Telcos Face IPTV Middleware Muddle
That's the word from service providers at TelcoTV this week, many of which say the biggest hurdle to rolling out IPTV services is getting all their equipment to work together.
Allen Easty, CTO of Optical Entertainment Network subsidiary Fision, says that in his company's IPTV rollout, "the access equipment was there, and content suppliers understand the business. But the tool sets, the set-top boxes, the middleware, and all the other pieces -- those are the things that really just killed us."
This is a familiar refrain among service providers. In a Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) panel on Monday, one telco employee in the audience lamented his middleware provider, Myrio Corp. : "I've got problems with them, the same as everyone else who has them."
Matt Cuson, VP of marketing for Minerva Networks Inc. , says part of the problem comes from the amount of complexity that has been added to IPTV middleware over a short period of time.
"You've gone from a single SD [standard definition] stream to multiple HD [high def] streams, with PVR [personal video recorder], video on demand," and other features being added to IPTV networks, Cuson says.
Lack of ongoing support from middleware providers is a big issue, sources contend. The disgruntled Myrio customer says he doesn't know what else to do except "kick them in the shins to get their attention."
And one middleware employee, who asked not to be named, says some of his competitors have a philosophy of "dropping off their system and then saying, 'See ya!' "
Another cause for frustration comes from changing service provider needs. As new features become available, telcos are turning to their middleware vendors to help them provide new services. But not all new services will be available on every middleware platform, and not all new services will work with the set-top boxes that have already been deployed.
Ron Freeman, head of IPTV for emerging markets at Nokia Networks , says, "The industry has had some challenges over the last year, year-and-half. There are challenges with the set-top box technology every time that changes."
As a result, he notes, "Middleware got hit pretty hard."
Nokia Siemens, by the way, owns the Myrio assets through Siemens' acquisition of the company in 2005. (See Siemens Snaps Up Myrio and Siemens Acquires Myrio.)
While middleware providers admit there have been problems in the past, most believe the worst is behind them. Part of the reason for that belief, they say, comes from a change in the way service providers are building IPTV systems.
For one thing, telcos are increasingly turning to systems integrators to build and integrate end-to-end IPTV systems for them.
Brian Mahoney, VP of marketing for Espial Group Inc. , says telcos used to want to pick and choose different VOD servers, middleware, and set-top boxes, many of which didn't work together. But now, he says, "They're saying, 'OK, forget about what I want. Just give me something that works.' "
— Ryan Lawler, Reporter, Light Reading