Microspace Beams Way Into Broadband Content Delivery

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To hear Microspace Communications Corp. tell it, the satellite content-delivery business is not all about tanking business and dwindling customers these days.

With leased transponder space and a flat-fee pricing structure, Raleigh, N.C.-based Microspace has built a business-satellite broadcast network with more than 300,000 remote sites worldwide. The company uses transponders leased from PanAmSat Corp. and SES Global S.A.

While the company's feet are still planted in one-way analog satellite content delivery for automated music services and paging, Microspace since 1996 has been growing two-way digital video-on-demand business for enterprise.

Dubbed Velocity, the Ku-band service includes streaming video-over-satellite to private television networks and delivery of large-file multimedia content.

Microspace claims it is the only satellite-based broadband provider that offers a fixed price for content delivery, regardless of the number of sites to which that content flows. That makes it much easier for customers to budget for their data-delivery costs, according to director of sales and marketing Greg Hurt.

"We provide our service at a fixed monthly cost that is totally independent of the number of receive sites a client might have, or the amount of time that they actually use their satellite bandwidth during the month," he said. "No matter what the growth of your network looks like, if you are contracted with Microspace on Jan.1 you know exactly what your communications costs are going to be for a full-time satellite channel for the year. Our customers like that."

The service is offered in fixed bandwidth increments, similar to rate plans for wireless phone service. Customers sign up for packages with guaranteed bandwidth limits, but they cannot use more unless they request it.

"The system is highly scalable, and if they do need to make an increase like that, we go to our network control center here in Raleigh and send a simple command over the satellite, and the network bandwidth is instantaneously increased," Hurt said.

NAB SHOW AND TELL

Last week at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention in Las Vegas, Microspace was busy demonstrating its video-delivery wares, including a new Velocity Fast Forward service with an option to pay per megabyte for digital file transfers. The product is aimed at business customers who don't need a full-time satellite channel.

In addition to that novel price structure, the Velocity digital platform can offer connections ranging from 19.2 kbps to up to 10 megabits. That is moving it in range to grab a larger video delivery market, including business television to the desktop or TV, corporate Web casts and movie content delivery.

"With the bigger bandwidth ability we've had over the last five years it is allowing us to do, quite frankly, a variety of things," said Joe Amor, Microspace's general manager. "The traditional business television — we are doing that. We are adding clients."

Movies are becoming a big part of Microspace's business, specifically the delivery of movies to video servers in remote locations.

"We've been providing video delivery short form, like spot advertisements for cable TV systems, for a number of years," Hurt said. "But the delivery of long-play content — an MPEG file that might be a couple of hours in length — has really come a long way in the last 12 months or so, and we have been participating in that aggressively."

Although he would not disclose the name, Amor said one of the top pay-per-view services in the hospitality market uses Microspace to deliver movies to the servers in hotels.

On the cable video-on-demand side, Microspace started working on ad distribution to cable headends with VOD provider SeaChange International Inc. five years ago, an arrangement Amor likens to short-play VOD.

While the company hasn't had conversations with SeaChange about delivering VOD movies to server headends, it is expanding its business to include the digital transmissions of movies to theaters.

"We sat on the curb for a couple three years waiting for that to evolve — quite frankly waiting for the technology to evolve." Amor said. With the picture quality and delivery issues now in place, "it simply becomes then a function then of transmitting those files from a distribution point out to 1,500 screens in North America alone."

But for now, the traditional entertainment video content delivery still takes a backseat to video for enterprise use.

"We've done a lot of pilot programs and we are in the middle of a couple of them right now. I think the real outstanding issue here is getting Hollywood on board — comfortable with the security of a new and different delivery platform," Amor said. "I think that is the next major obstacle to get over, and I thing once we get by that it is clear sailing."

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