New from SkyStream

zBand software eases advent of 'broadcast Internet'
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Data-insertion-technology supplier SkyStream Networks has developed software designed to aid delivery of multimedia content over satellite, broadcast or cable networks.

The software, called the zBand Internet content-distribution system, can work either in conjunction with SkyStream's existing media routers or as a stand-alone product.

Selling separate software packages is a new area for Mountain View, Calif.-based SkyStream, which has spent the past few years pitching the idea of a "broadcast Internet": using broadcast or satellite spectrum to deliver mass-consumption Internet content, such as streaming media, instead of relying on congestion-prone terrestrial networks.

The company's source media routers insert IP packets in MPEG-2 compressed digital streams and have been used by such companies as EchoStar, RealNetworks and Geocast. Last spring, SkyStream introduced an edge media router, which is designed to sit at an ISP's local point-of-presence and receives incoming IP data from satellites and sends it to a high-speed "last-mile" connection such as DSL or a cable modem. SkyStream has also promoted the idea of "in-band data broadcasting," or sending data to cable set-tops within traditional cable programming channels.

"Broadcast technology is becoming part of the core of the Internet because of the advent of companies like iBeam and Edgix," says Vice President of Marketing Clint Chao. "The content-distribution networks have really taken off. As much as we look at fiber and copper as key parts of the Internet, broadcast is also going to be a big part of the infrastructure."

zBand software leverages high-speed IP broadcast delivery by allowing service providers to aggregate, schedule and deliver Internet content, as well as to create branded portals for consumers, says Chao. Based on a client-server architecture, the zBand system starts with Prime Director software designed to reside at content origination points, such as satellite uplinks or Internet points-of-presence. It schedules the content and delivers it to zBand client software, typically at a satellite downlink such as a cable headend. If the service provider distributes content directly to consumers, the zBand client software could also be stored on a personal computer or digital set-top.

Pricing for the Prime Director software and accompanying modules runs about $100,000, with clients costing $5,000 to $6,000, according to Product Manager Ren Finley. If the client software is downloaded to consumer devices, such as a cable MSO supplying it on its set-tops, then the licensing model would change, he adds.

An early adopter of zBand is EchoStar, which has been testing the software for four or five months. EchoStar is using it for DISHLink, a new business service that delivers broadband content to office desktops.

"The way we use zBand is probably unusual," says Jim Stratigos, vice president of EchoStar Data Networks in Atlanta. "DISHLink is an edge media router for enterprise customers. It takes streaming content from the DISH Network and then delivers it over a LAN or stores it on a disk drive."

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