French Say Oui to DSL TV

France is shaping up to be the center of Europe's TV-over-DSL developments, with three service providers battling to bring the service to market. The latest to join the fray is Neuf Telecom, formerly known as LDcom Group (see Neuf Telecom Plans TV Over DSL).

Neuf follows in the wake of incumbent operator France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), and up-and-coming broadband operator Free, which just completed a successful IPO with a view to rolling out TV-over-DSL services (see France Telecom Intros TV Over DSL and Investors Go Mad for Free Shares).

All three operators are aiming to offer similar services, but each one is using different middleware -- the software that manages delivery of the content to set-top boxes, delivers usage info to billing systems, and keeps control of quality issues.

Free has developed its own middleware, even designing its own set-top box and DSLAM with unnamed partners. France Telecom is trying out a number of different systems, including middleware from its DSL equipment supplier Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA). Neuf is also using Alcatel middleware for its Paris trial and planned service in Marseille.

Alcatel is working hard at becoming a TV-over-DSL middleware market leader. Last year, it acquired iMagicTV, a middleware startup (see Alcatel Finalizes iMagicTV Acquisition). It also bought some of the technology assets of Thirdspace Living, another player in this space. Alcatel says it's got a team of 200 people working on middleware developments.

Alan Mottram, president of Alcatel's fixed solutions division., says some of this work is devoted to developing middleware that will work with any DSL vendor's equipment, not just Alcatel's.

Alcatel already has at least of couple of middleware customers outside France -- Japan's Softbank (courtesy of its Thirdspace acquisition) and Canadian operator SaskTel.

But Alcatel is far from alone in the market. Israeli vendor Infogate Online Ltd. has just signed up its fifth operator customer and says it has noticed a definite increase in RFP activity (see Israeli ISP Selects Infogate for Video). Infogate Marketing director Norm Kreger says his is one of the companies engaging with France Telecom, though he adds that "it's hard to know what is going on there because [France Telecom] has multiple projects on the go."

Kreger also says it's hard to tell exactly what Alcatel is up to, and that it's easier to follow the developments of other specialist players in this specific middleware market, such as Minerva Networks Inc., Myrio Corp., and Orca Interactive Ltd. (see Occam, Minerva Test IP TV, Calix Demos IP Video Over DSL, Orca Demos Broadband TV, and FiberCity Uses Orca for VOD). VideoTele.com Inc. is another vendor looking to capture the rising tide of interest (see VideoTele Encodes, Decodes, Scores).

Kreger adds that the upturn in carrier interest is global. The Israeli firm has just opened an office in the U.S., where the cable operators and CLECs are showing interest (see Infogate Brings IP TV to US). It recently held a two-day seminar in Beijing that attracted 60 service providers.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch

bitguy 12/5/2012 | 2:29:13 AM
re: French Say Oui to DSL TV I don't know if anyone else found this article confusing - but in my experience - the middleware and the set top box has nothing to do with the network technology that it is carried over - whether its cable, DSL or anything else.

Middleware that talks to the DSLAM would be a drawback in my opinion, locking an operator into a whole set of equipment and software they couldn't change if they wanted to deploy new services.

Maybe LF should do a bit more research on this topic?
sevenbrooks 12/5/2012 | 2:29:08 AM
re: French Say Oui to DSL TV
In general, I agree that DSLAMs are unaware of Middleware.

The actual issue is whether the IGMP switching points are aware of the Middleware to Set top box communications.

If the IGMP switch is aware of this communication, then it removes the possibility that the Set Top will be hacked to request channels that it is not authorized for.

This is an issue for those technologies that use IGMP snooping at the first point of contact with the IGMP network. In this snooping case, it will be difficult to not forward a channel that is already at the snooping element.

firstmiler 12/5/2012 | 2:28:56 AM
re: French Say Oui to DSL TV Due to the differences in the capabilities of differing and proprietary Set Top Boxes on the market, there is a dependent relationship between network and Middleware.

The current state of the industry is that most STBs are ported to a single (or in best case only a couple) of M-ware vendors. Thus you choose an M-ware and by default you have chosed your STB. The STBs on the market today fall into two general camps: high-end, feature-rich, and low-end, thin-client type boxes. The high-end boxes are able to better handle rigorous decompression and other processor intensive tasks than their low-end counterparts. This allows the M-ware to send more highly compressed streams down the network.

As all xDSL implementations are not created equal, some carriers will need to manage their bandwidth more closely and perhaps be forced to by a high-end STB/M-ware solution. A more robust xDSL infrastructure may allow the carrier to go with the lower-end STBs/M-ware. The cost of STBs is absolutely crucial to the business case of IP video deployments. Being able to choose a low-end and lower cost STB is a significant boost to the viability of the business model.

ashash 12/5/2012 | 2:25:45 AM
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