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News summary for 7/18/07

Wed, 07/18/2007 - 10:08am

Telco fiber deployments pose a growing threat to cable 
By Mike Robuck

According to an analyst group, cable operators need to issue a call to arms in order to combat the growing threat from telcos who are deploying fiber-to-the-home (FTTH).

El Segundo, Calf.-based iSuppli Corp. says in a new report that FTTH providers such as Verizon and NTT in Japan will be able to deliver more HDTV programs to customers than cable.

“FTTH poses a real threat to the MSOs, potentially rendering today’s cable television infrastructure obsolete,” said Steve Rago, principal analyst for networking and optical communications with iSuppli. “This is the same infrastructure that cable operators in the United States just finished upgrading at a cost that iSuppli estimates at $60 billion.”

The report predicts that FTTH providers will have 413 million broadband customers in 2010, eclipsing the total number of cable broadband customers for the first time.

FTTH is a competitive threat in Japan, the U.S. and other regions where the fiber can be aerial fed from a central office by using telephone lines and poles. It’s also being deployed via sewer lines in Paris. The report said that for other regions, the cost of deploying fiber can be between 12 to 15 times more expensive than the cost of deploying broadband via twisted copper. While the high cost will slow down FTTH deployments, iSuppli believes it will still be deployed by major telcos worldwide for the next 15 to 20 years.

The report also cited fiber-to-the curb (FTTC) and VDSL to homes as threats to cable. Service providers such as AT&T can save up to 50 and 60 percent by not replacing their copper over the last mile.

“MSOs need to start planning now if they hope to counter the threat of telcos starting in 2009,” Rago said. “If MSOs do not upgrade their capabilities, they may see the war for the triple/quadruple play swing in favor of the telcos.”

While the report predicts dire consequences for the cable industry, cable operators are working on expanding their bandwidth through node splits, wideband and DOCSIS 3.0 once the latter is deployed.

CableLabs provides update on OpenCable Application Platform
By Mike Robuck

During his keynote address at last month’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow joked that he had banned the use of the acronym OCAP at NCTA headquarters because “it completely drops the ball” when it comes to defining the OpenCable Application Platform. During  yesterday’s CableLabs Webcast, it was dropped from the official lexicon in favor of the OpenCable Platform.

“The OpenCable Platform is about hardware and software and OCAP was just software,” said Margit Tritt, director of APS program management for CableLabs.

Tritt said MSOs were publicly committed to the OpenCable Platform and the goal, from the subscribers’ perspective, is to make as seamless a transition as possible to the portable hardware and software. Tritt pointed to the 13 companies who were showing OpenCable exhibits at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show as proof that OpenCable is gaining momentum.

Bob Mechler, CableLabs’ software engineer for eTV and OpenCable, said the OpenCable developer’s conference at the NCTA show drew 300 attendees for the keynote address, and averaged 200 during the sessions that were designed to help developers write applications for the technology. He also talked about CableLabs’ OpenCable Developer’s Community, and how CableCARD-enabled STBs are running parallel to OpenCable in some MSOs’ labs and deployments.

OpenCable was initially conceived by CableLabs and cable operators 10 years ago as a stack of software that resides between applications and the operating system within a consumer electronics device such as a STB or OpenCable-compliant TV set. JAVA-based OpenCable devices can have new information or applications ported to them because of their two-way capabilities, with eTV being an early forerunner of application for legacy STBs. 

Tritt said the feedback CableLabs has received to date has indicated that electronic program guides will be among the first OpenCable applications to launch. Mechler said OpenCable STBs are currently in customers’ homes and that the recent rollouts will also, at a minimum, support VOD and DVRs, as well as EPGs.

A revision is scheduled to be finished this month for OpenCable Platform 1.0.0 that Mechler said would mainly entail maintenance, while version 1.0.1, which is also slated for completion this month, would include personal basis profile 1.1. There’s currently no timetable for OpenCable Platform 1.0.2, but areas of focus include multi-screen manager, digital program insertion and metrics. CableLabs is also looking at adding DVR and basic home networking capabilities to future versions of the OpenCable Platform.

