Ruckus Pioneers IPTV in US
The Kingfisher, Okla., provider Pioneer Telephone Cooperative Inc. is in trials with Ruckus for an IPTV rollout that's among the largest in the country. "We're running it now in our labs and have test evaluations in about 15 sites," says Scott Ulsaker, Pioneer's video products manager. [Ed. note: Ulsacker? I hardly knew her.]
Ulsaker adds that Pioneer is happy with the results so far -- a nice endorsement considering his house is one of the test sites. Most of the provider's subscribers get newly installed Cat5 cable for their home network, and Pioneer has used coax cable in some cases, he reports.
Ruckus spokesman David Callisch wouldn't confirm Pioneer as a customer, but he tells Light Reading his company is working with about a dozen carriers in the U.S., large and small, and one U.S. rollout could be announced soon. "It's not millions [of homes]; it's tens of thousands," he says.
Pioneer might sound like small potatoes, but IPTV has been slow to emerge in the U.S., as even Ruckus has admitted. (See CES: IPTV Dreams.)
It's the rest of the world that has Ruckus aflutter. According to Callisch, the company has more than 20 carriers in Europe and Asia interested in deploying its systems, including previously announced PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008) (See Ruckus: Causin' a Commotion?.)
All this growth means Ruckus, which hasn't turned 2 years old yet, will try to raise more funding this year, Callisch says. Its most recent round, for $9 million in September, brought the company's funding total to $14 million.
Ruckus's WiFi access points and client devices are aimed at home networks, intended to spread broadband feed throughout the house. WiFi is facing off against several wired competitors on the broadband home front, including Ethernet, coax, power lines, and plain old telephone lines. (See Entropic, Verizon Serve Up MOCA.)
The idea is for Ruckus to hawk its wares to carriers, which would provide them to consumers as part of a broadband subscription package. Carriers are open to wireless as a home-networking option, but most of them will back it up with a wired alternative just in case, says Joyce Putscher, an analyst with In-Stat .
Wireless faces questions of reception quality in many cases -- not a big deal for email reading, but a showstopper when it comes to broadband video. Ruckus claims to improve the reliability of wireless by having its WiFi radio try out different directions, seeking a path free of interference.
At least one other startup is tackling the same problem. Rotani Inc. , based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has been developing a two-radio access point, making similar claims about beefing up WiFi for video. (Ruckus will be going to two radios as well, for its upcoming 802.11n product, Callisch says.)
Rotani's founders include president Roc Lastinger and executive vice president Nicholas Funke, who had worked together on RFID consulting projects. On a Department of Defense job, they hit a situation where their equipment was housed near 250,000 RFID tags and needed a way to ignore the torrent of information. Applying those techniques to WiFi, they created Rotani in 2003, picking up $7.3 million -- angel funding plus one venture round -- from investors including firstVentury Equity GmbH .
One key difference from Ruckus is that Rotani doesn't intend to sell systems itself. Its technology and reference design are licensed out to others. "On the telco side, that's significant, because most of them have approved vendors" they prefer to buy from, Lastinger says.
Rotani is working with two carriers in Europe and has just started a United States marketing push by appearing at last week's IPTV 2006 conference in San Jose, Calif.
According to Lastinger Rotani will be on retail shelves as well, through products built by Asian partners.
On a tangential note, Ruckus might even go retail, although this won't be a big part of the business plan. It seems there are a few geeky tricks one can do without having IPTV service. For example, Ruckus combined with the Slingbox from Sling Media Inc. could beam a regular TV feed to a laptop anywhere in the home.
Ruckus is working with a "brand-name Webtailer" to sell to end users in the U.S., Callisch says. It's also talking to a retailer in Europe, where consumer pull is stronger. "The European people don't just use the device the carrier gives them. They'll go to the store and buy something else," Callisch explains.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading