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Bharti Airtel appears to have quietly piloted a Chromecast clone called Inferno, in Gurgaon, powered by TV streaming startup Teewe. It’s worth noting that Teewe, which was launched exclusively on Snapdeal, is currently unavailable on the site, marked as ‘sold out’, although the device is up for pre-orders on Teewe’s own site. It is priced at Rs 1,999, which, given the product, is a reasonable price, given the build quality of the product. The product appears to be subsidised for Airtel Broadband users in Gurgaon, priced at Rs 500.

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I have a Teewe demo unit, and while trying to search for the app on the Google Play store, I chanced upon the Airtel Inferno app, which published on the Play Store by Teewe. Funnily enough, the Airtel Inferno app connects to the Teewe device: the app doesn’t make a distinction between whether the device has been purchased from Airtel or directly from Teewe.

This appears to be a part of Teewe’s ‘Enterprise’ services, wherein it white-labels the product and service. The pitch: telecom operators and ISPs will get “proven 50-60% data usage via HD”, and worryingly, “deeply embedded granular data on every aspect of content/usage’, with a ‘single view of customers’.

What is Teewe?

Teewe is a device which connects to your HDTV’s HDMI port, and allows playing of content from your mobile handset or your desktop/laptop on your TV set, over your WiFi connection. Essentially, there are two components to this product which Teewe brings together, in the same manner that Chromecast does: The software, which works as a media manager, and the device, which allows receipt and management of content over WiFi.

Software like the (open sourced) XBMC player and Plex (which was initially built as a modification of XBMC) have allowed converting TV sets into media centres for years, and streaming to these media centres over WiFi, using the DLNA/UPnP protocol. If you look around, the market is flushed with devices that allow streaming content to TV over WiFi: from Roku and EvoTV to millions (I’m exaggerating) of devices with Android as an operating system, on which you can run XBMC or Plex. Even in terms of devices, there are two variants: the smart TV boxes, with additional storage space and the ability to connect a USB device for extra storage, and the sticks, which are similar to what Chromecast and Teewe provide. Note that Xiaomi has its own Smart TV box, called Mi Box, which is in Chinese language only (last I checked) while Mozilla is also launching a Firefox OS-based streaming stick Matchstick in January 2015. A few things about Teewe:

– Setup: The device is a little bulky (about twice the width of a Chromecast), and if your HDMI ports are far too close together, it negates access to some of the ports. Thankfully, Teewe comes with a wire extender that addresses this issue. The device setup is smooth and can be completed in a minute or less, as long as you have the app. The process involves connecting the device to the app, and connecting the WiFi connection to both, to enable streaming.

– Usage: Teewe scans your device for videos and displays them according to type of content. It allow users to play music, video and videos stored on device.

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– External content: YouTube gets a special tab, and unlike Chromecast, it doesn’t include external apps. We used a Teewe device but with an Inferno app, and it worked. What was most impressive: the curation of content from YouTube as TV shows and movies, that allows easy access to content and helps bypass the clunkly discovery process on YouTube, where you need to know what you’re looking for, if you want to find it. From the movies listed on Teewe, I tried the movie Don, which was a one-click play on a HDTV.

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Serendipitous discovery on YouTube is only via recommended content, after you’ve chosen to watch a video. Playback might need some work: I couldn’t skip to the middle of a movie without it beginning over. Another niggle that Teewe/Inferno will have to deal with is managing multiple user accounts: I have three Google accounts, and the one I use for YouTube wasn’t the one I downloaded the app with. It wasn’t possible to switch to another account for catching up on, say, Vice, which I watch regularly.

What is Airtel doing?

While Airtel (via the COAI) is trying to restrict Internet services on mobile by lobbying to get content providers to pay it to make content available to users, thereby replication the VAS situation, it’s interesting to see it also provision the similar services over WiFi, where it doesn’t really monetize additional usage significantly.

The company’s broadband operations have failed to grow, and have been stuck at around the 1-1.4 million mark. IPTV, for Airtel, has failed, and the company has chosen DTH over IPTV for its media distribution business. We wonder if this partnership with Teewe is an attempt to create a semi-closed content delivery system, where it can provision open-Internet based services, but also try and provide additional paid services as a value-add. Airtel hasn’t bundled in any of its own services yet into the Inferno app, but that could be a part of the plan: you will probably see Wynk on Inferno, and maybe even other Airtel broadband services such as BigFlix.

However, the space will, in all probability, take a slightly different approach: of content apps enabling integration with devices, instead of a one-app-to-rule-them-all approach. Spuul, for example, allows streaming of its content over the Chromecast device, something which will happen only if Teewe reaches scale. Even with that, we wonder whether Airtel will expect a ‘provisioning fee’ from companies like Spuul, for them to be provisioned on Inferno.

So, if you have to choose between Teewe and Airtel’s Inferno (what a terrible name, given the fact that Inferno means hell), we would recommend choosing Teewe:

– It’s potentially more independent than Inferno. You never know with these telecom operators and their ‘Data VAS’ obsessions. And in case you’ve forgotten what MVAS is like, read this.

– We don’t quite like the idea of Teewe usage data being given to telecom operators.

– Teewe has a desktop/laptop app, which Airtel Inferno, based on its website, doesn’t appear to have.