The new technology features a sleeker online program guide that includes picture-in-picture viewing of what's on each channel, more high-definition channels -- with more to come later in 2009 -- and a digital PVR (personal video recorder) service, a significant feature that is not available in current the MTS-TV service.
After testing the technology in Portage la Portage last year MTS is now ready to start rolling out MTS HDTV in a soft launch throughout Winnipeg this year.
"This will be the most advanced television viewing experience in Canada," said Kelvin Shepherd, president of MTS consumer markets division. "It will provide a new level of control over when and what you watch on television."
MTS originally fired up its digital television service in 2003 and has since gone on to capture about 33 per cent of the Winnipeg market with more than 84,000 subscribers.
Analysts believe it is the largest television market share any telco has achieved in a North American urban market of Winnipeg's size.
Eamon Hoey, a Toronto-based telecommunications consultant, said one of the reasons MTS has been so successful in the television business is because of the compactness of its market, which is so dominated by one city.
"Telcos still operate on circuit switches so it needs to have equipment in the field," said Hoey.
Shepherd would not be specific as to how much MTS has invested in the upgrade but he said the company has a $150 million capital spending budget for Manitoba in 2009 and the new HDTV service is an important piece of that. In addition to Winnipeg and the Portage test market, MTS intends to expand into Brandon this year.
As was the case when the original television service was launched, MTS will introduce the next generation into sporadic Winnipeg neighbourhoods through the course of the year.
Shepherd said it is available to about 20 per cent of the city now, but would not specify which areas.
There will be more than 250 channels available including 30 high-definition channels -- about 50 per cent more than is now the case.
While there is some functionality that current MTS-TV subscribers will not be able to use, there are a number of additional ones that Shepherd said is probably the most exciting element of the technology.
MTS is the first company in the country to deploy the Alcatel-Lucent/Microsoft Mediaroom Internet Protocol TV technology.
The basic price of the enhanced service will be the same as the current fees, but subscribers will have to pay up for the additional HD channels as well as $5 per month per PVR with each TV requiring its own PVR (although that service can be switched on or off from month to month).
Eventually Shepherd said there will be more and more interface between the set-top television box, the telephone and the Internet.
Iain Grant, a principle with Seaboard Group, an independent marketing and technology research company, said MTS's inroads into the television service business has been impressive.
"MTS has been leading the charge among telcos in the television market," said Grant.
But he said the world of the television broadcaster and distributor is changing with increasing availability of all sorts of television services on the Internet.
"Telephone companies have the customers and a television service is the next best thing to address," he said. "But the telcos are going to have to reinvent themselves."