The cavalry arrives, riding the cloud
There's nothing new in designing products to meet the needs of smaller network operators, nor is there anything novel in hosting services on behalf of those operators. What is new is the comprehensiveness of many of the solutions and the growing range and power of capabilities being made available through the cloud.
Securing more bandwidth for more channels and to support more customers isn't going to diminish as a priority anytime soon, and that's hard enough. Some vendors specialize in migration strategies to more bandwidth, and some can help accomplish a forklift upgrade to an entirely new architecture. For some service providers, that can be perfectly adequate.
But now there's multi-room DVR and TV Everywhere and targeted advertising and social networking and advanced guides with search and discovery. … Just buying bandwidth isn't going to help if competition requires some combination of these services and features.
One of the granddaddies in this area is IBBS, which has been providing hosted broadband and VoIP services for nigh on two decades. The Comcast Media Center (CMC) has been providing its VOD in a Box service for years. Companies like Calix, CommScope and Zhone have been winning contracts from smaller service providers to provide upgrades to FTTx.
Recently joining the party with new one-stop offers are Adara Technologies, EchoStar, Entone and Avail-TVN with SeaChange International.
"There are solutions out there, but they haven't brought economies of scale," noted Adara Technologies CEO Joseph Nucara. "Adara and other companies are arriving to do that."
One of the new kids on the block, Adara puts hosted and managed switched digital video (SDV) at the service of its customers. The company installs some Cisco QAMs, encryption systems and some other equipment in their customers' headends to help create an SDV tier that includes literally hundreds of channels, both SD and HD.
Otherwise, Adara customers keep using all of the equipment they already have in place. Though formally allied with Cisco, Adara's cloud-based approach makes it irrelevant, whether an operator's network is based on equipment from Cisco/Scientific Atlanta or Motorola (or anyone else, for that matter).
Nucara boasts that Adara solves both the technology and business challenges that smaller companies have – specifically, how do you offer more channels without a forklift upgrade while simultaneously migrating to IP to support advanced features and services, including video-on-demand and advanced guides?
"Smaller operators, many of their subscribers are very happy with their analog service," Nucara continued, "and they're happy getting what they've been getting." But then there will be subscribers attracted by more channels and advanced services being provided by competitors. The Adara approach allows operators to accommodate both groups.
Separately, Adara and CCI are announcing that they have begun working together  on managed, hosted solutions.
EchoStar recently introduced a support system called Aria aimed exclusively at mid-size and smaller independent cable operators, which also exploits the cloud to provide advanced services.
Aria is a hybrid IP/QAM solution that uses existing cable plant and features cloud-based VOD, TV Everywhere and an interactive HD program guide. It will also provide system maintenance and software upgrades.
Aria will run in concert with new EchoStar SD, HD or SlingLoaded set-top boxes and will allow operators to offer services over multiple platforms and for out-of-home viewing, all under the operator's own brand.
Like most vendors aiming at this market, EchoStar is sensitive to the fact that small operators may need to cater to relatively few customers who have a legitimate desire for new, advanced services. The Aria system was designed to support even single-digit numbers of subscribers and to scale up as high as a customer can go, and do it gradually, with as many options as possible.
"You have three people taking VOD, so you pay for three people," said Michael Hawkey, EchoStar's vice president of sales and marketing. "You can buy boxes with or without Sling. You can go with a basic grid guide, or you can go more sophisticated."
Earlier in June, SeaChange and Avail-TVN introduced a service that enables smaller operators to jump right in to providing a TV Everywhere type of experience. The system is built on SeaChange's Express multi-screen cloud-based service offering and leverages Avail-TVN's content licensing, asset management and delivery.
The pair gives operators the ability to private-label the user interface, and then they handle the formatting of the content, the DRM and the content distribution.
The Avail-TVN content offering for multi-screen distribution includes Hollywood new release and library titles and network television programs prepared in a number of adaptive bit rate HD and SD profiles and available in multiple streaming formats.
Damian Mulcock, vice president of worldwide multi-screen business at SeaChange, said, "We've pre-integrated the delivery chain from content acquisition and protection through to delivery to make a turnkey service for operators without the operational overhead of deploying in-house."
Separately, Avail-TVN announced the launch of U.S. trials of its AnyView  managed multi-screen service.
Entone introduced its FusionTV managed service for telcos late last year, and it now has a version appropriate for cable operators. FusionTV uses the operator's broadband channel to deliver streaming video, including HD channels, program guides, VOD, and a variety of social networking and other apps.
Entone sweetens the pot with access to a library of VOD titles, including new releases. If an operator already has a VOD system, what Entone provides can be offered as a complement.
The approach supports whole-home DVR, as well as other cloud-based applications such as home security, digital storage and medical monitoring.
CommScope offers its BrightPath Optical Solutions (BOS), which it describes as a complete, scalable, "end-to-end" FTTx solution comprising a full suite of headend, outside plant and end-user systems.
CommScope's approach with BOS is to offer a range of technologies, including RFoG and HFC node segmentation, and work with an operator to choose the architecture that meets its immediate needs while leaving open a migration path for upgrading and expanding.
BOS allows operators to meet the requirements of residential, multi-dwelling unit, commercial and cellular backhaul applications.
CommScope will also be showing its HomeConnect solutions, a collection of subscriber drop products, including amplifiers, splitter, taps, coax drop cables, SV and ground products, and locking terminators.