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PrediWave Offers a Broadcast Solution

China-based video-on-demand provider PrediWave believes it has developed a more cost-effective, bandwidth-efficient VOD system by more efficiently broadcasting the most popular content to set-top boxes that house hard drives.

The company has opened a U.S. office in Fremont, Calif., and hired former Tele-Communications Inc. engineering executive Tom Elliot as senior adviser for business development.

PrediWave's approach is to broadcast packets of the most popular VOD content, such as hit movies, across a single 27-megabit channel in a typical cable system's 64 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) plant, said Elliot. A file containing two feature-length films could fit inside those 27 megabits, he said.

In essence, each piece of content — rather than each customer — would have its own port on the PrediWave VOD system, Elliot said. That scenario would save operators on upgrade and bandwidth costs.

PrediWave has signed a deal with China's Fujian Cable Co. to supply a VOD server system and 4.6 million proprietary set-top boxes throughout 2002. It will exhibit its new product for U.S. operators at the Western Show later this month in Anaheim, Calif.

"If five or more people are watching a given title, it becomes more efficient," said Elliot. "It's a much more bandwidth-efficient scheme. You don't have the infrastructure buildout problems."

But PrediWave could face a number of hurdles, starting with its proprietary set-top box. Elliot said the company has begun discussions with Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc. about integrating its technology into future units. That technology includes a Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification-based chip set, MPEG-2 [Moving Picture Expert Group] transport hard drive storage and other software features that provide personal video recorder capabilities within the set-top.

PrediWave's efficiency can also be extended to subscription VOD offerings, Elliot said.

"All the session setup problems go away here," he said. "All that is handled at the box."

But either scenario would require operators to predict which VOD titles subscribers would most want to see — a scenario not unlike how pay-per-view movies are scheduled at present, Elliot explained. Popular movies would hit the carousel as soon as they were made available, he said.

Operators must set aside channel capacity to handle the most popular content. For example, a 100,000-subscriber system with 25,000 VOD-enabled subscribers and a simultaneous usage rate of 20 percent on a Saturday night would serve 5,000 users at any given time. Were 4,000 of those requests for 10 specific items, those 10 pieces of content would absorb five channels, according to Elliot.

Otherwise, an operator would require more than 4,000 dedicated VOD streams to handle the individual requests of those subscribers — even if they were for the most popular content.

Acknowledging the reality of Motorola's and S-A's market share, Elliot said PrediWave could work in a hybrid approach in which its system would handle the most popular content, and a cable operator's existing operation would handle less popular files. In the above example, the 1,000 requests for less popular VOD content would be handled with traditional server solutions.

Elliot argues that a lack of bandwidth or session setup overload means that some subscribers may not receive popular content when they want it. By constantly broadcasting the most popular content, in effect, PrediWave avoids those issues, he said.

PrediWave said Fujian will buy its box for about $400 apiece, although hard-disk costs could drop with volume shipments.