ViewQwest to bring VPN service, 4K media box to the world
By Keith Liu September 1, 2015
- Offers VPN services through Android-based 4K-ready media player
- Allows users to bypass restrictions imposed by local ISPs, regulators
COUCH potatoes who can’t wait to stream the latest movies from Hulu Plus or watch TV shows from Netflix have always had to jump through technological barriers to do so, since these US-based content services aren’t officially available in markets like Singapore and Malaysia.
This would typically involve signing up for a private VPN (virtual private network) service, along with a US-based credit card or local address and contact number … and a pretty fast Internet connection.
Singapore-based broadband service provider ViewQwest has just simplified that whole process with a new streaming media player that connects your television directly to a whole slate of such over-the-top (OTT) services from countries like China and the United States, covering a breadth of content that ranges from movies and TV series, to sports and children’s entertainment.
Examples include the aforementioned Netflix and Hulu, Sling, HBO Go, PPTV, LeTV and BBC iPlayer.
According to Forrester Research, video consumption through such online services is booming. In a recent report, the research firm noted that 90% of US online adults ages 18 to 34 watch online video on a weekly basis, and just over two-thirds of 35- to 54-year-olds do the same.
ViewQwest’s new TV 4K device is an Android-based box that comes with its ‘Freedom VPN’ service built in, allowing users to bypass access restrictions imposed by local Internet service providers (ISPs) and in some cases, even telecommunication regulators.
For S$299 (US$213), the device itself is sold with 12 months’ worth of its Freedom VPN service included. After the year is over, users who wish to continue using the box will have to subscribe to the VPN service on a monthly basis.
This is the ISP’s third iteration of the ViewQwest TV. Previous models required users to be a subscriber of the company’s broadband service in order to enjoy Freedom VPN.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) at the recent launch event in Singapore, ViewQwest chief executive officer Vignesa Moorthy said this is the first time it’s offering the VPN access to non-subscribers.
“Traditionally if you wanted to be able to enjoy our VPN [service], you would have needed to terminate your current provider and switch.
“Now we’re saying, fine you’re stuck [in a two-year contract], we’ll still enable you – hopefully through that, we build a relationship with you,” he said.
Taking it a step further, Vignesa told DNA that the device and VPN service aren’t restricted to just Singapore.
“This is a global offering, you can purchase this box and use it anywhere in the world,” he said.
In Malaysia, the company is already working with a distributor to launch the product in the near future.
It is currently testing the service with 100 devices connected to the Telekom Malaysia’s UniFi high-speed broadband network, but interested parties can buy it directly from ViewQwest’s website from Sept 6 onwards.
Make no mistake, however: This cannot be compared to a cable TV subscription or services that stream content from a hosted server (which in many cases, are in breach of copyright regulations).
Vignesa said his company is simply providing connectivity directly to these branded content services.
“We’re a network solutions provider. We are manipulating the network, we have no content agreements with anybody, we’re not purchasing content, and we’re not distributing content.
“We see this as next-generation media – content that people would like to access that’s not available to them, so how can we value add to our service offering by enabling these services? That’s why Freedom VPN came about,” he added.
Access however, is just one piece of the puzzle. Users will still have to find ways to subscribe and pay for these services, since many of them would require a payment method that originates from a country where the service is locally available.
There is also the question on whether this service would one day come under fire from local regulators or cable TV networks for allowing such unfettered access.
To that, Vignesa responded, “If the regulator in the country wants to say no, then tell us to block all VPN providers and we will comply,” referring to the numerous competing VPN service providers around.
He said as long as ViewQwest sticks to providing a network service, the regulator isn’t likely to comment.
The ViewQwest TV 4K, as the name suggests, supports the latest 4K high-definition screens (4096 x 2160 pixels) and can play back 4K-quality content.
It is powered by an Amlogic S812 quad-core processor with an octa-core Mali graphics chip, along with 2GB of memory and 8GB of storage.
Since it runs on Android 4.4.1 KitKat (with an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop coming soon), users can download and install new apps and games from Google’s Play Store, essentially turning the TV into a large tablet and game console of sorts.
Controlling the on-screen interface requires the use of the bundled remote control which includes a tiny trackpad for moving the mouse pointer around the screen.
If users just want the hardware, there are dozens of alternative Android-based boxes (many powered by the same Amlogic chipset) which can be purchased online, although not all of them support 4K quality. But they do cost less, averaging at around US$100.
What makes the ViewQwest offering different is the VPN service and the local technical support provided.
Vignesa (pic above) didn’t give a projection of how many ViewQwest TV boxes the company is planning to sell, but he has ordered an initial batch of 10,000 units.
For him, the goal is to make it easy for everyone to get access to the service and to gain valuable feedback.
“We’re testing the waters in Singapore, we want to understand how to develop the product further, enhance the operating system and all that – and we will start global deliveries, even use [online retailers] Amazon as a platform or Lazada,” he said.
Going global is the natural next step. “Obviously Singapore is limited, we have to see what else we can do outside of Singapore.”
Within the city state, the company is aiming for a 5% share of the broadband market, or about 100,000 subscribers. It’s still a far cry from the 10,000 consumer subscribers it currently has, but Vignesa said subscriber growth is at a “nice, steady rate,” noting that ViewQwest is still a niche provider and will never dominate the marketplace.
Unlike its rival MyRepublic which is planning to bid for a 4G (Fourth Generation) network licence to become Singapore’s fourth mobile carrier, ViewQwest remains focused on serving a small subset of customers for now.
Commenting on such plans, Vignesa said, “I hope people can learn to walk before they run.
“[The] experiences of some providers have been less than satisfactory from a customer standpoint – I think they should be fixing those problems before embracing new infrastructure,” he added.
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