AOL Takes $3M Bite of BigBand

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BigBand Networks Inc., whose technology offers cable operators expanded bandwidth to deliver new services, received $3 million in funding from AOL Time Warner Inc. last week.

The deal, arranged through the AOL Time Warner Ventures unit, pushes BigBand's investment account past $60 million.

The $3 million infusion will be used to further research-and-development activity on the company's Broadband Multimedia-Service Router, according to BigBand corporate development vice president Seth Kenvin. BMR affords cable systems the flexibility to expand their channel capacity for advanced services and applications and to direct various audio, video and data transmissions.

Several Time Warner Cable systems — including San Antonio, Texas; Shreveport, La.; and Milwaukee, Wis. — use the BMR to make room for digital cable and high-definition channels.

The results from San Antonio and Shreveport led AOL Time Warner to consider BigBand "a compelling investment," said AOL Time Warner Ventures president Len Leader in a prepared statement.

AT&T Broadband's Atlanta system, which became a BigBand client last month, will be the first to add a new wrinkle to BMR — a Gigabit Ethernet to route digital video between facilities, and — in the event of a headend transmission shutdown or power loss — to transmit digital signals from alternative sources. The company is working on ways to harness GigEs for video-on-demand programming.

BigBand's AOL TW funding news came more than a year after TWC deployed its product. But the deal's significance will eventually go beyond such deployments, BigBand executives hinted.

Some sources familiar with the deal believe AOL Time Warner will bring BigBand into the thick of Mystro TV, the combined VOD/interactive TV/personal video recorder service being supervised by former Time Warner Cable executives Joseph Collins and Jim Chiddix. It's presently under development.

BigBand's funding base includes contributions from Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures, Pilot House Ventures (owned by former Continental Cablevision Inc. executives), Cedar Fund, Evergreen Investments, CommVest and Lauder Partners. Charles River also has its chief of cable activity, Santo Politi, on BigBand's board.

"They, like us, see digital cable as a great networking platform to expand the volume and variety of content and services going to digital subscribers," Kenvin said.

Other players in the bandwidth-expansion field include Juniper Networks Inc., Advent Networks Inc., Xtend Networks Inc. and Pulse-Link.