Cable Tech

SkyStream Wants Its IP TV

SkyStream Networks Inc., a vendor specializing in broadband video gear, today announced a device to run video and broadcast television over regular phone links.

The announcement feeds into lively speculation about the readiness of incumbent carriers to get involved in "IP TV" (see Video Over Déjà Vu).

SkyStream is among the proponents who say carriers are waiting only for the right platform to get going. It's got a product in beta test called the Mediaplex 20 Video Services Router, which runs broadcast video over existing phone lines, including those supporting DSL. The product also runs over gigabit Ethernet and ATM links. It will be shown at Supercomm 2002.

SkyStream isn't alone in seeking to mine telco facilities for IP TV. A growing list of competitors includes Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Minerva Networks Inc., Optibase Ltd. (Nasdaq: OBAS), and VideoTele.com Inc., a subsidiary of Tektronix Inc. (NYSE: TEK). (See TelStrat, Minerva Team on IPTV, Optibase Intros Third-Gen MediaPump, and Pair Teams on TV Over IP.)

Competition's also coming from companies specializing in video-over-coaxial-cable gear, such as Harmonic and BigBand Networks Inc. (see BigBand Shaping HDTV). This group has its eye on so-called multiple system operators (MSOs) as well as incumbent telecom operators (see Cable MSOs Set to Win?).

SkyStream says it differentiates itself from the herd in scaleability, flexibility, and security. On the first point, the vendor claims it can run more than 250 simultaneous video streams per chassis, each stream containing 12 to 14 video programs.

That compares with about 160 channels claimed by rival VideoTele.com, which is said to be among the densest devices available for video over telecom lines.

SkyStream claims it can apply selective criteria to the various video streams in each Mediaplex 20 chassis, giving carriers the ability to deliver specific streams of video to specific users. This feature, SkyStream says, adds security as well as flexibility, since users could be restricted from seeing content they hadn't paid for.

Analysts say this feature may be unique, depending on how it actually plays out in real life.

"I haven't seen other vendors focus on the integration of content security in quite this way," says analyst Pat Hurley of TeleChoice Inc. It may prove to be a powerful way for carriers to get content providers to sign on with them for services, he says.

SkyStream's chassis fits into a central office appointed as the carrier's video head end in order to launch consumer and and business broadcast TV services, such as Pay Per View, interactive TV, and movies and video on demand. The Mediaplex 20 takes in video input from TV broadcasters and converts it to MPEG2 format for transmission over IP networks. Pricing for the unit starts at about $60,000, SkyStream says.

So far, so good. Now it remains to be seen whether carriers bite. Some experts say incument carriers aren't ready, or even willing, to start moving into broadcast video at the moment. After all, they've had opportunities before that haven't panned out on a large scale. And that's when there was more money in the bank.

As part of today's announcement, SkyStream has published a list of potential integrators and technology partners, including Sony Corp. of America, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, World Wide Packets Inc., and at least ten others.

The question, however, is not how these partners take up the Mediaplex but how -- and when -- service providers will glom on. — Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on Supercomm 2002, please visit: Supercomm Special

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