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Broadband 50 - December 2002

Tue, 08/16/2005 - 8:00pm


Welcome to the second installment of the Broadband 50, a collection of companies, people and technologies that the editors of CED (with help from Multichannel News’ Matt Stump and Karen Brown) believe will shape, define and influence the broadband industry in 2003.

Once again, we enlisted the all-knowing and all-powerful Google search engine to provide a “scientific” method of ranking this year’s 50. Like last year, we used Google’s advanced “exact phrase” feature to generate more consistent results.

Though we tried our darnedest to create an all-ranging (and fair) list that displays the tops in broadband–and argued with each other over our choices–we’re sure that readers like you will think we missed something. By all means, drop us a note and let us in on who you’d add to the list and why. We’ll share those results in a future issue.


41. Covad Communications
Competing in DSL’s anti-competitive arena
Google Factor: 394
Last year: 2,750

There are few early arrivals left from the initial heyday of the broadband bubble. In fact, on the telco side, the only ones left are the monolithic ILEC providers that have bullied their way back into positions of monopolistic strength.

However, there are a couple of competitors that remain as thorns in the incumbents’ sides, most notably Covad Communications. In the early stages of broadband’s introduction, Covad was an aggressive competitor to the telcos, promising unprecedented network expansion and following an ambitious plan to bring competitive DSL service to consumers across the nation.

Covad’s eyes clearly were bigger than its stomach, and the company paid the price for its aggressive strategy. Its business model centered on providing service over copper networks controlled by the very companies they were competing against–the ILECs–and incumbent reticence to comply with unbundling mandates drove companies like Covad into bankruptcy.

But surprisingly, it didn’t mean the end of Covad. The company bucked the odds, and emerged from bankruptcy, albeit as a much smaller entity. Today, Covad’s model of wholesale broadband access endures.

If it is to survive and flourish, a few things must fall into place. Its business model still relies heavily on access to ILEC network elements, so it must still move that mountain. Covad now has trained its eyes on the retail market, so it must find a way to trim operating costs and develop strong partnerships there. –DH

42. Digeo Inc.
Making media centers a reality
Google Factor: 479
Last year: Not on list

Moxi Media Family
The Moxi Media Center Companion, Moxi Media Center and Moxi Media Center Extension boxes make up the Moxi family.

Cable operators are excited about the prospect of media centers. The concept of a rich, gateway-style set-top feeding content and data to a network of smaller, cheaper thin-client boxes is an ideal structure for MSOs looking to control costs, while still providing service to multiple TVs within a subscriber’s home.

After a quiet development period, Digeo Inc. is today leading the way toward making the media center concept a reality. The company marked its emergence from stealth mode by acquiring fellow developer Moxi Digital, and combining intellectual properties to create the makings of an initial media center reference design. The next step in the process is getting cable’s stalwart box makers on board, and Digeo has secured development deals with both Motorola Broadband and Scientific-Atlanta. In doing so, it’s circumvented many of the issues with conditional access that have kept newer box technologies from finding their way into the market.

The major issue so far: cost. At a time when operators are under increasing pressure to trim costs, and retreat to technologies that utilize current thin-client set-top boxes, shelling out hundreds more dollars for a rich media center-type of set-top is unrealistic. Digeo’s box and client costs will need to descend into reasonable territory if we’re going to see any deployments of scale by MSOs. So far, only Charter has signed on to deploy the Digeo platform. However, that agreement should be taken with a grain of salt; both Digeo and Charter feed from the same trough–Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures. –DH

43. MetaTV
Building an interactive platform
Google Factor: 365
Last year: Not on list

MetaTV portal technology
MetaTV is developing portal technology
for tomorrow’s multi-source
interactive services.

Operator momentum for two-way interactive television has understandably waned a bit, replaced by operator focus on delivering advanced high-speed data and VOD. But despite forecasts that suggest iTV deployments might actually happen in earnest in the 2004-2005 range, activity today continues around developing interactive systems that will serve as the groundwork of iTV tomorrow.

MetaTV is one interactive software developer with an eye to the future, with the luxury of having financial backing from some of the industry’s strongest players.

One of the main hurdles interactive services must overcome is the multi-source nature of all the content that will make up the kernels of cable operator interactive platforms. MetaTV is taking on this issue directly, designing a system to support interactive services that utilize content from disparate sources, culling it all into a workable form and automating the process of turning that content into interactive applications. It’s all pulled together into a single point of reference, a kind of interactive portal that centralizes all of the potential interactive functionality.

MetaTV would be lumped into one of a handful of ambitious interactive developers if it wasn’t for all of the industry support it currently claims. Cox, in addition to inking deployment deals with MetaTV for iTV services, is a major investor. As is Comcast, which is tied to the company through seed money as well as board membership. Add in alliances with companies like Liberate, OpenTV, Worldgate, SeaChange, BigBand, N2 Broadband, Motorola, S-A and others, and MetaTV is carving out its own place in interactive TV’s future–whatever that may look like. –DH

44. TVN Entertainment Corp.
Covering both sides of the VOD fence
Google Factor: 372
Last year: Not on list


The view from TVN HQ.

Concurrent, InDemand, nCUBE and SeaChange weren’t the only firms with video-on-demand ties to benefit from Diva Systems’ long good-bye. TVN Entertainment, a VOD and pay-per-view content player based in Burbank, Calif., also got into the act in 2002, scoring business with former Diva affiliates Charter Communications and Insight Communications.

In one fell swoop, those additions boosted TVN’s VOD footprint by more than 30 markets, complementing business already earned with MSOs such as Comcast Corp., Cablevision Systems, Mediacom, and with overbuilders Altrio Communications and Astound Broadband.

TVN’s corner is bolstered by the fact that its business touches both sides of the VOD fence: content transport and content aggregation.

The heart of TVN’s VOD technology is found in its Digital Content Express suite of technology, allowing for the safe delivery of digital VOD content. ADONISS (Automated Digital Online Network Interactive Scheduling System), meanwhile, serves as TVN’s asset management and scheduling software platform. TVN also takes care of video encoding, considered an art of its own, internally, rather than sending it out-of-house.

On the content front, TVN’s library is stacked with programming that touches all age groups, from children’s programming to adult. Plus, it has everything in between, distributing movies for Hollywood studios, special language programming, and subscription VOD titles for the likes of HBO, Showtime and Starz! –JB

45. Navic Networks
Hitting the bull’s-eye
Google Factor: 358
Last year: Not on list

After navigating down a long, dark road dotted with product announcements but no deployments, Navic finally had something to crow about when Time Warner Cable’s Oceanic division in Hawaii announced late in 2002 that it was rolling out Navic’s interactive TV technology.

Oceanic will actually use two Navic software applications, including: Audience Polling, which uses interactive, graphical banners containing questions or opinion polls during TV programs, advertisements and special shows; and Addressable Advertising, which allows advertisers to target specific groups of digital viewers with tailored promotions, interactive offers, links to television commerce applications, and instant access to on-demand content.

The software and apps can perform audience measurement by collecting tuner data, and can also measure EPG events, broadcast triggers, tuner utilization, video and audio status, response to promotions for commerce, VOD and IPPV. The addressable advertising function enables operators and advertisers to distribute promotional content to targeted groups of set-tops based on detailed anonymous profiles generated from multiple data sources, including viewership history, demographic and psychographic data, and set-top configuration and capabilities.

Going beyond that, Navic software allows an operator to manage set-top devices by enabling remote monitoring of device conditions, diagnostics, software configuration management, modular software upgrades, and automatic detection and support of peripheral devices. In addition, Navic’s data infrastructure provides a means to deliver software upgrades that requires significantly less bandwidth than legacy systems.

These capabilities, once proven in Oceanic, have the potential to help MSOs garner additional incremental revenue (or reduce churn among existing customers), as well as lower the cost of operations by allowing for remote device management. Whether that comes to fruition in the early part of 2003 is suspect, but in the long-term, it’ll be crucial. –RB

46. Stargus Inc.
An inside look
Google Factor: 185
Last year: Not on list

With virtually every cable operator now reaping the financial benefits of high-speed data deployments, it’s only natural that they’re slowly beginning to understand the underlying dynamics of the data traffic that’s flowing over their networks.

What they’re finding isn’t pretty. Often, a tiny percentage of the users are gobbling up a huge amount of the available bandwidth. Some rogue users are out there, using software to “uncap” their modems, allowing them to run at lightning-fast speeds. In the meantime, just to stay caught up, cable operators are buying more CMTSs and T-1s to connect to the Internet.

To give cable system operators a bit more vision into what’s going on in their networks, Stargus has written software that provides intelligent network management and planning exclusively for DOCSIS infrastructure and IP services. The CableEdge/Optimizer, the only DOCSIS-specific network optimization software, is designed to maximize the capacity, performance and reliability of existing HFC networks by continuously monitoring all the DOCSIS compliant devices in a network to identify, isolate and correlate faults, congestion, usage and problems.

Its expert system then provides intelligent operating recommendations to resolve the issues, ranging from changing the interface settings on a particular CMTS to identifying specific HFC components that are not operating properly.

This form of network intelligence will become increasingly important as cable operators struggle to reduce operating and capital expenses. Although Stargus isn’t the lone choice in this product category, the company is led by cable industry veterans hailing from such places as RoadRunner, AT&T Broadband and Shaw Communications. –RB

47. Syndeo Corp.
Call management gear for cable
Google Factor: 102
Last year: Not on list

Cable operators are at different stages in their network evolution to voice services, specifically in their quest to be able to offer them over an all-IP network. While operators linger in an in-between stage trying to bridge legacy Class 5 infrastructure into next-generation networks, the softswitch gains an increasingly vital role in operator migration strategies.

Of the current crop of softswitch and VoIP gear makers, Syndeo has quickly separated itself as a company offering tailored strategies to the cable operator. It’s at the forefront of creating the perception that today’s softswitches can offer more than just simple Class 5 switch replacement.

