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Back from my first Anga

My feelings from the Anga cable congress can be summed up by my reaction to Cologne’s main landmark.

A surrealist sight hits the visitor exiting the main Cologne train station. The gargantuan cathedral called the ‘Dome’ seems to rear up from the past; which is how I perceive the cable industry that Anga represents. The Dome is surrounded by modern, more ugly buildings, that seem to be slowly encroaching upon it’s lebensraum just like the Internet or DTT threaten Cable. The train station itself, with its underground lines, represents different hybrid ways of transporting things; I wonder if it’s undermining or on the contrary underpinning the great old cathedral’s foundations. From the outside it’s as if the majestic building, symbol of the cable industry, were dying. It’s blackened at places and has almost permanent scaffolding that seems to hold it up.

A different story emerges when you are inside. One’s jaw drops with the shear size. Wikipedia just told me that it was once the tallest building in the world. The vertical proportions of the arches stretch upwards as if some divine hand had pulled malleable stone upwards. Then you look closer and realise that no, this is the work of hundreds of humble stonecutters over centuries. All the carefully crafted slabs stack up in powerful columns, just like the innumerable insignificant single-valley cable plants, in nearby Switzerland, add up to a powerful force. The strength of this force will keep enemies at bay for the foreseeable future.

OK I'll leave the poetry there; now for some reporting:

A first surprise on my first visit to Anga is that it's marketed as a cable event when IPTV, FTTx, Satellite, hybrid and more abound. OK so there are a bunch of booths with nothing more than little bits of cable on display, but no-one ever stops on those anyway and one sees one or two even at IPTV World forum. The organisers must be doing something right though because at least one company I met, Zappware, were on the waiting list and didn’t get a booth.

Wondering around for two days wasn’t enough for my sense of direction to kick in so I kept on getting lost in the huge hall's two sections. There were an order of magnitude less booths than say at IBC, but almost all of them were mid sized. I used the Korea “Green IT” pavilion at one end as a landmark. It was a mistake because each time I passed it I felt a little worse about how clueless-marketers are trying to jump on the green bandwagon and have all but broken it before it has even left the station. The only green thing in that pavilion was the word.

On the positive side, the TivO demo on the Conax booth rocked. It was by far the most convincing illustration an industry oxymoron: walled garden OTT, where operators give access to all the content that is readily available out there, while reassuringly (?) never letting the subscriber out of their sight. The business models and content deals are not yet clear as earlier failures from the likes of Joost show, but the end-user proposition is now overwhelmingly compelling. It’s beautiful. I want it now in my home now!

The OpenTV 3D demo was the first, modest but effective, effort of using 3D in the interface itself, not just the video, which I’ve seen. 3D will not be revolutionizing mainstream interfaces soon, but I definitely got the feeling of peeking into the future.

I saw three interesting companies from my hobbyhorse Quality of Experience area. Ineoquest where present with a big booth clearly hoping to push their IP and head end leadership further into the cable market. Skyline’s Dataminer product was on prominent display. It’s an interesting way to commoditize the likes of Ineoquest by putting the effort on a central piece of software, which other quality systems then report to. Another outsider in the Quality area was the German supplier Axiros. From a background of managing zillions of legacy boxes, their approach is now built on the TR69 protocol. Axiros offer a new product that sits between the device management systems (ACS) and the devices themselves (STBs) so that more meaningful info can be taken from each device. Axiros performs some of the QoE monitoring functions themselves this way.

I got a private demo from German STB maker Winbox. They had a really simple “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” ideas and an effective demo for simple « push » playlist. A VoD server pushes short content like trailers to device’s local storage (HD or Flash memory) so a personalised preview or barker channel is available. If not a killer app, this could at least be a killer VoD-ARPU generator...

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IPTV World Forum Eastern Europe 2009 Roundup

[lang_en]The turn out subjectively seemed to those who I spoke with, to be disappointing, but Informa, the conference organisers, were as always upbeat pointing to the 60+ operators present and the 20+ exhibitors. So I suppose, as the recession isn’t officially over, the glass is over half full.

The conference was setup around cosy tables so it was hard to judge the audience size but there were always between 50 and 100 people present in the conference.

The conference was branded with “quality of experience” and there was some effort to get that into the titles of some of the talks. But what I saw of day one talks didn’t reflect that. I suppose it’s the editorial control issue here. Informa can’t enforce much, the upside of which can be some surprising talks. One speaker I spoke to actually admitted to not really knowing what quality of experience actually is … I picked up a few snippets like from Michal Taborsky that Telefonica O2 has no plans on OTT yet and that HD is delivered in a best effort mode and so not charged for yet in the Czech Republic.

Sebastian Becker, founder, thebrainbehind, stood in as chair on day two. He was surprised by how cautious Russia seems to be with IPTV. It was surmised that torrent users are dominating/ruining this market. Croatians on the other hand seemed bullish on IPTV probably because of the lack of cable there.up

Mihai Crastelnau made a good presentation about the myths of content sourcing that we all say is so veeeeeery difficult, namely because you can’t work with studios. Well that may no longer be the case. It is however still not so easy to get all the details right like the metadata, subtitles, dubbing, encoding, etc.

A learning that OTE shared with the audience was that there should be a significant gap between the price for double play and triple play. Iskon in Croatia uses 25%, which seems to fit the market well.

The Orange IPTV advertising experimentation seems to be still in very early days, like the red button was in 2003. Orca and Dreampark both gave convincing middleware presentations. Finally Sebastian noted how NBC Universal showed their new channel branding strategy is a way to become must-have channels. Their message to platforms is (surprise-surprise) to focus on quality rather than quantity.

Overall, Sebastian Becker thought it was a good show considering the circumstances, although as chair he regretted that the audience didn't ask many questions.

The exhibition was well laid out in such a way that, unlike in London, no booths were stuck in the corner off the beaten track. Informa cleverly served a scrumptious desert in the middle of the exhibition so there was plenty of passage.

I randomly dropped into some booths of companies I didn’t really know.

Gravity is a Hungarian start-up in the recommendation space. They proudly stated at the booth that they were “Founder of the overall best Netflix prize best team”, but I never got to the bottom of that and everyone in this space claims some sort of link. Their demo worked fine, but with a database of 120 movies at the show I was unimpressed. If I get the time I’ll try out their half collaborative filtering half metadata approach on the web with a real database.up

I was more impressed by the DS2 booth. DS2 is a Spanish chip and reference design company for power line communications (PLC) devices. Their chipsets end up in the PLC devices from the likes of D-Link or Netgear. They compete with Intellon (also at the show) and claim a few USP’s like a TR-069 client option for just an extra $1. This could enable an operator to do things like upgrade a device firmware or reboot a customer’s PLC device. As we look towards more and more commitment from operators to manage IPTV services this looks like a really smart move.

DS2 sell a tiny daughter card for $16-20 which will let you integrate PLC into other devices, so it could for example be in the modem-router and STB of the operator straight out of the box.

The big news for folks in the PLC market is ITU-T’s ratification just this month of the G.hn standard that will enable true compatibility between vendors (hmmm sounds familiar, I thought that was already the case, I suppose it can’t be). DS2 say they’ll have new 400 Mbps devices ready and compatible by the end of 2010. Current devices are at 200 Mbps. Remember to halve all published rates between the physical layer advertised and what is achievable at o-an IP level. The dynamic range (i.e. how far you can get two PLC devices to talk to each other) isn’t expected to change though. So if it doesn’t work in your home now, it won’t any time soon.

As Evertz are at most of the IPTV shows and I have no idea what they do, I thought I’d stop by to find out. The first good news is that they come from Canada. They sell - and do correct me if I'm wrong with the technicalities - 3RU racks where you can slot up to 15 cards each of which takes an SDI input and spurns out an MPEG stream ranging from 1 to 20 Mbps. So I deduct that they do encoders. The company website (which feels uncannily like you’re at the Hertz rental car company) did little to help deepen my understanding. I’ll try the literature next time and anyone from Evertz please feel free to contact me for proper write up.

I stopped off at the Open IPTV Forum booth where I had three green t-shirted friendly people all to myself (hmm wonder who pays for that). Starting from 8 founding members in 2007 they boast an impressive 58 paid-up members. They have no pure-play middleware vendors (Ericsson doesn’t count because they supply the whole ecosystem). If they did have, say, Dreampark, it could help to get their specs off the white-boards and into live deployments.up

As I passed the Orca booth, Sefy Ariely, VP Sales & Marketing at Orca Interactive, grabbed my arm and told me he was a bit cheesed off [with me] about the comments I’d made in my last piece about them showing the Compass demo over and over at show after show (Read IBC 2009 report on Middleware). I told Sefy I had been nice because not only was it repetitive, but getting less interesting than it was in the beginning. Sefy, being a seasoned professional, had an answer to every objection. It was first just a concept demo, now it’s a real product. It looks like we just have to accept that real products are less exciting than demos.[/lang_en]
[lang_fr]The turn out subjectively seemed to those who I spoke with, to be disappointing, but Informa, the conference organisers, were as always upbeat pointing to the 60+ operators present and the 20+ exhibitors. So I suppose, as the recession isn’t officially over, the glass is over half full.

The conference was setup around cosy tables so it was hard to judge the audience size but there were always between 50 and 100 people present in the conference.

The conference was branded with “quality of experience” and there was some effort to get that into the titles of some of the talks. But what I saw of day one talks didn’t reflect that. I suppose it’s the editorial control issue here. Informa can’t enforce much, the upside of which can be some surprising talks. One speaker I spoke to actually admitted to not really knowing what quality of experience actually is … I picked up a few snippets like from Michal Taborsky that Telefonica O2 has no plans on OTT yet and that HD is delivered in a best effort mode and so not charged for yet in the Czech Republic.

Sebastian Becker, founder, thebrainbehind, stood in as chair on day two. He was surprised by how cautious Russia seems to be with IPTV. It was surmised that torrent users are dominating/ruining this market. Croatians on the other hand seemed bullish on IPTV probably because of the lack of cable there.haut

Mihai Crastelnau made a good presentation about the myths of content sourcing that we all say is so veeeeeery difficult, namely because you can’t work with studios. Well that may no longer be the case. It is however still not so easy to get all the details right like the metadata, subtitles, dubbing, encoding, etc.

A learning that OTE shared with the audience was that there should be a significant gap between the price for double play and triple play. Iskon in Croatia uses 25%, which seems to fit the market well.

The Orange IPTV advertising experimentation seems to be still in very early days, like the red button was in 2003. Orca and Dreampark both gave convincing middleware presentations. Finally Sebastian noted how NBC Universal showed their new channel branding strategy is a way to become must-have channels. Their message to platforms is (surprise-surprise) to focus on quality rather than quantity.

Overall, Sebastian Becker thought it was a good show considering the circumstances, although as chair he regretted that the audience didn't ask many questions.

The exhibition was well laid out in such a way that, unlike in London, no booths were stuck in the corner off the beaten track. Informa cleverly served a scrumptious desert in the middle of the exhibition so there was plenty of passage.

I randomly dropped into some booths of companies I didn’t really know.

Gravity is a Hungarian start-up in the recommendation space. They proudly stated at the booth that they were “Founder of the overall best Netflix prize best team”, but I never got to the bottom of that and everyone in this space claims some sort of link. Their demo worked fine, but with a database of 120 movies at the show I was unimpressed. If I get the time I’ll try out their half collaborative filtering half metadata approach on the web with a real database.up

I was more impressed by the DS2 booth. DS2 is a Spanish chip and reference design company for power line communications (PLC) devices. Their chipsets end up in the PLC devices from the likes of D-Link or Netgear. They compete with Intellon (also at the show) and claim a few USP’s like a TR-069 client option for just an extra $1. This could enable an operator to do things like upgrade a device firmware or reboot a customer’s PLC device. As we look towards more and more commitment from operators to manage IPTV services this looks like a really smart move.

DS2 sell a tiny daughter card for $16-20 which will let you integrate PLC into other devices, so it could for example be in the modem-router and STB of the operator straight out of the box.

The big news for folks in the PLC market is ITU-T’s ratification just this month of the G.hn standard that will enable true compatibility between vendors (hmmm sounds familiar, I thought that was already the case, I suppose it can’t be). DS2 say they’ll have new 400 Mbps devices ready and compatible by the end of 2010. Current devices are at 200 Mbps. Remember to halve all published rates between the physical layer advertised and what is achievable at o-an IP level. The dynamic range (i.e. how far you can get two PLC devices to talk to each other) isn’t expected to change though. So if it doesn’t work in your home now, it won’t any time soon.

As Evertz are at most of the IPTV shows and I have no idea what they do, I thought I’d stop by to find out. The first good news is that they come from Canada. They sell - and do correct me if I'm wrong with the technicalities - 3RU racks where you can slot up to 15 cards each of which takes an SDI input and spurns out an MPEG stream ranging from 1 to 20 Mbps. So I deduct that they do encoders. The company website (which feels uncannily like you’re at the Hertz rental car company) did little to help deepen my understanding. I’ll try the literature next time and anyone from Evertz please feel free to contact me for proper write up.

I stopped off at the Open IPTV Forum booth where I had three green t-shirted friendly people all to myself (hmm wonder who pays for that). Starting from 8 founding members in 2007 they boast an impressive 58 paid-up members. They have no pure-play middleware vendors (Ericsson doesn’t count because they supply the whole ecosystem). If they did have, say, Dreampark, it could help to get their specs off the white-boards and into live deployments.haut

As I passed the Orca booth, Sefy Ariely, VP Sales & Marketing at Orca Interactive, grabbed my arm and told me he was a bit cheesed off [with me] about the comments I’d made in my last piece about them showing the Compass demo over and over at show after show (Read IBC 2009 report on Middleware). I told Sefy I had been nice because not only was it repetitive, but getting less interesting than it was in the beginning. Sefy, being a seasoned professional, had an answer to every objection. It was first just a concept demo, now it’s a real product. It looks like we just have to accept that real products are less exciting than demos.[/lang_fr]