Trying before buying
Minerva IP Television Lab allows operators to see whether the protocol is a good fit for delivering video to homes
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/17/2000 7:00:00 PM
Minerva Networks has introduced its Internet Protocol (IP) Television Lab to help companies investigate whether an IP television headend is a good fit, without having to take the risk of deploying an IP-based system.
"With this new environment, there are companies wondering if they can deploy 4 Mb of video over their network and what the experience will be," says Vice President of Marketing Patrick Sweeney. "But they don't want to spend $1 million for a headend without testing it out. So we're shipping a rack-mounted unit that can be deployed into their system so they can evaluate their ability to serve up video to homes in their network."
The use of IP to deliver video services has gained much attention as a way to allow competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), cable operators and satellite to offer a bevy of video, data and phone services. And while that competition could be a boon to both consumers and providers of equipment and services, it also could prove to be a tricky business decision for cable operators that, at least for the time being, don't have to consider CLECs and ILECs to be competitive threats.
The IP Television Lab comprises a number of pieces that make up a small IP television headend connected via a broadband network to set-top boxes. It includes an application server running Minerva's iTV Manager subscriber-management software, two Minerva VNP-200 MPEG-2 video encoders, and a video server-all connected through a 100 BaseT Ethernet switch. It can be configured with either an SGI Origin server or an nCube video server and two set-top boxes, from either Pace or Motorola.
Sweeney adds that the company has already received orders for 12 Lab systems, almost all of them placed by CLECs.
"We think there will be three general waves of deployment of IP video services," he observes. "First will be the hungry and advanced CLECs that are looking to eat into ISP, cable and regional Bell markets. Wave two will be the ILECs, which currently number around 1,500 across the country. Last will be cable operators."
He does believe that some cable operators will be ahead of the curve and deploying IP-based video services in the first wave, but the majority won't seriously begin considering the move until they feel the pinch of gains from competition.
"Once cable realizes they're having their market shares eaten into," he says, "they won't care what the physical delivery mechanism is. The important thing is delivering content and deriving a revenue stream from it."
The Lab will allow operators to try out a number of IP-delivered TV services, including live television, near video-on-demand, time shifting, personal video recording, and video on demand. Back-office functions such as billing, subscription management, channel creation and channel listings can also be investigated.
"We looked at the business model and recognized they can't make money by deploying just television or data services; they have to offer all three," says Sweeney. "They have to be able to deploy voice, video and data."
Greg Estes, vice president and general manager, SGI Broadband and Internet Solutions division, believes that an IP-based system can allow operators to offer a much greater variety of movies and content because the high-bandwidth pipe and server structure can move content easily. "Our servers will find a place in Minerva's system not only as the small server where the software that controls the system sits, but also as the larger server that acts as the video pump, holds all the video and blasts it out."
Estes agrees with Sweeney that the CLECs will be the first on board with IP video, noting that they have a very good reason to be first: "They aren't making money now, and they need a reason to provide rich-media services or something that is compelling. When you look at it, VOD and rich-media services turns out to be a good thing to go do, and that's why they're interested.
"When the CLECs put the technology in, it will be like a Third World country that has been existing with a very crude communications-technology infrastructure," Estes explains. "And then they'll bypass whole technologies that we've had for 20 years and jump to technologies we won't have here for three years."
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