“The rollouts are accelerating,” Mechler said. “We’re getting things into the field and they’re working.”

During a CTO panel at the NCTA show in May, Cox CTO Chris Bowick said his company is slated to have five OpenCable trials underway by the end of the year, while also deploying applications through its Java-based On Ramp platform to legacy STBs.

Also at the show, Mike Hayashi, SVP of advanced technology and engineering at Time Warner Cable, said all of his company's Scientific Atlanta headends and STBs will be OpenCable-capable this year, while Comcast’s James Mumma, director of video product development, said Comcast expects to have OpenCable-enabled systems in 80 percent of its footprint by 2008. Comcast has OpenCable trials underway in Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, and Union, N.J.

Comcast has been focusing on an integrated guide for the technology, getting DOCSIS Set-Top Gateway (DSG) ready and production codes. Mumma also said at the show that Comcast is looking at early next year for OpenCable trials with its RNG-100 STBs.

SunRocket closes door on VoIP service
By Mike Robuck

SunRocket abruptly shut down its VoIP service to its 200,000 customers without warning on Monday.

Vienna, Va.-based SunRocket was an early success story as a VoIP startup in 1994, but the company laid off a large number of employees on July 3, along with almost 200 that were let go on Monday.

SunRocket’s customer base was second-only to Vonage’s among stand-alone VoIP providers, but cable operators such as CoxTime Warner Cable and Comcast have been eating into both VoIP companies’ subscriber bases.

The cable operators have been successful at luring away VoIP customers through their triple-play offerings, which a single-service company such as Vonage has trouble competing against.

CTAM, Nielsen study finds Internet viewing not a threat to traditional TV
By Mike Robuck

A six-month study commissioned by CTAM using information provided by Nielsen Entertainment and Nielsen Connect found that traditional TV ratings are minimally, if at all, affected by broadband video viewing.

The study found that broadband viewing was incremental new viewing, rather than being a substitute for traditional TV viewing. The study said that an estimated 81 million people, or 63 percent of the 129 million subscribers who access the Internet via broadband in the U.S., watch broadband videos at home or at work.

The research also indicated that online video usage supplements traditional TV viewing overall. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed indicated that watching video over broadband Internet increased their TV viewing time, as opposed to 13 percent who indicated that it decreased their traditional TV viewing.

“The growing popularity of broadband video programming makes it vital to better understand its true impact on the viewership of and engagement with television,” said CTAM President and CEO Char Beales. “This research provides an unprecedented look at how consumers are making television viewing decisions, as well as which consumers are more likely to embrace broadband content in the future.”

3 out of 4 U.S. Internet users streamed online video in May
By Traci Patterson

Nearly 75 percent of American Internet users watched an average of about two and a half hours of online video in May, according to a comScore Video Metrix report.

The month saw Americans viewing more than 8.3 billion video streams, with Google sites accounting for 1.8 billion (21.7 percent), of which 1.7 billion were streamed from YouTube.

Fox Interactive Media placed second with 680 million streams (8.2 percent), followed by Yahoo! sites with 387 million (4.7 percent). Time Warner Network placed fifth, Microsoft sixth and NBC Universal tenth.

Close to 132 million Americans viewed an average of 158 minutes of online streaming video in the month. Google snagged more than 64.9 million unique streamers, Fox garnered 52.7 million and Yahoo! had 35 million.

The average online video viewer consumed 63 video streams, or more than two per day, and the average video stream duration was two and a half minutes. More than 35 percent of Internet users streamed at least one video from YouTube.

JV operators rolling out Pivot brand
By Traci Patterson

Cox Communications has launched Pivot-branded mobile phone service in its New England market, which serves Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut, and Bright House Networks has added the quad-play service in central Florida.

