Fiber Fills Eagle’s Wings

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As the definitions of a “cable” or “telephone” company blur in the age of broadband, new competitive entrants are springing up on the edges of defined playing fields.

Consider Eagle Broadband Inc. Founded as a wireless infrastructure company in the mid-1990s, Eagle bills itself as a broadband provider of video, voice, data and wireless service through Internet-protocol technology.

Eagle also claims to be the first company to secure IP video delivery rights for large amount of cable programming and studio content.

For example, in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., Eagle provides video services for the private developer of a new 7,500 home enclave, amalgamating content from the major program networks and studios.

In Truckee, Calif., Eagle is working with the local utility, Truckee Donner Public Utility District, to raise private revenue bonds to finance an IP-over-fiber broadband network for a broad suite of advanced services.

Those offerings, falling under a private label heading, include voice-over-IP telephony, several tiers of symmetrical high-speed data services, ranging from 1.5 Megabits per second to 10 Mbps, 200 plus channels of video and security services. Truckee pays Eagle a per subscriber per service fee.

FIBER PREFERENCE

Elsewhere, Eagle might partner with a local telephone company to provide video services alongside a voice and high-speed data offering.

“We focus on bundled digital services, the four-play of voice, video, data and security,” said Eagle vice president of marketing Randy Shapiro.

“We can do it over any network infrastructure, but our preference is to do all fiber-to-the-premises or home.” he said.

That preference has led Eagle to work with municipalities, utility companies, real estate developer and other service providers that might be rebuilding or starting a broadband build from scratch using the latest — e.g. FTTP — technology.

Although initially trading in the wireless world, Eagle shifted focus in early 2000 when the paging market fell apart, Shapiro said.

“We started to acquire businesses, and bought a FTTH deployment in master planned community in Texas,” he said. Eagle also purchased a security company, plus a research and development firm that has since worked on Eagle’s own set-top box.

In Truckee, the local utility there hired a construction company to lay the fiber plant, although Eagle can provide design services, Shapiro said. “They get to deliver advanced services and [partner with] somebody that has expertise in delivering services and operating a fiber network.”

The Truckee rollout will be IP-over-fiber, Shapiro said: “Everything is true IP. We will connect every home and business in that community.”

With Lake Las Vegas, Eagle partnered with developer Ron Boedekker of Transcontinental Properties Inc. Eagle currently is supplying video service and back office support like billing and customer service. “We’re looking to supply additional services, and ultimately the full suite of all four services,” he said.

Shapiro said Eagle works with all major telco headend and transport providers, including Minerva Networks Inc. (video encoders and decoders), and Wave 7 Optics, Corning Cable Systems LLC and OSI (optical equipment providers).

“We are doing a lot of work with independent telcos,” he said. “On one level, we can partner with a telco only doing voice and data. We can help them get into the video business. It can be DSL or it can be fiber. We can also offer them security services.”

SET-TOP SOARS

Eagle also has built its own set-top box, which is finding use in hotels. The box can support HDTV and MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 (Moving Picture Experts Group) codecs, depending on what the customer needs, Shapiro said.

Eagle is working with The Mandarin Oriental hotel and several Intercontinental hotels on high-end television systems that offer video-on-demand and HD. “There is a big surge in demand” in that market, Shapiro said. “The high end is focused on HDTV. They are putting in LCD and flat panel TVs.”

The set-tops are built with processing speeds of 733 Megahertz or higher, and contain 40 gigabit to 60 Gb hard drives, he said. “It has a full motherboard and we can add a modem. The standard box has RJ45 and RJ11 outputs. Most of the hospitality industry is doing broadband via IP.” He estimated that Eagle now has thousands of set-tops deployed in the hotel market.

In addition to that high-end set-top, Eagle offers a mid-tier set-top and a low-end IP set-top that contains only a video decoder.

CONTENT CONNECTIONS

But Eagle is more than just a hardware player. The company said it has distribution rights to more than 200 cable and broadcast channels from the major content providers, including Cable News Network, Fox, Viacom Inc., Discovery Networks U.S., The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Home Video.

“We’ve secured the IP rights to operate video content on a closed-IP network,” he said. “We have a lot of expertise in delivering IP video.”

Eagle uses standard video encryption from Irdetto and others to protect content. “We got the rights because of our experience on fiber and IP networks. This is not Internet rights,” he said, but rather rights for “a private IP network or fiber network.”

The company operates VOD systems in a number of hotels, plus a few residential communities in Houston. In those markets, viewers receive VOD through Eagle’s own set-top. Video servers are supplied by InfoValue and Kasenna.

On the service provider side, Shapiro said Eagle counts more than 10,000 subscribers, a number that could grow quickly if more telcos step up to the plate and begin offering video service.

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