Technologies of Crossing Platforms

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If you spend much time around the people thinking about how to do cross-platform services, you’re probably starting to hear the beginnings of a technological ingredient list.

This week’s translation — likely the first of many on this topic — shines a light on two biggies on the list, needed to move services between the existing “silos” of voice, video, data and mobile.

One does its work “higher up” in the network. The other tends to gadgets inside our homes.

A quick refresher: “Cross-platform services,” which also goes by “multi platform” and “bundle 2.0,” includes things like caller ID on TV (a voice element on video), remote parental control (mobile plus video), remote scheduling of your home DVR or push-to-talk dialing from the PC.

Most of these early examples feel like … early examples. Be honest: For how many minutes would you tolerate your spouse reading his or her e-mail, when it’s displayed on top of the TV show you’re trying to watch?

But then you hear that an increasing number of consumers, equipped with wireline phones in their homes, still make most of their calls from their cell phone because it’s easier — the numbers are stored there. And you wonder: How hard it would be to get that same list into your home phone, for one-touch dialing? Seems useful; seems cross-platform.

Caller ID on TV is already out there. Word from the field: People like it.

“Up in the network,” as tech people tend to say, is a technology suite that started with mobile carriers, and is branching out to cable and telcos. It’s called “IMS,” for “IP Multimedia Subsystem.” Its intent is to ease the way for those “anytime/anywhere/any device” services riding on the Internet Protocol side of the network.

A search for IMS on Multichannel.com turns up the following headlines: “Cingular to Demo Live Video Calls” and “Might Be Time for IPTV Labs.”

IMS created a furor on the telecom scene two years ago, and fueled by the big suppliers: Ericsson and Alcatel/Lucent, among many others.

People who own networks like IMS because it blunts the “dumb” part of “dumb pipes.” That means it keeps the network relevant in the delivery of converged services. By contrast, other techniques put all intelligence in the end devices (the gadgets).

Watch for cable providers to engage in technology “bake-offs” of IMS components this year, in parallel with their developing cross-platform plans. In the lexicon of cable-specific efforts, IMS falls under the CableLabs PacketCable 2.0 effort.

At the other end of the network (as in your house), equipment blending is needed, before things can jump cleanly between, say, your TV and your PC. Maybe it’s moving your personal media from your computer to your big-screen TV, or finding a way to take your video and audio playlists with you.

Blending means home networking, and the second of the technology pieces emerging on the cross-platform ingredient list. At the linking-up level, most of the tech talk centers on “MoCA” — the Multimedia Over Cable Alliance — which uses the existing coaxial cable in your walls to physically interconnect your stuff. It’s looking to be big for cable, as well as for some telcos, such as Verizon.

Then there’s an emerging software layer, focused on various “service domains.” It’s needed to apply specific treatments to those services needing special handling — Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms for voice and video; content protection methods for video that wants to be portable. From a cable perspective, that work will happen within the CableLabs OpenCable effort.

That’s the short list of starter technologies for cross-platform services: One at each end of the network. Then there’s the tiny matter (ahem) of everything in the middle. More on that as it starts take form.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at www.translation-please.com.

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