Cox already provides the service in San Diego, Oklahoma and Arizona. Comcast and Time Warner Cable have already begun their rollout of the service.

The Pivot brand, provided through Sprint Nextel, is now available in more than a dozen markets, and the service is expected to reach 40 metropolitan areas this year.

Allot, Juniper join forces for DPI-based service optimization solution
By Mike Robuck

Allot Communications has hooked up with Juniper Networks for a deep-packet-inspection-based service optimization solution.

The joint solution uses Allot’s deep packet inspection technology, combined with Juniper’s session and resource control portfolio, which is built upon its SDX-300 service deployment system. The offering gives broadband providers of IP-based services dynamic, fine-grained visibility and control of both subscriber and applications traffic.

Developed through Juniper’s Open IP Service Creation Program, the solution helps service providers insure high-priority transmission for latency-sensitive applications such as VoIP, streaming video and gaming, while also controlling excessive bandwidth consumption from peer-to-peer file sharing.

Charter adds VOD content to homepage
By Traci Patterson

Charter Communications Inc. has launched Charter.net, an enhanced homepage for Charter High-Speed Internet customers.

The new site not only allows users to access e-mail, search the Web and read breaking news (“the basics”), but it offers full episodes and sneak previews from entertainment channels such as IFC, Showtime, Comedy Central, MTV and VH1.

comScore tracks more than four million unique monthly visitors to Charter.net.

Yahoo! keeps slipping; Vows to rebuild
By Brian Santo

Yahoo! experienced an 8 percent increase in revenue, to $1.7 billion, from its second quarter last year to its second quarter just completed, but profits over the same period were down 19 percent, to $185 million.

One basic problem is that display advertising, traditionally strong, is beginning to slip, the company explained.

Meanwhile, Google is simply beating Yahoo! at nearly every turn, with new competitors with specialized web offerings chipping away at Yahoo!’s edges. 

Co-founder Jerry Yang, who last month replaced Terry Semel as CEO, issued a statement assuring investors business will be improved “by sharpening our focus, speeding execution, building our technology and talent, and investing in key growth areas, we can put Yahoo! on a clear path to fulfill its potential as an Internet leader.”

To that end, Yang said he intends to re-evaluate every facet of the company and overhaul whatever is necessary.

Broadband Briefs for 7/18/07
By Traci Patterson

* TiVo appoints industry-savvy CMO
TiVo Inc. has appointed Clent Richardson to CMO. Richardson previously held the CMO position at Nortel, where he led the company’s worldwide re-branding initiative. Prior to that, he served as chief sales and marketing officer for T-Mobile U.K. and VP of worldwide developer relations and worldwide solutions marketing for Apple Inc.

* Cedar Point adds yet another new exec
Cedar Point Communications has named Donald Halsted CFO, effective later this month. The 25-year vet recently served as CFO of 3Com Corp. Prior to that, Halsted was VP of finance at Invensys and held senior financial executive positions at Polaroid Corp.

Jeff Lavin, CFO of Cedar Point since its inception, will remain with the company as SVP of Finance. John O’Hara was recently named EVP of Engineering at Cedar Point, and in April, Mark Tubinis was appointed to CTO.

* Aurora names VP, CFO
Aurora Networks has named Kenton D. Chow VP and CFO of the company. Chow has served as CFO of Cobalt Networks, and he has also held executive positions at Azul Systems, Catena Networks, Sun Microsystems, Symantec Corp. and Bay Networks.

* Orca Interactive enters U.S. IPTV market
Orca Interactive, a provider of IPTV middleware and applications, has gained its first U.S. customer win with W.T. Services Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of West Texas Rural Telephone Cooperative.

The solution provides W.T. Services with live TV broadcast, PPV and VOD services.

Orca supplied the operator with its RiGHTv middleware through Optibase. Additional technology partners include BitBand, Widevine, Trilithic, Quintrex, Metaswitch and Tribune Media Services.

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