Video software

Sources: Moto's Shopping for IPTV Middleware

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is shopping around for an IPTV middleware vendor to buy, according to several industry sources.

The sources, who requested anonymity, say Motorola has "kicked the tires" of several potential acquisition targets during the past few months.

The main motivation for Motorola's move, it seems, is to get itself on a par with its vendor rivals and give itself another foot in the door of potential carrier customers.

Many of Motorola's peers -- companies that provide integration and/or equipment for telco TV networks -- either have their own IPTV middleware system in-house or have formed tight partnerships with specialist players.

The most high profile of these is Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), which has a productive partnership with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) that has resulted in multiple carrier engagements. (See Wind, Telefónica Pick Alcatel, Alcatel, Microsoft Confirm IPTV Deal, and Alcatel Lands TDC IPTV Deal.)

But Alcatel is not alone. Nortel Networks Ltd. has forged a relationship with Minerva Networks Inc. , while Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) partnered with Orca Interactive Ltd. before more recently taking over development of Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s homegrown Imagenio middleware platform. (See Nortel, Minerva Find IPTV Partners, Lucent, Telefonica Team on IPTV, and Orca's Not Blubbering.)

In addition, Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) acquired established IPTV middleware company Myrio Corp. , and Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) bought Thales Broadcast & Multimedia, including the Smartvision middleware used by Orange (NYSE: FTE). (See Thomson Fuses VOIP & IPTV and Siemens Snaps Up Myrio.)

Meanwhile, Motorola and rival Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), have, to date, remained relatively agnostic on IPTV middleware. (See Will Cisco Make an IPTV Middleware Move?.)

It makes sense that Motorola would be scouting for opportunities, says Heavy Reading analyst Rick Thompson. "There are still several major players out there that don’t have an IPTV middleware platform -- all those players are potential buyers and it would certainly include Motorola," says the analyst. "It's a long shot to assume it would try to retool its cable middleware product for telcos."

Thompson says a short list of possible acquisition targets can be derived just from identifying the current unattached players. "From a logical perspective you'd have to think of Minerva, Espial Group Inc. , Orca and a few other smaller players that are a little less visible, but that might pop up on the radar screen." (See Espial Joins IPTV Middleware Madness.)

Motorola erected the PR barricades when asked about any acquisition plans. "I can't give you a definite answer to that question either way," says Motorola spokesman Paul Alfieri. "I can't comment on any speculation."

"What I can say is that our current strategy is to partner with Microsoft where appropriate," Alfieri adds. Under that partnership, Motorola sells various set-top boxes to the customers of Microsoft's IPTV carrier accounts -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example. (See AT&T Set to Expand Its U-verse.)

Asked if any service providers have asked Motorola to provide an end-to-end video distribution system including middleware, Alfieri says: "I can't commnent on customer conversations, but what I can say is that our play is the [set-top] box play."

It's easy to see how Motorola might benefit from owning its own IPTV middleware. Such a system could create "pull-through" sales of the vendor's video processing and infrastructure gear, insiders tell Light Reading.

Heavy Reading's Thompson shares that view. "Middleware alone isn’t a cash cow, but has a lot to do with owning the service and selling other equipment as part of the larger IPTV investment," he noted in a recent column. Operators may want to buy the middleware and the hardware from the same vendor because the two elements interoperate so closely, he stated. (See IPTV MiddleWARs: Far From Over.)

And service providers might think Motorola is an appealing supplier given its real-world video distribution experience. "Regardless of whether it’s a telco or a cable network, we do have that experience of how to get video from the head-end to the home," Alfieri points out.

Motorola already sells equipment at both ends of the IPTV distribution system -- encoders and VOD servers at the video head end, and set-top boxes and residential gateways at the customer premises. And the company has already added to its portfolio through acquisitions this year -- set-top box maker Kreatel Communications AB in January, and VOD server vendor Broadbus Technologies Inc. in July. (See Motorola Acquires Kreatel.) and Moto Buys VOD Vendor Broadbus.)

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

Sign In