Video services

GoBackTV Lets Cable Cos. 'Drop In' IPTV

GoBackTV Inc. is trying to make waves with smaller cable operators, using a "drop-in" IPTV platform that helps operators take advantage of low-cost IP set-top boxes.

GoBackTV, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based vendor that traces its roots to now-defunct cable vendor Com21 Inc., is doing that via an architecture that bypasses the "core" cable modem termination system (CMTS) and pipes video through the edge QAMs.

BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) is touting a CMTS bypass architecture with its new "vIP PASS" platform, but GoBackTV is taking a different approach using a discretely integrated system. (See BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork, Koreans Take Cable IPTV for a Spin , and Cable IPTV Debate Brews .)

Rather than communicating upstream to the operator's existing CMTS that's being used to deliver VoIP and high-speed Internet services, GoBackTV has cobbled together a parallel, "turn-key" system comprising its own edge QAMs, resource manager, off-the-shelf Docsis cable modems, and a stripped-down, video-optimized CMTS called the GigaQAM IP that's outfitted to handle up to 1,700 unicast video streams.

GoBackTV's 'CMTS'

"A friendly CMTS talking to a friendly QAM makes the unicast [model] work very well," claims Rei Brockett, GoBackTV's VP of marketing.

Like BigBand, GoBackTV is very much in the bypass camp, holding that the approach is more efficient and cost-effective than driving IP video through the core CMTS. "But the twist is that we supply the whole solution as a drop-in," Brockett explains.

Although GoBackTV can configure what the MSOs want, the company has already completed integration work with IPTV box makers such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) (for its acquired Kreatel product line), Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) , Amino Technologies plc (London: AMO), and Xavi Technologies Corp.; and middleware from Dreampark AB , Minerva Networks Inc. , and Nordija A/S . It's also hooked in video encryption systems made by Verimatrix Inc. , Widevine Technologies Inc. , and SecureMedia Inc.

In another twist, GoBackTV is forgoing any specialized home networking systems based on Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) , Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) , or WiFi to shuttle video around to TVs in the subscriber's home. Instead, GoBackTV pairs each IPTV set-top with its own Docsis cable modem. The resource manager, meanwhile, keeps track of the modems and how video channels and other content across the switched infrastructure.

While that appears to be logistically simple, it also sounds rather expensive. But Brockett points out that Docsis 2.0 modems sell for $25 each in volume, and even the most basic IPTV set-tops are dirt cheap compared to two-way, QAM-based, digital cable boxes that are in heavy use by MSOs in the U.S. Although GoBackTV's cable IPTV platform uses Docsis 2.0 modems today, the company's also adapting it for Docsis 3.0, and not so much for the increased speed benefits, but for the multiple modem tuners, which can be tapped for DVR and picture-in-picture applications.

Using the Docsis 2.0 model, Brockett says GoBackTV can get an operator up and running with its first 1,000 subs for less than $100,000, a price that includes the necessary edge QAMs, the CMTS core, resource manager, the cable modems, and GoBackTV's own HTML-based middleware (if the MSO doesn't want to go with a third-party provider). That price does not factor in the IPTV set-tops.

GoBackTV, a company with about 25 employees, is tailoring all of this for smaller cable operators, rather than for giants like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).

"Big operators like to work with the big vendors, and their needs are very well met," Brockett says, noting that GoBackTV's system is of particular interest to smaller MSOs that are balking at the cost of traditional QAM-based digital cable boxes from suppliers like Motorola and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

Among early takers, A+ Group of Denmark is using the GoBackTV bypass system to deliver IPTV services via its cable plant (which was formerly analog-only), unifying it with the FastTV service it's running on its telco system. In the U.S., RTEC Communications of Ohio also has a deployment up and running.

GoBackTV has other undisclosed deployment deals, including a couple in Africa, according to Brockett, noting that 2009 should be the "break-even year" for the closely held company.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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