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Video services

Sun Shines on IPTV

Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) is aiming to be the latest big networking and telecom vendor to make a splash in the world of IPTV as the company gets ready to go to market with a brand new video server and a pack of eager partners, Light Reading has learned.

"We are going to go to carriers and offer an end-to-end IPTV solution," says Darrell Jordan-Smith, VP of Sun's global telco industries group. "We'll offer everything from the streaming technology, the processing technology, the storage technology, the Web services technology, the set-top box technology -- all the way down to the devices themselves."

Of course, a sweeping initiative like this isn't out of character, given Sun's involvement in the telecom carrier world already. The company sells servers that power data centers; it built the Java computer language that runs millions of cell phones and PDAs; and, more recently, its service delivery platforms are powering more and more carrier applications (see Sun Announces SDP Plan, System Vendors Sight SOA, KT Shines on Sun ).

Like other big-iron vendors such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Sun will partner with a variety of yet-to-be-announced vendors to assemble a complete IPTV system. "We're going to have an architecture in conjunction with companies like Sony, Phillips, and other big consumer-based businesses," Smith says.

Smith says Sun has been talking to carriers about IPTV for some time, but its plans will become more apparent in the market in the next six-to-12 months.

Specifics of Sun's market rollout and carrier trials aren't available, but sources say a major component of Sun's IPTV play will be the technology developed by its founder Andy Bechtolsheim at his most recent startup, Kealia Inc., which Sun acquired in 2004 (see Kealia Project Raises Questions, Cisco Big Bolts for Startup, and Sun Deals for Handy Andy).

Sun's yet-to-be-announced video server, called Streamstar, is based on the digital video server technology Bechtolsheim was developing at Kealia, Light Reading has learned.

Sources say the Streamstar team, housed inside of Sun's Network Systems Group, is building the hardware and software for the next-generation video servers that will power Sun's IPTV efforts. That solution will include storage devices to handle large libraries of movies and other media, high-powered content switches, and servers capable of handling a high volume of requests from users that want to customize their own video experience.

Consumer-customized content is a key differentiator for telco IPTV because it allows for carriers to offer local events coverage and other items national satellite TV vendors and most cable providers can't match. But Sun's model doesn't put all the control at the end of the line.

Indeed, Bechtolsheim's pitch to broadcasters at the NAB2005 conference earlier this year highlighted network-based video recording capabilities -- a sort of gigantic TiVo that serves thousands of users much like a Web server hosts thousands of customized Web pages.

"The advantage is that the ad insertion behavior is completely under central control, and can range from no-skip to mini-ads... to any other business model that is acceptable to advertisers," Bechtolsheim noted in his presentation.

Sun, natch, will face some big competition from HP, IBM, the Microsoft Corp.-Alcatel duo, UTStarcom Inc. (Nasdaq: UTSI), BroadStream Communications Inc., Eagle Broadband (Amex: EAG), and others.

As an example, IBM's IPTV plan also revolves around using its own servers and storage devices while bringing in partners to help with all the other bits. IBM has partnered with video infrastructure companies such as Arroyo Video Solutions Inc., Entone Technologies Inc., and Kasenna Inc.; software companies such as Kasenna, Microsoft, Myrio Corp., Orca Interactive Ltd., and Thales Broadcast & Multimedia; broadcast headend companies such as Envivio Inc., Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (NYSE: SFA), and Tandberg Television; and set-top box makers such as Amino Technologies plc, Entone, Kreatel Communications AB, Scientific Atlanta, Thomson (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), and others.

Sun hasn't announced its partners yet, but Light Reading sources say the company is working closely with interactive TV software provider Digisoft.tv.

Smith won't divulge all of Sun's IPTV plans. But he says the company is telling carriers it can change the economics of IPTV delivery. And he says its solution is being tested with carriers in North America, Asia, and Europe.

Though Microsoft is dominating the big carrier landscape at the moment, Sun says it is poised to capitalize on carrier worries of giving too much control to Microsoft.

"They don't believe that Microsoft has open standards," says Smith. "And they don't want to be locked into Microsoft's media player because they feel like MSN competes with them as a service provider."

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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