IPTV still has some growing up to do
Dallas— If there is one general conclusion to be made about IPTV during the Telco TV show here, it's that as a market, IPTV isn't going anywhere soon. IPTV is still far from a mature technology. It is, in fact, several immature technologies.
That's not to say an ambitious provider can't integrate a functional system perfectly adequate at providing at least one high-definition video stream and Internet access and a voice service. Several providers have.
Simply matching the competing MSO service-for-service isn't adequate anymore, if it ever was, however. Adding HD video to voice and data is now just table stakes, people here agree, especially when you're the fourth or fifth video supplier in any market. The target has moved, and that has left some IPTV video providers stuck with systems that are architecturally constricted from doing more.
As a case in point, some early IPTV providers have already run into scaling problems with video on demand. Jeffrey Binder, the senior director of Motorola's Connected Home Solutions division (he joined Moto through the recent acquisition of VOD server maker Broadbus Technologies) told one Telco TV session audience that 80 percent of his operation's installations were forklift upgrades of IPTV systems that had hit a wall.
An IPTV provider has to be able to scale up (perhaps rapidly), and it has to differentiate itself. To that end, an IPTV provider has to be fully prepared to provide interactivity, targeted advertising, VOD, PVR or networked PVR, the ability to transmit content to different devices both within the home and without, and any number of applications, some of which may not even have been devised yet. Scores of companies were on the show floor with a variety of products that could provide some combination of those services.
No provider has to do all of that at once, of course, but when looking for an IPTV system, service providers need to build networks with enough inherent flexibility to do almost anything that might be required of them. Another alternative is to add technology that can provide the functionality previously lacking.
Few tier-2 or tier-3 telcos have the internal expertise to integrate an IPTV system on their own. Meanwhile, the vast majority of vendors in the IPTV space offer only parts of the whole. Whether the products from one will work with the products of another is a crapshoot, which is why some companies have been spending so much time and effort assuring interoperability with each other.
A few companies, such as Optibase and Tut Systems, can act as IPTV system integrators, but there are only a very, very small handful of companies able to do that, and the fact that each has only a modest complement of partners speaks to how fractured the vendor community remains. It's also indication of how difficult it could be for an operator to do its own IPTV system integration.
AT&T still intends to
introduce its U-Verse
service in 15 markets
before 2006 ends
AT&T is a notable case in IPTV system integration. Its approach to IPTV was and is incredibly ambitious - even AT&T itself might not have appreciated how ambitious it was being as it specified its U-Verse IPTV service with VDSL, H.264 (aka MPEG-4), and brand new IPTV middleware from Microsoft. The company remains sanguine it will be able to introduce the service in 15 more markets before the end of the year is out, but even if it hits that schedule, the rollout will have happened much later than AT&T imagined when it first started out two years ago.
And because of that ambitiousness, U-Verse won't be a model for other smaller telephone companies. The amount of cutting edge technology involved, and the extent of on-the-fly development AT&T had to engage in means the U-Verse architecture won't be quickly or easily replicated by any other carriers.
Few of the other implementations of IPTV are as functional and as flexible as IPTV could be. The whole industry is still groping toward an architecture (or even two architectures) as powerful, flexible, expandable and as extensible as, for example, HFC networks have historically proven themselves to be.
One speaker here remarked he'd thought that IPTV would experience explosive expansion in 2004, "…and here we are in 2006," he said.
It appears we'll probably still be here - in a place lacking explosions - all through 2007, too.
Thomson integrates IP-based triple play network; Falcon adopts it
With the integration of its middleware, softswitch, and CPE, Thomson said it can now offer carriers all the major components of a scalable, integrated IP-based system that can deliver voice, video, and data services.
Thomson's system is based on its SmartVision IPTV middleware and Cirpack VoIP softswitch, both of which were designed to support a migration to IMS. These are integrated with video headend equipment from the company's Grass Valley operation and Thomson's home gateways and set-top boxes.
Thomson mounts its Cirpack
softswitch on servers from IBM
Because the IPTV middleware and softswitch are so tightly integrated, Thomson said, it will be easy for a service provider to operate all phone features on the TV screen with the TV's remote control.
TV features such as picture in picture, video on demand, networked personal video recording and the ability to pause and resume live broadcasts are advanced.
The Thomson system incorporates a number of open interfaces the company said will allow its systems to integrate with service providers' other service platforms for voice mail, video mail, and e-mail.
