Viodi View – 11/02/12

ViodiTV video interviews attempt to add value to the conferences we attend by having industry leaders elaborate on points that may have been mentioned during a speech or from a demonstration on the trade show floor. It has been amazing and humbling how many people have shared their time and views with ViodiTV over the years. Their voices collectively provide a sort of living history of the rural broadband industry and beyond.

Building Broadband in Rural America

Shirley Bloomfield

In her keynote speech at TelcoTV, Shirley Bloomfield explained how rural broadband operators must shift their message to building broadband and not just saving broadband in rural areas. In this exclusive interview filmed at TelcoTV, Bloomfield, president and CEO of NTCA, points out that rural networks are, “living and breathing,” and require continual upgrades to stay current with the explosion of demand from end-devices. Click here to view.

FCC Allows Prohibition on Exclusive Cable Programming Contracts to Expire by Paul Feldman, Esq.

Recently, the FCC released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will likely impact the ability of some cable operators and telco video providers to obtain cable TV programming. In the Order, the FCC declined to extend the exclusive contract prohibition in its cable TV program access rules beyond the previous October 5, 2012 sunset date. This prohibition generally banned exclusive contracts between any cable operator and its affiliated programming vendor for satellite-delivered cable programming in areas served by the cable operator.

Click here to read Feldman’s analysis.

The Impact of the Broadband Order – Part 2 of 4

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The metaphor of a three-legged stool is what Kevin Larson of CTC in Brainerd, MN uses to describe the sources of revenue for CTC and broadband operators like CTC. He explains how the FCC’s Connect America Fund Order knocks out one of those legs and causes uncertainty in the other leg. The result affects CTC’s investment plans and they are having to invest with a much more short-term horizon compared to years past when they could invest in a network that best served the long-term needs of its members. Click here to view.

Unintended Consequences of the Broadband Stimulus – Part 3 of 4

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Construction of infrastructure due to the broadband stimulus is in full swing. In part 3 of a 4 part interview, Kevin Larson of CTC in Brainerd, MN discusses some of the unintended results of the stimulus process and wonders what will happen to construction and engineering firms once the stimulus projects are complete. Click here to view and stay tuned next week for the final part of this 4 part interview.

GoogleTV as an Operator’s Middleware

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Two-plus years since its release and the verdict as to whether GoogleTV will be a consumer success is still to be determined. The Trojan horse into the consumers’ living room for GoogleTV could be the operator. At the TV NEXT 2012 conference, start-up, iRevo, demonstrated its application of GoogleTV as a multiscreen middleware. With Google’s acquisition of content protection company Widevine and its integration into GoogleTV, all the elements are in place for an operator to use GoogleTV as an alternative way of bringing IPTV to its subscribers. Click here to view.

Highlights of 2012 Sprint Open Solutions Conference, by Alan Weissberger

The annual Sprint Open Solutions conference is primarily for software developers to learn about Sprint’s partnerships and to stimulate creation of applications that will run on (smart) devices which access the Sprint network. While previous conferences focused more on the network itself (as an enabler of mobile devices and apps), this year’s event provided a close up view into the latest tools and capabilities from Sprint and their solution-enablement partners. Click here to read the rest of this article.

Wireless, U-Verse & Managed Services drive AT&T results in 3Q2012; Cellular Merger Challenge by Alan Weissberger

AT&T, the largest US telecommunications carrier, reported net profit of $3.64bn in the third quarter or $0.63 per diluted share of common stock. That compares with $3.62bn, or $0.61 per diluted share, in the year-earlier quarter. Strong wireless revenue gains coupled with continued growth in its U-verse video and strategic business services units helped AT&T report solid third-quarter 2012 earnings. Consolidated revenues of $31.5bn were flat year year-over-year, but up 2.6 per cent when adjusted for the advertising solutions sale. Click here to read Weissberger’s analysis.

Some Tweets and Short Thoughts:

Where things might be going…..

The Korner – The Exit Interview

I envisioned the perfect title for a video interview that wasn’t to be. Since this was his last day in the industry before setting off for warmer climes, a video interview would be a great way to recognize and capture parting thoughts from an affable and humble GM who led the transformation of a telephone cooperative into a broadband provider of multiple services. Of course, his answer to my query of what made him successful would have been, “It is the team.”

His deflection of credit to his team would have been correct, but he was the one who assembled the team and nurtured the culture of the company. He showed the industry how to diversify and create new lines of business. Working with other local leaders and businesses, he helped make his community better and the results spoke for themselves as his company’s customer-base grew by over 300% since the late 1990s; during a time when many companies were in decline.

Click here to read who just retired and the video interview we found of this camera-shy leader.

A Boon for IPTV Operators? – GoogleTV’s Acquisition of Widevine

Access to mainstream programming is one obvious reason Google purchased Widevine (announced on 12/3). With Widevine’s well-respected content protection system it should follow that the major TV brands will release their product in one form or another to a GoogleTV offering. With Widevine, Google could allow the content owners to set their own rules for how they package and sell their product on GoogleTV.

A less obvious meaning of this move is that it may create a new middleware option for IPTV providers. At last month’s TelcoTV, Iacta demonstrated their casual gaming service operating on the GoogleTV platform (see page 10 of the latest edition of Screenplays Magazine for my article on this demonstration). Iacta’s port to GoogleTV preserved the ability of the operator to include their branding as part of Iacta’s service. In other words, from a customer user interface perspective, it looked like an Iacta/Operator-branded service and not GoogleTV.

Using Iacta’s demonstration as an example, why couldn’t operators customize the open source GoogleTV to create their own interface? The addition of the Widevine content protection system would provide the authentication and security necessary to assuage the concerns of content owners. If someone were to add the hooks into things such as billing and Emergency Alert System, GoogleTV might serve as sort of an open source middleware for traditional, franchised IPTV systems.

This might significantly improve cost, time-to-market and innovation compared to the traditional approaches to IPTV. I think Google would encourage this type of development. For instance, their online bookstore, that will soon launch, centers on the revolutionary idea of working with independent booksellers. In this light, it is not hard to fathom a scenario where Google, through its purchase of Widevine, encourages independent Communications Service Providers to adopt their platform in order to promulgate GoogleTV.

What do you think? 

Image courtesy of Iacta

IPTV Takes Off at Internet Speed

The crowd moving into TelcoTVTo date, the “I” in Internet Protocol Television has been about the protocol. If the 2010 TelcoTV Conference is an indication, IPTV may have caught up with the rapid pace of change associated with the Internet. Based on the demonstrations on the TelcoTV tradeshow floor, 2010 may be the year that IPTV finally goes from a “me-too” offering to one where innovation becomes its trademark.

Open Approaches = Faster Innovation & More Efficient

From voice-activated remote controls to high definition user interfaces on four-year old set-top boxes, innovation blanketed the tradeshow floor. What made this different from shows past were that many of these innovations are ready for prime time. Middleware finally seems to be finding its mark as a facilitator of innovation in the creation of cross-platform applications.

Both Innovative Systems and Nokia Siemens Networks have structured their latest middleware releases around the open source Qt client  and SQL-lite database. Innovative Systems demonstrated their second release of their IPTV offering, which features a whole-home DVR, based on the Amino A540. The mesh nature allows expansion of the number of recorded inputs by simply adding more PVRs. Another innovation is the voice activated remote via an Android application. The most impressive thing about this development was how it evolved from concept to reality in a matter of days.

Nokia Siemens Networks demonstrated the power of an open platform through its relationship with 3rd-party application developer, L4 Media. L4 Media is a division of L4 Mobile, an experienced developer of applications for mobile devices. L4 Media is allowing IPTV providers to create operator-branded application stores for widgets. L4 Media’s experience on the mobile side could be critical, as applications increasingly will need to work across networks and devices.

Brook Longdon of NSN emphasized the importance of having a device centric middleware in order to unify services and content over any network to any device. The NSN middleware in conjunction with its client optimizes the content and metadata delivery for maximum use of the capabilities of a specific device. NSN has eliminated the 3rd-party software development kit from the device, allowing them to optimize the client for the device.

