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Is There Room in the Cloud for Ericsson TV?

Ericsson is looking to apply some video heat on Cisco Systems and Arris with multiscreen upgrades to its Mediaroom IPTV platform and a new cloud-based, “software-defined” product called MediaFirst as traditional pay TV players pursue next-generation platforms and a new crop of over-the-top players emerge.

While growing its base of pay TV industry customers plays into Ericsson’s plan, at least one analyst believes the vendor would be well-served to ensure that it keeps defections to a minimum.

“What is absolutely key is whether they can get their installed base to upgrade and stay with them; that is job No. 1,” Colin Dixon, founder and chief analyst of nScreenMedia, said. “If they aren’t successful, then those customers will drift away.”

One customer already has begun to go in a different direction. Swisscom, one of Mediaroom’s historic marquee customers, has opted to go with an Android-powered platform for a “TV 2.0” multiscreen product that will support live TV and a seven-day replay service for more than 250 channels.

Despite Swisscom’s decision to branch off on its own, Ericsson said it has been able to expand its overall pay TV base. When Ericsson closed its acquisition of the Mediaroom assets from Microsoft about a year ago, its video platforms were supporting about 13 million homes and 24 million set-tops. That has since grown to more than 17.5 million homes and 33 million set-tops, thanks to 76 commercial deployments across 30 countries, Ben Huang, head of global marketing for Ericsson’s Mediaroom Business Group, said.

At the IBC show in Amsterdam earlier this month, Ericsson introduced several upgrades for Mediaroom, which has long been a set-top-locked IPTV platform. The new version will enable multiscreen support, thanks in part to the integration of technology it acquired from Azuku Systems earlier this year.

Mediaroom, deployed with major service providers such as AT&T U-verse, Deutsche Telecom and Telefonica, will also tack on support for HEVC [High Efficiency Video Coding] and 4K video by the second quarter of 2015. “We’re putting the gas back down on the Mediaroom platform,” Huang said.

In the home, Mediaroom is also shifting from a set-top box ecosystem that relied on WinCE to one based on ARM-based chips. That move enables Mediaroom to support close to 90 different set-top box models.

Lastly, Mediaroom is shifting from an IP-only system to a hybrid one that enables support for legacy, non-IP cable, terrestrial broadcast and satellite video-distribution technologies.

“We’re still convicted in our vision that IP is the eventual future of what will innovate TV services, but we also know that all operators aren’t full IP yet,” Huang said.

Meanwhile, Ericsson’s new MediaFirst platform, expected out in the second quarter of 2015, will be entirely cloud-based, looking to score business with traditional pay-TV providers as well as emerging over-the-top and more virtual forms of multichannel video programming distributors.

While Ericsson, which struck a $95 million deal to snap up Israel-based cloud DVR specialist Fabrix Systems last week, hopes to strike up new business and to get its existing base to upgrade, the competition is only getting more heated as vendors both large and small try to claim their stake. And it’s not just about competing with other large vendors.

“You couldn’t swing a cat [at IBC] without hitting an OTT solution provider,” said Dixon, who sees a market shakeup on the horizon. “They all have a solution and think it’s an end-to-end, complete solution.”