The company said the same core network platforms can also manage mobile devices for telephony, such as dual mode Wi-Fi/GSM phones and mobile video devices.
Falcon Communications is sourcing more than 200 national television channels from an IP satellite service. The company is using the Grass Valley NetProcessor, Grass Valley ViBE MPEG-4 encoders, and Thomson's SmartVision IPTV service management platform and Thomson IP-MPEG4 SD/HD based set-top boxes.
Telco TV roundup
Here's a glance at some of the news making the rounds at this week's TelcoTV conference in Dallas:
• Verimatrix has inked a deal to supply security measures for a line of IPTV set-tops from Motorola Inc.
Under the agreement, Motorola will integrate the Verimatrix Video Content Authority System (VCAS) with its VIP1900, a series of set-tops that supports high- and standard-definition video in MPEG-2 and H.264 (MPEG-4) formats and on-board digital video recorders (DVRs).
That family also features the Linux-Java-based KreaTV Application Platform. Motorola acquired Sweden-based IPTV set-top maker Kreatel Communications earlier this year.
• Cavalier Telephone & TV has started to deliver video-on-demand content in MPEG-4 format to its base of IPTV customers in tandem with aggregation partner ViewNow. Initially, VOD fare in the advanced compression format is being delivered to Cavalier customers in Richmond, Va., though the telco expects to expand its MPEG-4 VOD footprint to other markets, including Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia and metro Washington D.C., by year-end.
• TVN Entertainment is spreading its wings (and market reach) with the launch of an MPEG-4-based video-on-demand delivery platform targeted to the IPTV sector.
The new advanced compression platform taps TVN's ADONISS asset management technology, which has historically been based on MPEG-2 compression and been deployed by a wide range of cable operators. The MPEG-4 service also employs a hierarchal encryption and watermarking approach.
"With everything moving to file-based distribution, our MPEG-4 technology is making it easier for telcos to enter the VOD market while simultaneously addressing compliance and security requirements with regard to industry and studio standards," said TVN Executive Vice President Jim Riley.
TVN said the new H.264 platform is presently being rolled out by a number of yet-unnamed U.S. telcos.
• RGB Networks and EGT Inc. have teamed up to offer video processing systems for telcos and other IPTV service providers.
The integration matches EGT's line of video encoders with RGB's Broadcast Network Processor (BNP), which handles elements such as video grooming, switching and digital program insertion.
"By integrating proven, best-in-class solutions from EGT and RGB, telco operators can build an end-to-end digital video processing solution, allowing them to deliver high-quality video to subscribers while generating revenue through the delivery of personalized video services," said Ramin Farassat, RGB's VP of product marketing.
• Amino Communications has integrated NDS Group's Synamedia Metro middleware with its AmiNET130 IPTV set-top platform. The AmiNET130 features H.264 support, while Synamedia Metro is an IPTV middleware based on NDS' widely deployed MediaHighway set-top box middleware application.
SES Americom okays Amino boxes for IPTV service
Satellite services provider SES Americom signed a multi-year agreement to source IPTV set-top boxes from Amino.
The deal is not exclusive; SES Americom fully intends to approve other STBs for the IPTV delivery system it is developing, called IP-Prime.
Amino will provide its AmiNET130 set-top box, which is capable of handling both standard and high definition video, in the MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 or AVC/H.264 formats.
IP-Prime is a centralized IPTV distribution service designed to help rural telephone companies easily upgrade to IPTV service. SES Americom said rural telephone companies (which it declined to identify) in three cities are in advanced trials of IP-Prime. At the beginning of the year, BellSouth agreed to trial the system (click for story), but it would be a bit of a stretch to call BellSouth a "rural" telephone company.
Microsoft CEO vows
to support VoIP in new Vista release
Microsoft is going to take another stab at VoIP, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
"We are going to enter the voice over IP market (in) the beginning of next year," Ballmer said at a Microsoft conference in Tokyo.
Microsoft has dabbled in VoIP before, but now the company intends to incorporate VoIP functionality in its operating systems, desktop applications and server software, and be unified with e-mail, video and instant messaging.
Details about how the company is planning to integrate VoIP capabilities, and what exactly that means, were scarce. The company could be doing anything from enabling an Internet-based VoIP service of its own to incorporating hooks for other commercial VoIP services.
Suddenlink calls on Sprint
Sprint Nextel has secured a five-year landline IP telephony deal with Suddenlink Communications.
Under the deal, Sprint Nextel will carry local and long-distance traffic for Suddenlink's residential and commercial customers, and provide features such as e911, network interconnection facilities, new and ported phone number management, directory assistance and relay systems.
That support, in turn, will enable Suddenlink to eventually offer residential VoIP services to about 2.2 million homes. The agreement also includes about 30,000 existing residential voice customers and roughly 1,000 small business customers who will be migrated to the Sprint Nextel platform.
"Our customers are demanding the triple-play of television, Internet and phone service - and this agreement puts us one step closer to responding to that demand," said Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent.
Suddenlink said it will launch VoIP services in 2007, and will make announcements on a market-by-market basis. More than 90 percent of the MSO's customers are based in eight states: Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, and California.
Sprint said its landline VoIP cable partnerships, which include Time Warner Cable, Mediacom Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Comcast, now cover more than 30 million homes passed.
Sprint also has a mobile services joint venture with Comcast Cable, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Advance Newhouse, and it's expected that other operators will join the mix.
Suddenlink has not yet announced if or how it might enter the mobile services space.
NGB bows VoIP installation platform
Next Generation Broadband (NGB) is aiming to do for VoIP what it has already done with high-speed cable modem services - ease and automate customer service hookups and lower installation costs.
The company's new VoIP Install System is designed to help cable operators automate the service activation process and other management tasks associated with adding a new voice customer.
NBG's Web-based VoIP Install System
Using NGB's SmartBridge technology, the VoIP Install system automatically recognizes a new multimedia terminal adapter (MTA) on the network, allows the customer to select calling plans and features, and starts the number porting process, when required, via a Web-based interface. That same application can also walk the customer through the purchasing process.
The platform also features a technician login, and onsite network diagnostic and service verification tools.
"By providing an automated, scalable solution, operators can preserve their margins and reduce install costs for voice customers by more than 20 percent, if used by their technicians, and by more than 80 percent if the customer self-installs," said NGB Executive Vice President Tiffany Norwood.
In addition to installation systems for traditional cable modem and VoIP services, NGB also markets other services such as pay-as-you-go broadband and an abuse management system.
NGB has yet to announce any trials or deployments for VoIP Install, but a company spokesman said the company is already in discussions with top operators.
Tektronix puts up $27 M for Minacom
Tektronix Inc. is buying testing specialist Minacom for $27 million. Minacom's test solutions for VoIP, voice, video, Internet, fax, and fax-over-IP provide active troubleshooting, provisioning, and automated service quality monitoring. Montreal-based Minacom markets those platform to cable operators, as well as wireless and VoIP service providers. It claims to have systems installed in more than 30 countries.
Minacom said its lineup of testing solutions will complement Tektronix's network monitoring systems.
"This acquisition will enable Tektronix to offer both active and passive probing capabilities for modern and legacy networks," added Tektronix SVP and GM Rich McBee, in a release.
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Cox Business Services sees $1 B in revenues on the horizon
Cox Business Services, the commercial services arm of Cox Communications, said it grew its customer base by 28 percent in the third quarter.
Cox Business Services attributed the growth in part to the greater availability of phone services, following recent commercial phone launches in Las Vegas, Cleveland, Middle Georgia, Central Florida, the Gulf Coast region (Florida), and Northwest Arkansas. Cox Business Services is "on track" to reach $1 billion in revenue in 2010, according to Cox Chief Financial Officer John Dyer.
The Cox Business Services repertoire includes dedicated transmission up to OC-192 speeds over fiber, T-1 and ATM, VPN, local and long distance voice services, video services, Web hosting and carrier access services, among others.
HomePNA 3.1 targets 320 Mbps
HomePNA has released a new set of specs that are designed to deliver data rates of up to 320 Mbps over existing home wiring.
The new HomePNA 3.1 spec, available to alliance members, is designed to distribute video, voice and data services over home phone wireless or coaxial lines.
"With up to 320 Mbps data rates, HomePNA home networks can accommodate the future bandwidth requirements of service providers as they enhance their offerings with additional features and capabilities," said Tom Starr, chairperson of the HomePNA technical committee.
The new spec, which will compete with advanced technologies such as the Multimedia over Coax Alliance, is an enhancement of the HomePNA 3 platform, which was standardized by the ITU in May 2005, and is designed for PHY throughputs of 128 Mbps, or as much as 240 Mbps with "optional extensions."
