Cable Show 2012: The Next Big Things? Four Startups Take the Podium

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Boston — The “Next Big Thing: Ideas, Inventions and Emerging Tech Innovations” session here today provided lightning-round presentations by four tech companies, pitching their ideas to the cable world. The session was moderated by Comcast Ventures managing director Louis Toth.

I don’t know if these are the next billion-dollar ideas, but each was pretty interesting.

* Blue Jeans Network: Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer, described the company’s service as “an interoperable videoconferencing service in the cloud.” Users enter a virtual meeting room and can use any videoconferencing device or software to joint in the meeting, including services from Google, Skype and Microsoft and teleconferencing systems from Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize systems.

CableLabs EVP and chief strategy officer David Reed, one of the “responders” in the session, asked what Blue Jeans’ differentiator was; Aaron responded, “Interoperability — nobody else in the world can connect Microsoft Lync to Skype today. We’ve built a video CDN, with any-to-any interoperability.”

Facebook uses the Blue Jeans Network to connect remote employees, Aaron said, and the startup is now providing service in 2,000 cities, in 200 countries.

* Fastback Networks: There about 300,000 cell sites in the U.S. and 5 million worldwide — with a tenfold increase in sites expected to be built over next five years, according to president and CEO Kevin Duffy. The problem: How to get the gigabits of data from wireless devices back to wired networks, especially because while “fiber is pervasive it’s not ubiquitous,” Duffy said.

Fastback has developed a proprietary wireless “fiber extension” system, which unlike microwave does not need line-of-sight. A mobile operators’ “first choice is fiber; if fiber is not there, they want the equivalent. We want to create a system that creates a smart pipe to the pole.” The Fastback system will provide 500 Mbps throughput at distances of 500 meters to 5 kilometers of range.

Charter CTO Jay Rolls noted that cable operators’ coax plant is five times more extensive than its fiber plant, and “DOCSIS 3.0 is getting awfully robust,” so that MSOs could hang backhaul devices off poles.

Duffy said, “We don’t think we’re a substitute for cable or fiber. But there are many times when cable or fiber isn’t available.” Fastback was funded in May 2011. The company has field trials of its product set for the second half of this year, with general availability slated for the first quarter of 2013.

* Scality: CEO Jerome Lecat touted his cloud-based storage infrastructure company as providing massive scale cost-effectively for storing files of all types. Scality would charge as little as $3 per year to host a two-hour HD movie, he said, and all storage “objects” are available over HTTP. Compared with the Amazon S3 cloud storage service, “at scale we are 70% cheaper,” Lecat said.

Time Warner Cable has selected Scality for its next-generation email service, said Matt Zelesko, senior vice president, Web Services & Technology at Time Warner Cable. But what about APIs? he asked.

Lecat said Scality has developed a Web services API, and will be adding interfaces to talk to legacy applications including iSCSI and NFS next year. “We provide latency as low as 7 milliseconds,” he said. “That would seem long for databases but for elements on a Web page it’s super-fast.”

* Celeno Wireless Communications: Not really as much of a startup as the others (Celeno was founded in 2005), the company is delivering its “carrier-grade Wi-Fi” technology to more than 75 service provider customers worldwide, said Gilad Rozen, founder, president and CEO.

“Today’s plain-vanilla 802.11n Wi-Fi is a best-effort technology,” he said. “To get coverage in the home for HD video you need to be able to deliver it with zero errors — but it’s in a frequency that is unlicensed.”

Liberty Global, an investor in Celeno, is using the company’s Wi-Fi technology in the home-media gateway that powers Horizon, its entertainment platform that blends cable TV, Web and personal content.

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