Video services

Cisco Steps Up Telco TV VOD

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) took another step toward filling out its IPTV story for carriers, announcing a VOD software platform that also does networked personal video recorder (nPVR) and ad insertion. (See Cisco Offers VOD System.)

With the new platform, Cisco repackages the software platform it bought in its acquisition of the VOD server company Arroyo in August for $92 million. (See Cisco Acquires Arroyo.) Arroyo's initial successes have been primarily in the cable world, points out Heavy Reading senior analyst Rick Thompson. Now, he says, "Cisco is aggressively taking that story to telcos via their evolving end-to-end IPTV solution." (See Sources: Cisco Forming IPTV 'Ecosystem'.)

Cisco's VOD platform, which it calls its Content Delivery System (CDS), sits atop a network of video servers called Content Delivery Engines (CDEs). Suraj Shetty, who directs Cisco's Service Provider Routing Technology Group, says these CDEs are deployed to form a decentralized network of video storage and streaming servers.

A single CDE, Cisco says, can ingest up to 400 channels of video at a time, and can store up to 12 terabytes of video content (up to about 12,000 hours of content). Cisco says one CDE can pump out up to 5,000 simultaneous video streams. These numbers, however, may be significantly lower if the content in question is encoded using the less-efficient MPEG2 codec, or is high definition (HD) content. (See IPTV's High-Def Holdup.)

Shetty says the CDS can be scaled up to accommodate vast amounts of VOD content by simply adding servers (CDEs) to the existing network. The network of VOD servers, Cisco says, is controlled by the carrier from a central browser-based console.

The result of all this, Shetty says, is a system that delivers a wide array of video content from anywhere in the carrier's network down to any set-top box in less than 300 milliseconds.

Heavy Reading's Thompson says the "decentralized" or "distributed" VOD server approach is relatively new, and is probably the wave of the future for telco TV. (See IPTV: Inactive or Interactive?)

"Today, as IPTV deployments are small on a relative basis, a majority of VOD is still centralized." So Cisco, Thompson says, may have some selling to do. "Educating service providers on the benefits here and getting them comfortable with such a virtual distributed architecture will be one of their challenges."

Cisco's Shetty says the network of CDEs can be set up to ingest national content (network broadcast TV, national advertising) or local content (local affiliates, local advertising). "You can deploy this array and inject the content anywhere, whether it's coming from the head end or from the metro zone, depending on how you distribute the architecture." (See Cisco Arms for IPTV Battle.)

With the CDN in place, Shetty says a number of specific video applications can be selected by the carrier and added on to the basic VOD and broadcast-video streaming functions. The nPVR application allows the carrier to provide customers with the ability to record, pause, and rewind live TV. (See Sparring Over Start Over.) Another application, ad insertion, allows the carrier to wrap targeted ads around both live broadcast and VOD content.

There's also a hardware sales motivation here. Heavy Reading's Thompson points out that the CDS is another opportunity for Cisco "to attach new applications to its aging 7600 router," freshening the device up for the carrier triple play of voice, video, and data services. (See Cisco Upgrades 7600.)

The new CDS VOD platform can be looked at as part of an end-to-end IPTV solution being formed by Cisco now. (See Will Cisco Make an IPTV Middleware Move?) Cisco has already made several sizable investments in components for that end-to-end system. It has acquired headend and set-top box through its Scientific Atlanta purchase, VOD servers through its Arroyo buy, and networked DVR technology through its KiSS acquisition. (See Cisco Completes SA Buy and Cisco KiSSes Up to Telco TV.) It also invested in the IPTV content protection company Widevine Technologies Inc. back in April. (See Widevine Scores $16M.)

Thompson says Cisco's new VOD platform is a solid step toward completing Cisco's IPTV story. "The marketing and positioning of all this is quite good from Cisco," he says. "Proof will be in scaling IPTV deployments in telecom networks." (See Cisco Goes Live in 21CN.)

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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