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Telco TV Live

Todd Spangler's Journal

ATLANTA --

You’d think next-generation TV would be a bigger draw than power tools. This week the Georgia World Congress Center, besides hosting the TelcoTV show, is also home to

True Value’s Fall 2007 retail-merchandising conference

.

I’m just eyeballing the presence of the hardware chain here, but it looks like they’re set up for a bigger crowd than the TelcoTV guys.

Attendance at the morning TelcoTV events has been especially light. Thursday’s session was supposed to start at 8:30. At 8:50, there were 60 people in the seats. (And whole trays of Danishes outside were untouched!) Things finally got underway at 9:07.

And on Wednesday, conference organizers delayed the start time for a

keynote from AT&T Labs’ Paul Hill

by about half an hour, after he was supposed to kick things off at 8:15.

What’s the deal? Kevin McGuire, vice president of business and technology for National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) -- which produces the show with CMP Media -- says the show is growing. Registered attendees this year were 3,089, up from about 2,800 at the 2006 event.

McGuire said the venue in Atlanta is bigger this year, perhaps making the conference feel more spread out. I’ll say: TelcoTV is in Building C of this gargantuan complex, so if you’ve entered the convention center at Building A you have to walk close to a mile.

Also: Is even 8:30 maybe a weeeeee bit early for most folk? McGuire nodded and smiled: “Yeah, I think we’ll look at that again next year.”

SES Americom to Team With TVN on VOD

ATLANTA -- SES Americom’s forthcoming video-on-demand service for Internet Protocol TV providers will be offered in partnership with TVN Entertainment, Bill Squadron, president of the satellite company’s IP-Prime business, said on a panel discussion here at TelcoTV.

The IP-Prime VOD service, scheduled to launch in the first half of 2008, will provide content to IPTV providers on a nonexclusive basis. TVN, founded in 1988, distributes a library of 8,000 hours of video from more than 150 content owners to customers including Comcast, Cox Communications and Cablevision Systems.

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California Fires Sidetrack Motorola Exec

Doug Means, general manager of Motorola’s IP Video Solutions group, was scheduled to deliver the opening remarks Thursday, but the raging wildfires in Southern California prevented him from attending the show. Means lives in San Diego and his “house was threatened,” a TelcoTV conference spokeswoman said. He and his family are safe, she added, but he could not make the trip.

Filling in: Marty Stein, Motorola’s senior director of marketing for IP video solutions. The good thing about the pinch-hitting assignment, Stein said, is that he was able to walk around the show without having to see his face on posters everywhere.

Stein discussed Motorola’s vision for “invisible networks”; i.e., being able to get content wherever you are on whatever you want. In a Freudian slip, Stein referred to Motorola’s “multiscream paradigm”--just in time for Halloween! -- before correcting himself (he meant to say “multiscreen”).

Meanwhile, Motorola reported Q3 earnings Thursday: Net income fell 94% from the year-ago quarter amid continued weakness in the cell phone business. The Home and Networks Mobility unit, which includes the cable and IP video lines of business, had sales of $2.4 billion, up 6% over the year-ago quarter, and operating earnings of $165 million versus $231 million last year.

Encoders Aim to Ease MPEG-4 Conversion

While cable operators are facing the need to convert MPEG-4 video into the older MPEG-2 format, telcos have the opposite need--since there’s a lot of video content available only in the latter form today.

Tandberg Television was showing off its iPlex UltraCompression transcoder to provide MPEG-2-to-MPEG-4 conversion for both standard- and high-definition, while Scientific Atlanta was demonstrating a prerelease version of the D9520 Video Content Converter, a four-rack-unit-high system that can take 20 standard-definition MPEG-2 channels into MPEG-4.

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SES Americom, Packet Vision Target IPTV Ads

SES Americom has teamed with advertising-technology specialist Packet Vision to provide targeted local ad insertion as part of the IP-Prime programming-transport service.

Using Packet Vision’s advertising solution, operators offering IP-Prime service will be able insert ads for local and nationwide companies that are specifically directed to selected groups of consumers based on geographic locations or demographic profiles. The Packet Vision system combines a media server, ad splicer, playout router and management system, in a single rack-mounted “pizza-box” enclosure.

The ad-insertion option is slated be available in the first quarter of 2008, said SES Americom product management director Walt David. “It’s been too costly for small operators to do localized ad insertion,” he said.

Three Rural Telcos Take IP-Prime

The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), which offers SES Americom’s IP-Prime IPTV programming service to its members at prenegotiated rates, announced three more telcos that have signed on for the service: CenCom, in Jackson, Neb.; The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority in Eagle Butte, S.D.; and Home Communications, in Galva, Kan.

As a prelude to the TelcoTV show in Atlanta this week, AT&T has provided a snapshot of the promise and peril of phone companies' forays into TV distribution.

How’s Ma Bell as the bellwether for telco TV? First, the bad news:

U-verse TV suffered a major outage on Sunday

, dropping dozens of cable networks for the better part of the day.  AT&T either didn't know what caused the problem or wouldn't say, but the widespread snafu will end up costing the telco in customer refunds -- as well as reinforce the belief among some industry observers that the IPTV service will have issues as the company tries to scale up the service for millions of subscribers.

The good, or at least better, news: AT&T, in reporting its third-quarter earnings, said it

more than doubled U-verse TV subscribers

in three months to reach 126,000 as of Sept. 30. In those three months, the pace of U-verse TV customer installs picked up dramatically, according to AT&T. The company said weekly install rates for U-verse TV in the last weeks of September approached 10,000, up from approximately 5,500 three months earlier. But the takeaway, of course, is now that telco TV is starting to move the needle, AT&T and other phone companies need to prove to customers and programming partners that they can deliver.

AT&T Exec: IPTV Has Overcome Scaling Questions
ATLANTA -- Peter Hill, vice president of video and converged services at AT&T Labs, said Internet Protocol TV has proven it can scale up -- now that the company has passed the 100,000 subscribers -- and he outlined potential future IPTV applications the telco has in development. “We’re past the point of, ‘Will IPTV scale?’” Hill said. “Because we have over 100,000 subscribers -- you can’t get to that number without having significant automation.” At the same time, however, AT&T this week experienced a widespread glitch with U-verse TV that blocked access to dozens of cable channels. Hill didn’t directly address the snafu in his remarks, but other AT&T executives have said the problem stemmed from a back-end software upgrade gone awry.
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Starz to Telcos: Rethink the Way You Package Tiers

ATLANTA -- Starz Entertainment president and chief operating officer Bill Myers urged telephone companies to consider bundling his company’s movie channels at lower-priced tiers than cable operators’ packages that include the Starz lineup. “One of the great things about the telco space is, you don’t have this history -- you don’t have those relationships with programmers,” Myers said, as part of his keynote.
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Comtrend and Broadcom: Stop That Noise!

DSL equipment maker Comtrend claimed it is the first U.S. customer premises equipment vendor to license Broadcom’s PhyR (pronounced “fire”) impulse noise protection technology. The PhyR data-retransmission system sits at the DSL physical layer. According to Broadcom, the technology can boost impulse noise resilience by as much as 10 times while also lowering residual bit-error rate (BER) or packet loss.

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Motorola: Storming In

Trying to drive home the point that it’s not just about cable-video networks, Motorola promoted its presence at TelcoTV with a press release that said a group of executives and technologists “recently convened an internal ‘trendstorm,’ where they discussed the latest and upcoming innovations in Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) for 2008 -- and beyond.”

Wait a second… “trendstorm”? We looked it up and then Googled it. No such word, except apparently somewhere in Sweden. Wonder if this marketing-inspired backformation of “brainstorm” will catch on.

Anyway, the Motorola IPTV trendstorm produced the following thunderbolts from the deep blue sky: content portability; increased content availability (i.e. niche-market content); personalization and localization; and targeted advertising.

Orca Finds Its Compass

IPTV middleware and applications vendor Orca Interactive launched Compass, content-discovery software designed to quickly let television viewers find content of their choice. 

Compass, which runs on Orca’s RiGHTv IPTV middleware platform, provides personalized recommendations based on subscribers’ individual preferences while also allowing operators to promote premium and niche content. Orca expects to make Compass available in the first half of 2008.

Calix Tests With Microsoft IPTV

Calix, a supplier of gigabit passive optical networks, is the latest vendor to sign on to Microsoft’s interoperability program for the Mediaroom IPTV software platform. As part of the deal, Calix will license Microsoft Mediaroom products to use for development and testing. Hey, maybe the Redmondians will throw in an Xbox 360 gratis?

Net Insight’s Virtual Headend

Swedish networking-equipment vendor Net Insight is showing its Nimbra 300 and 600 multiservice switches, designed for “virtual headend” operators to aggregate and distribute IPTV and other content to downstream other telco and cable operators. The idea: to share headend costs by providing a centralized point of ingest and then multicasting services across a network. Net Insight claims it’s a cost-effective way for operators to provide interactive services like video-on-demand, games-on-demand and time-shifted TV.

EchoStar Turns the IPTV Key

EchoStar Communications and its subsidiary, EchoStar Fixed Satellite Services, have launched

ViP-TV

, which provides more than 300 channels via satellite to telcos, cable operators and other video providers. ViP-TV, designed as a turnkey solution for wholesale multichannel content transport and distribution, will take on similar offerings from SES Americom and Intelsat. EchoStar’s IPTV service offers MPEG-4 IP-encapsulated video, including 40 high-definition channels, from a Ku-band satellite. 

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How Will TV Play on Multiple Screens?

ATLANTA -- Consumers will be the ultimate arbiters of how they watch video on a multiplicity of devices, ranging from big-screen televisions to different non-TV devices, a panel of industry executives said here at TelcoTV. The Internet has trained people to personalize their content-consumption habits, said AT&T director of programming Peter Tracy, and that’s what the next generation of TV viewers is growing up to expect. “The broadband experience has been personalized for years,” he said.

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NDS Debuts HD DVR, and SES Americom Is Sold

It’s a triple threat of buzzwords: NDS Group introduced a high-definition digital video recorder for IPTV providers, running its Metro middleware on an Amino Communications AmiNET530 set-top box. And NDS already has lined up a reseller -- SES Americom will integrate the HD DVR set-top into its IP-Prime IPTV solution for telcos.

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SES Americom to Launch VOD Service for IPTV

SES Americom, meanwhile, is developing a video-on-demand solution as part of its IP-Prime service for telephone companies and broadband service providers, scheduled to launch in the first half of 2008. SES Americom did not specify what content will be available through the service except that it will include "local and national content." Company spokesman John Giddings said discussions with programmers and other VOD content providers are currently in the works.
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Taking IPTV to the Show Floor

And SES Americom will have a bit of help showing off its IP-Prime service at TelcoTV: The company will be providing some 285 live channels to 13 partners at the show. SES Americom will locate a headend at the Georgia World Congress Center to receive television signals beamed via satellite from the company’s IPTV broadcast center in Vernon Valley, N.J. 
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HSN’s Remote-Control Shopping, Telco-Style

Buying stuff through your the TV -- yeah, the idea’s been around for a long, long time. It was one of the earliest notions for interactive television, predating even the rise of the Internet. HSN, the Home Shopping Network, has been working with some cable systems to implement shop-by-remote capabilities, letting viewers instantly purchase an item for sale rather than calling up an 800-number to order it. Now Peter Ruben, HSN’s executive vice president of affiliate relations, sees a new opportunity to work with telephone companies to make interactive shopping on the TV more widely available. 
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Mitsubishi Has Just One Word For You: Plastics
At TelcoTV, Mitsubishi International and semiconductor company Firecomms are collaborating on a live demonstration of a home network using plastic optical fiber (POF), a.k.a. “consumer” optical fiber. The two companies have constructed a living-room setting showing a 100-megabit-per-second Ethernet home network entirely comprised of POF. Among POF’s advantages, according to Mitsubishi and Firecomms, are that it has “garden hose” connectivity to allow for quick-and-easy installation in a wall cavity, along baseboards, under carpet or even next to electrical cabling (since plastic fiber is immune to electrical noise).

ADB Debuts IPTV DVR
How many acronyms can we fit in a headline? Swiss set-top box manufacturer Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) has launched a high-definition digital video recorder, the ADB-5810WX, for deployment in North America. The device supports standard- and high-definition video, delivered in either MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding (AVC), and has a 160-Gigabyte hard drive. The units are available from ADB’s North American distributor, Border States Electric. 

Entone Pitches ‘Instant’ HD IPTV
Have an MPEG-2 video-delivery infrastructure but want to carry MPEG-4 high-def channels? Entone Technologies’ HD Now marketing program, in partnership with SES Americom, is supposed to let IPTV service operators deploy high-definition programming quickly--in as little as three to four weeks, Entone claims. The solution combines Entone’s Hydra IP Video Gateway at the customer premises with HD MPEG-4 programming delivered by SES Americom. The Hydra gateway (around $500 list price each) provides three video streams in any combination of SD/HD and MPEG-2/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264. Entone says it has deployed more than 100,000 Hydra gateways with 30 North American telcos.

MoCA Stirs Home-Networking Upgrade

The Multimedia over Coax Alliance ratified version 1.1 of its home-networking specification, which provides packet aggregation to achieve net throughput of up to 175 megabits per second, compared with a net of around 100 Mbps with MoCA 1.0. The upgraded spec also incorporates parameterized quality of service (PQoS) for bandwidth management and prioritization of multiple streams of HD content and increases the number of supported network nodes from eight to 16.