote will require adding a microphone and Bluetooth wireless connectivity to let the base-station cradle communicate with the handset.

"If I had to put VoIP into the set-top box, the cost would be so astronomical nobody would want to add that," he said. "But I can add that into the remote pretty cost-effectively."

Reza added that Motorola has been working with Microsoft to add the drivers for the Mediaroom IPTV platform necessary to provide caller ID on the TV. AT&T uses Microsoft Mediaroom as the foundation for U-verse TV.

Reza said Motorola has analyzed the business case for offering a voice-enabled remote - and while he declined to share details, he claimed the numbers work.

"Of course it adds cost, but the real question is, Is the customer willing to pay an extra XYZ dollars for this feature?" he said.

In addition to being rechargeable, the R331 VIP remote is capable of learning functions, to control other consumer-electronic devices, and the base station includes a digital LED clock.