UTStarcom Rolls IPTV in India
On a conference call with analysts last week, UTStarcom chief financial officer Fran Barton noted the start of the deployment in India, without referring to Bharti by name: Even though the engagement was announced more than 18 months ago, Barton talked only about an IPTV deployment with "one of the largest private operators" in India. (See Bharti Watches UTStarcom for IPTV.)
It's an important step, because executives cite UTStarcom's end-to-end IPTV offering, RollingStream, as one of the linchpins of the firm's financial recovery. And while UTStarcom has had some success in China, the projects available in India represent a faster deployment ramp-up.
In China, UTStarcom started with trials of a few thousand homes at a time, building to what's now a 310,000-subscriber audience. "In India, it's different. They start you off bigger," to the tune of a 120,000-subscriber launch for Bharti, says Brian Caskey, UTStarcom vice president of marketing.
Bharti marks UTStarcom's second IPTV project in India. The first is a three-year deal announced in May with Aksh Optifibre Ltd. , which itself has a seven-year agreement to run an IPTV service for Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) . (See MTNL's IPTV Sparks Regulatory Debate.)
UTStarcom is fighting to regain profitability after going through a tough period that's included the requisite stock options investigation. (See UTStarcom Readies Plan B.)
Part of the company's recovery plan will involve picking which technologies to emphasize, Barton said on the call, and IPTV would seem to be near the top of the list, as it "has been the most exciting area of our broadband solutions portfolio," he said. (See UTStarcom Readies Plan B.)
Even so, IPTV is a "small part of the revenue," Caskey says, although he won't specify how small. "I would say it's one of the fastest growing parts of the business."
UTStarcom offers an "end-to-end" IPTV package, as do others, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Networks , and Nortel Networks Ltd. . (See Nortel Eyes IPTV Prospects, Ericsson: Tandberg Is Key to IPTV, Ericsson, Nortel Push on IPTV, Alcatel-Lucent Updates on IPTV, and NSN Wins IPTV Deal.)
But rather than surround itself with partners, UTStarcom provides everything itself, from the video headend down to the set-top box.
That includes software. UTStarcom owns its own IPTV middleware and offers its own digital rights management (DRM) technology. While the company is willing to bring in partners for certain pieces -- some carriers are already wedded to certain headends or DRM, for instance -- it's able to supply most of an IPTV network on its own, except for routers and Ethernet switches.
Some of the technology came from the 2003 acquisition of a startup called RollingStreams, a name UTStarcom eventually coopted for the whole IPTV package, dropping the previous mVision brand. (See UTStarcom Nabs RollingStreams, Xebeo and UTStarcom Rolls With New IPTV Name.)
Building an entire IPTV suite sounds like a lot of trouble, but Caskey says UTStarcom didn't have much choice. UTStarcom customer SoftBank BB Corp. was interested in IPTV, and UTStarcom couldn't find the right partners for an end-to-end play. (See Softbank Focuses on UTStarcom's mVision.)
"This was a good four years ago. Nobody at that time was really keen on our thought or intent -- which was all IP and streaming. Most people at the time were about download-and-play, to the set-top box," Caskey says.
Lots of carriers use a single systems integrator for IPTV, but a single vendor for all the pieces?
"In Asia it's an advantage, because they're a strongly Asian company, they have the right contacts and the right approvals to get deployed. Once they get deployed, other guys see this as the path of least resistance and go to them," says Colin Dixon, an analyst with The Diffusion Group (TDG) .
Dixon is enthusiastic about UTStarcom's IPTV achievements so far, but he admits the company has pretty much no IPTV presence in the United States or Western Europe. "I see them being very successful in Asia, but they haven't penetrated at all in the West," Dixon says.
For now, UTStarcom doesn't care. "I could win all of America, and I still wouldn't have this market share," Caskey says.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading