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As I Was Saying

All-IP Ecosystem 5 to 10 Years Away -- Or Maybe 25

12/02/2011 11:02 AM

Santa Clara, Calif. — It’s always entertaining when experts - all vendors with varying agendas - vigorously disagree during a panel discussion at an industry conference.

Thus when a session on “The New Perspective on Multiscreen Service Management” turned to the topic of how soon “convergence of IP” [Internet Protocol] would dominate the multiscreen environment, the clash of wishful thinking and grim reality generated strikingly different expectations.

“Five to ten years,” proclaimed Julien Signès, president and CE of Envivio, adding that convergence already “is happening at the service level.”

“Twenty to 25 years,” was the immediate response from Tom Lattie, vice president of product management, production, playout and multiscreen at Harmonic Inc., although he waffled slightly by contending that there’s already a “converged IP system” - that is, a “hybrid” - in place. Lattie backed up his slow-process outlook by citing that the “number of “RF STBs” [radio frequency set-top boxes] is too enormous to replace” quickly. As further evidence, he pointed out that the cable industry is still investing in MPEG.

“We’re so focused on tomorrow that we forget most of our customers are 15 years behind us,” Lattie added.

That prompted Signès to acknowledge that his company’s customers are adding MPEG-2 to next generation STBs, but he still insisted that the infrastructure is moving to IP.

The repartee at the Media Innovations Summit underscored the panel’s initial dialog, which focused on the continuing “complexity” of the evolving multiscreen juggernaut. The panelists, also including Sam Blackman, chairman and CEO of Elemental, and John Gildred, founder and CTO of SyncTV, agreed that the biggest challenge to cross-platform delivery is the legal barrier. Some programs are licensed for access on linear networks, but not tablet or wireless devices - creating barriers for delivery and for customer understanding of why they cannot see what they want, where /when they want to - despite the “everywhere” promises.

“The business backend is still very complex,” Signès fretted.

Blackman countered: “If we can [convince] cable providers to [adopt] converged delivery, we’ll eliminate complexity.” He also argued that competition form over-the-top providers will encourage legacy operators “to make the change.”

The panel also acknowledged the “pressure on an unprotected network,” adding another challenge to the timeline for introducing a converged IP network to meet consumer interest and new competitive circumstances.

The entire conversation - as did other sessions at the conference - emphasized the importance of moving to the multiscreen opportunity quickly, given the fast uptick in consumer expectations. At the same time, the dispute about timing and technology was a reminder about the complex technical and business model issues that persist in this migration.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com

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