TI plugs into HomePlug leadership; coaxed into MoCA leadership
Texas Instruments joined both the HomePlug Alliance and the Multimedia over Coax Alliance last week, taking leadership roles in both.
MoCA is the group that holds the keys to some advanced home networking technology that delivers data and even high-definition television signals over existing home coax at speeds up to 270 Mbps.
Although MoCA founding member Entropic Communications was the only silicon company to be associated with the Alliance during its early phases, several others have since joined. In addition to Entropic and TI, other chipmakers to join the MoCA cause include Conexant Systems, STMicroelectronics, BroadLight Inc., and Octalica Ltd., among others.
The Alliance, which counts Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and EchoStar Communications among its members, also announced Monday that more than 1 million MoCA "nodes" have been deployed by systems vendors and service providers.
Such nodes are deployed in support of multi-room digital video recorders, Ethernet-to-MoCA bridges, residential gateways, and even optical network terminals used for fiber-to-the-home networks. Verizon, which markets the FiOS TV offering with Motorola-made set-tops, is one of the first service providers to deploy MoCA-powered devices.
Just a few days earlier, TI joined the HomePlug Implementers' Forum Board of Directors, where it will play an expanded role in developing HomePlug standards, products and associated initiatives.
Presently, HomePlug has four focus areas: HomePlug 1.0 + AV (high-speed networking over home powerlines), HomePlug BPL (broadband over powerline applications), and HomePlug Command and Control (home automation applications).
HomePlug said membership has grown from 43 to 70 companies in the last year.
$300B Asian broadband market still growing
Asia continues to be a global leader in broadband rollout, according to statistics compiled by Research and Markets. The market is anchored by China as the region's largest market and engine for growth. The region's broadband market is characterized by a rapid shift from dial-up to broadband, and the ongoing rollout of 3G service in major markets.
By March 2006, there were 153 million DSL subscribers and 76 million cable modem subscribers across the region.
South Korea continued to be a world and regional leader, Research and Markets reported, with 70 percent of households having a broadband connection by end-2005. The two major technologies supporting broadband in Asia were digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modems.
Price cutting continues to be widespread, the offering of value-added services has been expanding and innovative product promotion and packaging is popular. Working in such highly competitive markets, the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) across the product range has inevitably suffered, but some equilibrium has been achieved. And, with the introduction of 3G services, an opportunity to grow ARPU has presented itself.
Nevertheless, profit margins have been falling, and operators need to be flexible in a quickly changing market.
The Asian telecommunications market was estimated to be worth around $300 billion in 2006. The big new drivers are broadband and IP services, as well as ongoing growth in the mobile sector, particularly as value-added services come into the market. NGNs are also being rolled out by the regional heavyweights, with a strong move into triple play services.
The Asian region has continued to experience a generally stronger run of economic growth through 2005 and into 2006. The region, however, continues to share the concerns of the rest of the world about rising oil prices and the likely impact on the global economy, Research and Markets reports, accompanied by a degree of anxiety about a slowdown in China. China's mobile sector expanded rapidly to become the largest in the world, and has continued to expand at a rate of almost 20 percent per annum. China had 400 million mobile subscribers by April 2006.
Japan, meanwhile, has embraced the application of wireless Internet access, with over 79 million mobile subscribers using either NTT DoCoMo's i-Mode or one of the other proprietary products by early 2006.
FCC affixes 'information service' label on BPL
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday formally classified broadband over powerline (BPL)-delivered Internet access as an "information service."
That label, the agency noted, places BPL "on an equal regulatory footing with other broadband services, such as cable modem service and DSL Internet access service." The FCC reclassified DSL as an information service in 2005.
Per the FCC's historical stance on BPL, the agency said it believes the technology will spur broadband competition and result in more services and lower prices for consumers.
"With today's order, the Commission takes another important step to promote the deployment of broadband infrastructure," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in a statement.
BPL services "hold great promise for consumers," Martin added. "It is, therefore, critical that the Commission take appropriate action to foster their development."
He also noted that the development of BPL and other new technologies "can best achieve the President's goal of universal broadband by the end of 2007."
According to FCC stats, BPL Internet access services increased by nearly 200 percent in 2005. The agency acknowledged, however, that BPL deployments remain "few in number overall," particularly when set beside DSL and cable modem service deployments.