BT's plan to deliver digital television over its broadband network could prove as underwhelming for customers as 3G mobile services were earlier this decade, according to David Williams, the chief executive of Avanti Screenmedia.
"Talk of high-definition television services delivered via broadband fans the flames of consumer expectations and sells more broadband subscriptions. Yet if consumers think they will get the same quality over the internet as they do through Freeview or Sky, they will be very disappointed. If you hype something up and then disappoint consumers, you can damage the market for two to three years," he said.
BT will launch its BT Vision television service before Christmas. Mr Williams has a vested interest in questioning the hype as in 2008 Avanti is due to launch a satellite to sell digital television capacity.
His comments follow a warning from James Murdoch, Sky's chief executive, that BT could find the television sector a "scary place".
Mr Williams argues that the copper lines that connect BT's exchanges to customers' homes is not sufficient to watch high- quality live television as it cannot cope with the ebb and flow of demand. The signal weakens with distance from the exchange, meaning only an "urban elite" might receive a high-quality service, he added. He compared the hype over the service to 3G, which has struggled to overcome an early reputation for unreliable services.
A BT spokesman said most people in the UK would have no problem receiving BT Vision, but admitted matching the quality of traditional television was a major challenge for BT.