Syndeo claims its Syion platform differs from other stop-gap softswitch technologies in that it delivers a Class 5/local exchange softswitch, as opposed to other Class 4, long-distance trunking-type technologies. Because of that approach, it’s able to offer feature sets at the Class 5 level to potentially millions of subscribers. That capability is what cable operators will need to have if they hope to compete with entrenched providers in many of the markets where they plan to offer telephony service.

Further, Syndeo is backed by cable heavyweights like Comcast, Cox, AOL Time Warner, Rogers and Shaw. And with specific regard to cable’s telephony growth, Syndeo has closely aligned with the PacketCable movement. Today, the core element of the industry’s most watched PacketCable-based primary line IP telephony deployment–Comcast’s initial wireline VoIP residential project–is Syndeo’s Syion 426 Call Management Server. –DH

48. BigBand Networks Inc.
Striking up a broadband tune
Google Factor: 346
Last year: Not on list

BigBand’s BMR

It wasn’t that long ago when BigBand Networks had its coming-out party, singing tunes about the big plans it had in store for cable operators that were having trouble coming to technical grips with deploying advanced multimedia services. Well, it’s more than two years later, and BigBand has yet to disappoint. Since then, it has forged relationships, trials and/or deployments with a variety of MSOs, including Cox Communications, Rogers Cable, Blue Ridge Communications, AT&T Broadband (now part of Comcast Corp.) and Time Warner Cable.

While some startups have fallen on hard times, Redwood City, Calif.-based BigBand has managed to conjure up the cash it needs to survive and thrive. BigBand recently closed a $27 million round, raising its total funding pile to $57 million. Significantly, AOL Time Warner, whose MystroTV division is looking into the virtues of “switched” video technologies and what role they will have with network-based PVR services, contributed about $3 million more to BigBand’s pot.

Though BigBand’s Broadband Multimedia-Services Router (BMR) represents the hardware cornerstone of its business, the applications it has developed and is developing will closely mirror many cable operators will be deploying in 2003. In addition to its current suite of standard-definition grooming, HDTV, and ad-insertion apps, BigBand also carries a self-healing redundancy system for digital cable services, and has video-on-demand applications on its product roadmap. –JB

49. e-BOX Corp.
MPEG-4, anyone?
Google Factor: 32
Last year: Not on list

Japan-based joint venture e-BOX Corp. made a splash in March when it became the latest to embrace MPEG-4, a compression standard whose benefits include lower bit rates than its MPEG-2 cousin and the ability to create object-oriented content.

Instead of supporting MPEG-4 via vanilla, PC-based streaming applications, e-BOX’s edict is to create a digital platform, soup to nuts, for broadband networks that run video-on-demand and other interactive applications and channel bandwidth-intensive high-definition programming. To help it reach that goal, e-BOX has enlisted a wide range of tech firms to provide all the technology pieces required to create an end-to-end MPEG-4 broadband puzzle.

Pioneer Corp. and Sharp Corp. are contributing cable infrastructure and digital set-top expertise, with National Semiconductor Corp. pitching in the silicon. e-BOX also tapped Sigma Designs to supply the MPEG-4 decoder and video processing technology, and closely-held iVAST Inc. to provide its encoding, authoring, playback and system software. Last but not least, CMC Magnetics is adding its manufacturing background to the mix, and Modern VideoFilm Inc. is supplying post-production services.

All e-BOX seemed to be missing was a well-heeled MSO to champion the cause. Well, as it turns out, it has that, too. Comcast Corp. is an e-BOX advisor. In addition to supplying technical support and helping e-BOX define its architectural requirements, the MSO is expected to test the technology in field trials, perhaps as early as the first half of 2003. –JB

50. Movielink LLC
Internet VOD: Cable friend or foe?
Google Factor: 19
Last year: Not on list

Movielink screenshot

For a “soft launch,” Movielink’s introduction to some trial customers last month sure caused quite a stir in the mainstream media. Internet video-on-demand suddenly seemed so en vogue.

Movielink isn’t the first Internet movie service to hit broadband, but it does boast the largest library of “quality” (and legally-obtainable) on-demand content available via the Internet today. That’s what happens when a phalanx of major movie studios–including MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.–puts its collective money and muscles behind it.

If you question that kind of power, recall that it’s the strength of the movie studios that brought Intertainer to its knees as the iVOD trailblazer mounts a legal offensive against some Movielink backers, alleging, among other things, a price-fixing conspiracy.

The Movielink service itself apparently hasn’t worked out all the kinks, however. An early review from “Business Week” lamented long download times and sub par picture quality.

Still, the fact that Movielink can represent both content provider and gatekeeper should grab cable’s attention. On a friendly note, Movielink’s download now/play later rental service could drive cable modem subscriptions and give operators the “killer app” they covet. On the other hand, Movielink could also drive up operator network costs and move MSOs closer to a “byte-cap” model based on usage–a scenario that might irritate power users who are accustomed to cable’s all-you-can-eat, flat monthly fee for high-speed data services.

Movielink’s influence might also spread into MSO boardrooms, begging the question: will Movielink and its backers use this newfound leverage as a chit in their VOD and pay-per-view negotiations with cable operators? Stay tuned in 2003 to find out. –JB



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