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News summary for 9/27/07

Thu, 09/27/2007 - 9:00am
CED staff

AT&T said to covet EchoStar
By Brian Santo

It’s not a matter of if, but when, AT&T will buy EchoStar.

That’s the assessment of an analyst at Oppenheimer, according to several news outlets privy to the company’s recent report upgrading EchoStar.

Oppenheimer analyst Thomas W. Eagan is reported to be speculating AT&T will offer about $56 a share for EchoStar, which had been trading in the low $40s, and subsequent to the report is now in the mid $40s.

EchoStar has about 447 million shares outstanding, which would put the cost of the acquisition in the $25 billion range.

The acquisition would automatically make AT&T’s U-verse TV an overlapping service to EchoStar’s Dish Network. The value of the deal, then, may be in the varied bundles the combined entity would be able to cobble together from a set of wired, wireless and satellite delivery mechanisms. AT&T currently has a deal with EchoStar in which it sells DBS TV in bundles with its own broadband data and voice services.

EchoStar’s proposed purchase of Sling Media can only enrich its value with AT&T.

YuMe providing ad side of Microsoft’s Internet TV
By Traci Patterson

Microsoft is teaming up with YuMe to offer broadband video advertising capabilities for its Internet TV service.

YuMe is serving as Microsoft’s ad serving platform and ad sales partner for the beta trial of Microsoft’s new Windows Media Center Internet TV feature, which the company is launching today at the Digital Life event in New York.

Media Center will be available to all Windows Vista Home Premium Edition and Windows Vista Ultimate Edition users in the U.S. Users will have access to more than 100 hours of on-demand, ad-supported content, including full-length episodes of TV shows, concerts, and news and sports clips.

The Internet TV beta will also be available on consumers’ TVs via the Xbox 360 and Microsoft’s Media Center Extender device, which is being launched today.

Sling Media’s new Slingbox hits retail stores
By Traci Patterson

Sling Media Inc. has launched its new Slingbox Solo - with a suggested retail price of $180 - which can connect to SD and HD STBs and boasts increased streaming performance.

The Slingbox technology allows users to forward content from pay-video services to a variety of viewing devices - such as PCs and portable media players - via a broadband connection.

On Monday, EchoStar Communications bought Sling Media for $380 million and said it is considering a split into two companies, which would separate EchoStar’s consumer-based and wholesale businesses.

One of the supposed disadvantages of DBS is that its satellite broadcast is not well-suited to provide rapidly responsive on-demand and broadband services. The acquisition of Sling Media and its Slingbox technology, combined with the DVR units that Dish subscribers already have, could give EchoStar some interesting options for presenting on-demand services. The deal gets even more interesting if EchoStar gets bought by AT&T, as rumored.

Motorola, Nortel: WiMAX Conference update 
By Brian Santo

Nortel said it plans to sell not only WiMAX network infrastructure to its service provider clientele, but also WiMAX-enabled consumer devices. The company mentioned devices such as PC express cards and USB dongles for WiMAX connectivity on laptops, as well as indoor routers and outdoor gateways for WiMAX to the home or business. Many of these devices would apparently be supplied by LG.

Peter MacKinnon, who is GM of Nortel WiMAX & Wireless Mesh, and chairman of the LG-Nortel JV, said, “Leveraging our leadership in mobile technologies and partnering with the best device and chipset manufacturers in the world, Nortel is creating end-to-end WiMAX solutions that any carrier, from the largest service providers to small operators just entering the broadband market, can use to deliver the personal broadband experience, including mobile VoIP and video that is essential to Hyperconnectivity.”

Motorola said it received a contract to design and deploy an 802.16e WiMAX network in Uganda for Warid Telecom Uganda, a subsidiary of Warid International. Motorola is currently working with another Warid International subsidiary, Wateen Telecom in Pakistan, on the deployment and management of a nationwide end-to-end 802.16e WiMAX network.

Sale to EchoStar may extend Slingbox reach 
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
Ryan Kim, San Francisco Chronicle

Hatched as a way to watch a San Francisco Giants game while traveling, the Slingbox from Foster City's Sling Media has been a delight for early technology adopters.

Now, after the announcement this week that satellite television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. will buy Sling Media for $380 million, the company founded by brothers Blake and Jason Krikorian in 2004 is poised to go mainstream, taking the idea of "place-shifting" along with it.

The Slingbox links users with their home television programming from any broadband Internet-connected personal computer and many cell phones.

The trapezoidal box intercepts a television signal from a set-top box or digital video recorder and routes it to the owner. The user can then change channels or view different media content stored on digital video recorders or DVD players.

Sling has yet to pass the 1 million sales mark for its devices. But it has been the dominant U.S. leader among place-shifting products, something CEO Blake Krikorian hopes to expand upon with this partnership.

"We're viewed as an innovator and a technology company, but being inside a media company now, it helps us be more of an established player," Krikorian said.
"I think this helps us expand and accelerate our product plans and roadmap," he said. "Our problem has been being able to grow fast enough and have the resources to bring these products to market. This gives us a huge leap to accelerate that."

Meanwhile, Sling announced on Wednesday the Slingbox Solo, which handles high-definition content. The company also announced support today for Symbian-based phones such as more advanced Nokia handsets.

This year Sling is also expected to offer its Sling Catcher, a set-top box for televisions that allows users to watch their content on remote televisions, whether in another room in the same house or at a remote site.

Ross Rubin, an analyst with the NPD Group, said the deal confers more legitimacy on the Slingbox and confirms the overall rise of new media consumption models for viewers.

"In general, TV is evolving beyond an end point for consumers," said Rubin. "Consumers are interested in more kinds of routing of content, whether it's recording to a DVR, accessing content from other rooms in the house, side-loading TV shows to portable devices or accessing content from laptops. In general, as more digital content becomes available, consumers seek more flexibility with it."

With the backing of EchoStar, which owns the Dish Network satellite television service, Sling has new avenues to explore. Analysts said the obvious first step would be to integrate Slingbox functionality into Dish's set-top boxes, bringing the service to Dish's 13.5 million subscribers.

Krikorian said there are a lot of intriguing possibilities when you combine the time-shifting qualities of a DVR and the place-shifting of a Slingbox.

EchoStar said it is exploring a spin-off of its equipment assets, creating a set-top box company with Sling Media in the lineup that can compete with Motorola and Cisco Systems' Scientific Atlanta.

Either way, Sling will continue to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary, allowing it to sell products to customers regardless of their television service provider. Krikorian said he imagines Sling technology could be installed in television set-top boxes or perhaps set-top box functionality could find its way into a Slingbox.

He said the company is pursuing other opportunities beyond pure place-shifting. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Sling unveiled Clip+Sling, which allows users to record and upload snippets of television to the Internet or share them with friends.

That service, which will roll out soon, could get a boost from EchoStar. Krikorian said he imagines a scenario where Slingbox offers free and paid premium content through its service, which could leverage EchoStar's media deals and billing system. Slingbox announced this year it is going to offer ad-supported shows from CBS through its computer and mobile phone Slingplayer application.

But Sling faces its share of competitors, including similar products from Sony, which offers LocationFree devices, and Emeryville's Orb Networks. Cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are teaming with Sprint-Nextel on a service called Pivot, which could ultimately provide cable content through cell phones.

Eventually, all television providers probably will incorporate place-shifting capabilities, though it's not certain if Sling's technology would be the dominant choice, said Steve Clement, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

"I'm positive the cable companies, DirecTV and the telcos, are interested in this technology and are working on this on their end as well," said Clement. "I think it's an attractive technology that they're all looking at."

There are also potential legal concerns. Content owners like Major League Baseball have complained about the Slingbox, saying it facilitates the rebroadcast of games. It's unclear if having EchoStar on its side makes Sling a bigger target for litigation or perhaps having an established satellite company as a parent helps Sling smooth things over with content owners.

Krikorian said he's not worried about the future, as long as the company continues to execute its game plan.

"As place-shifting becomes more popular, we're bound to have more competition," he said. "We won't rest on our laurels; we're just going to keep cranking."

Wave of the future; Motorola takes wireless cruising to the fourth generation
Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
Howard Wolinsky, The Chicago Sun-Times

As the good ship "Summer of George" cruised up and down the Chicago River Tuesday night, Shamik Mukerjee's tablet computer simultaneously -- and without a hiccup -- pulled in a CNN broadcast, displayed data from a Web site, and offered up a videophone connection.

You might expect such service with a strong DSL or cable broadband modem connection at home or in the office. But until now, such service was not available on the go -- and it certainly wasn't available in such a challenging environment as on water and in deep urban canyons that disrupt signals.

Mukerjee, a senior marketing manager in Schaumburg-based Motorola's WiMAX mobile broadband initiative, was showing off the system's technical capabilities as part of the WiMAX World conference at McCormick Place.

WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, technology aimed at providing wireless data over long distances. It's also known as 4G, or fourth generation of the wireless network.

In December, Sprint, the No. 3 wireless carrier, will roll out a "soft" launch to test the technology and business systems for its new Xohm mobile broadband service in Chicago and Baltimore/Washington, D.C., where Samsung is building the network. Sprint has said Xohm will be available commercially in several markets next April for $30 to $60 a month.

Earlier in the day, before the boat demonstration, Motorola showed that WiMAX worked on board an L train and in a car traveling at 50 miles per hour, said Tom Gruba, senior director of WiMAX product marketing at Motorola.

Also on board was Philip Marshall, vice president of enabling technologies with the Yankee Group, the Boston-based market research group, who called WiMAX "Internet in the pocket."

He said such mobile personal bandwidth was a distant promise six or seven years ago, but today the service is becoming a reality.

"As an RF [radio frequency] engineer, I was impressed," he said.

Barry West, chief technology officer at Sprint and president of the Xohm business unit, said he picked Chicago for the soft launch to give Motorola an opportunity to strut its stuff in its own backyard. Also, he noted, "A lot of telephone history has been made in Chicago."

Motorola showed how the first cell phones worked in April 1973. And the old Illinois Bell launched commercial cellular-phone service in a ceremony at Soldier Field in October 1983.

Motorola pioneered an early version of mobile broadband with its Canopy system, which won a Chicago innovation Award in 2003.

Fred Wright, senior vice president for networks at Motorola, said the company has already started shipping WiMAX gear and has launched its first commercial WiMAX system in Pakistan, where it will make basic phone service available.

The company has 40 WiMAX projects in 29 countries.

Wright said, "Our legacy cellular technology is reaching the end of its life cycle. Mobile WiMAX represents a huge piece of new growth for Motorola."

In the United States and other developed countries, WiMAX mobile broadband isn't about phone service.

"Voice is the least of it," said Barry West, chief technology officer at Sprint Nextel and president of its Xohm mobile broadband service.

"I didn't need to build a new voice network. WiMAX is about the birth of a new technology and new ways for people to communicate. This technology will create new markets and new devices."

He gave examples of what's to come:

- Today, you can send grandma video clips or still photos from your kid's soccer game or dance recital. Using WiMAX technology, you could broadcast the whole recital in real time directly to grandma.

- Your handheld device knows where you are and can show maps of nearby points of interest, restaurants and bars. If a restaurant maintained its own Web cam, you could size the place up, see how busy it is, and decide whether you want to go there.

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