To demonstrate the power of this approach, NSN showed a snappy, high definition user interface on a four-year old set-top box whose manufacturer said it would not support a high definition interface. Longdon explained that this approach allows operators to extend the life of set-tops they have already deployed.

The Blending of OTT and Managed Services

One of the interesting trends at the show was the blending of over the top with managed linear and VOD services. Verismo Networks, which is a long-time producer of set-tops for accessing over-the-top content, demonstrated an extension of their back-end to include a cloud-based middleware solution, allowing operators to offer video by simply purchasing set-tops. Endavo Media and Communication’s approach to middleware is cloud-based with a twist, as they demonstrated it both as a stand-alone service and as a complement to Conklin-Intracom’s middleware offering.

Minvera Networks’ announcement of their xTVFusion offering provides a path for its existing 200+ customers to add OTT to their current offerings, while enabling new models for operators who are looking to get into the business. Interestingly, Channel Master, a leader in terrestrial television antennas, announced a set-top box that will work with the Minerva middleware. With this sort of partnership, it is not too far-fetched to think that an operator-based hybrid broadcast-OTT video offering might be a future development.

Content to the Edge

As operators embrace OTT video as a stand-alone broadband product or complement to its existing IPTV offering, moving content to the edge and reducing the load on the mid-mile will be increasingly important. At TelcoTV, BTI Systems demonstrated a product to reduce mid-mile bandwidth needs.

The network aware Widecast device sits next to a DSLAM or deeper in the network, caches 8 Terabytes of Internet content and serves it locally. Gary Southwell, BTI Systems’ CTO indicated that content is served on average 7x faster and the consumer has a higher quality experience. The result is that the average response time is seven-times (7x) faster than without cache for OTT content. Widecast claims that one customer saw a reduction in churn of 1 to 2%.

BTI provides analytics that allow an operator to view parameters, such as the type of traffic, the originating web sites and the demand as a function of time and geography. This information is valuable for understanding network expansion needs, as well as enhancing revenues through targeted advertising. BTI is working on VOD integration, so these devices could provide even great value. Southwell suggested that the payback for the Widecast product is typically between 3 to 27 months.  Continue reading “IPTV Takes Off at Internet Speed”

The Voice Controlled TV Remote

Motorola Cliq image courtesy of Motorola.

With $129 Android tablets on sale at the virtual corner drugstore, the idea of what a remote control is, may soon radically change.  Innovative Systems is living up to their name by showing innovative new features on their IPTV platform at this week's TelcoTV tradeshow.  

One feature that I want them to demonstrate to me is the use of an Android device as a voice-controlled, television remote control.  Yes, that is right, what one company spent tens of millions of dollars to create last decade, is now feasible using an add-on application to an operating system that is moving beyond the phone; channel changes by simply speaking into the microphone.

Innovative Systems will also be demonstrating their middleware with Amino's latest set-top boxes, the the A140 and A540.  This combination of Innovative Systems and Amino really starts to become interesting, as Innovative Systems promises integration with Amino's future Freedom hybrid/OTT media center.  Amino's Freedom media center supports Nokia's Mee-Go and GoogleTV platforms, which offer ways to blend over-the-top content onto the television.

In addition to the  voice-controlled, TV remote application, Innovative Systems will demonstrate integrated DRM (Verimatrix), IPTV customer support tools and integration of voice and broadband services operating on their APMAX system, eliminating the multiple servers that would be required for services that would have traditionally been in separate silos.  In a separate release, Innovative Systems announced the purchase of the 403rd APMAX since its release less than three years ago.

I look forward to testing Innovative Systems' voice-controlled remote at this week's TelcoTV conference.  I will really be impressed if it finds ViodiTV, based on a voice command.  

Image courtesy of Motorola

IPTV Middleware – A New Player in Town

The announcement of Ericsson as a middleware provider is interesting, as their solution supports Internet Multimedia Subsystem and is from a player that is big enough to make a difference in this space, especially as it relates to delivering video across multiple devices. This approach promises increased blurring between applications (e.g. caller ID on TV, control of TV via mobile devices, etc.). This offering may have the big carriers rethinking their previous IPTV strategies.  Click here to read Lightreading’s take.