While Microsoft Corp. attempts to enhance its position in the U.S. Internet-protocol television browser and guide market beyond SBC Communications Inc., scores of smaller companies believe they’re doing quite well by serving second- and third-tier telco providers around the world.
Take ANT Software Ltd., a Cambridge, U.K.-based browser technology company, which boasts more than 500,000 IPTV set-top deployments around the world. They include a 214,000-home deployment with France Telecom, as well as ones with SaskTel in Canada, Softbank Corp. in Japan, Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd. in Taiwan and 25 smaller U.S. telcos.
ANT views IPTV in terms of service, rather than as a network architecture.
EASY TO SUPPORT
That allows IPTV operators to provide service more cost effectively, because network and set-top box costs are lower.
“It’s very easy to create content for it,” said ANT head of marketing Andrew Bovington. “We use Web standards.”
Today, ANT is shipping its Fresco Web browser.
“It provides a compelling, reliable user interface inside a small set-top box footprint,” he said.
“It will sit on 1.5 to 2 Megabytes of Flash memory and runs the whole user interface. We can do that within 8 to 16 Megs of memory.”
That allows set-top vendors to build boxes for $100 to $200.
“You see [set-top box] vendors struggling at 128 Megs or more and the CPU [cost per unit] goes through roof. They cost $500 plus and have large fans.”
As ANT requires far less memory, “it turns IPTV into a very viable solution,” Bovington said.
As the IPTV market developed in the early part of this decade, ANT integrated with other suppliers. The Fresco browser was incorporated into set-top boxes from Pace Micro Technology plc in 2000.
Since then, ANT has integrated with Thomson Consumer Electronics, Amino Technologies plc and Samsung Corp. for their IPTV set-top deployments.
The company also integrated with a host of middleware providers, including Alcatel for its Open Media Client, Minerva Networks Inc., OpenTV Corp. and others.
Sasktel Canada, which counts 64,690 IPTV subscribers, uses ANT, Pace and Alcatel’s OMC.
Chunghwa Telecom, which counts 65,725 IPTV subscribers, uses ANT and Pace.
France Telecom uses ANT and Sagem set-tops, while Hong Kong Broadband, which counts 27,900 IPTV subscribers, uses ANT and Amino set-tops.
ANT IN THE U.S.
In the U.S., ANT counts more than 50,000 IPTV subscribers across 25 deployments, led by Ringgold Telephone Co. (14,500 subscribers) in Georgia, which uses Minerva middleware on Amino set-tops.
The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or Utopia, which is building a fiber-to-the-home platform across Utah, is using the ANT browser, as is SureWest Communications and a number of smaller telephone companies.
ANT was formed in 1993 and made network hardware before it entered the browser-software market in the late 1990s. As Internet-via-TV fever took hold in the late ’90s, it developed the browser technology that served as the basis for Fresco.
While Internet content on TV never took off, the underlying development of HTML and Java applications provided a de facto common standard for telcos that began looking at IPTV services in the early part of this decade.
“We started seeing STB and TV manufacturers looking at standards to develop interactive content or user interfaces,” Bovington said. “This led to IPTV development.”
ANT plans to introduce a successor to Fresco, dubbed Galio, in the next few months.