The consensus among speakers on last week’s "Minding Your Middleware: Choosing IPTV Platforms in Changing Times" panel at TelcoTV is that the middleware supplier category is incredibly fragmented.

Moderator Steven Hawley, principal analyst with Advanced Media Strategies, noted there are only a couple of middleware products with more than two-percent market share: Microsoft Mediaroom; and systems built by operators for their own use, like one built by Verizon.

In 2010, SureWest Communications launched Microsoft Mediaroom in its Sacramento, Calif., region. Then, in 2011, the operator conducted a middleware upgrade from Mediaroom 1.6 to 2.0 (For more, see SureWest Launches Microsoft Mediaroom 2.0).

Eric Freund, SureWest’s director/Business Innovation and Development, said at the TelcoTV event, "For us, it came down to the need for competitive features in our market and our desire to have a video experience that matched the performance and reliability of our broadband data service."

SureWest in Sacramento competes with AT&T U-Verse, Comcast and, to a lesser extent, with Frontier Communications and satellite providers. Its network is a mix of fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) and ADSL2+. The operator made the decision to transition from Minerva’s iTV Manager to Microsoft Mediaroom "born out of the competitive market we were in and the level of pressure from a feature standpoint – HD DVR, whole home DVR – we must have in order to have that initial conversation with the customer," said Freund.

But, he added, "Operationally, (Mediaroom) is not the simplest of systems to operate. There’s a lot to it. We’re still converting, operating both Minerva and Mediaroom. We expect the remaining Minerva customers to be moved over by the end of next year. There definitely have been some learning curves in making that transition. We have used system integrators in some areas."

Perhaps Mediaroom is more complicated to operate because it encompasses more aspects than does other middleware. According to Freund, middleware at its simplest is just the user experience such as the guide, with integration points for things such as VOD platforms and encryption. But Mediaroom includes the management platform, conditional access and VOD integration.

As for the learning curve for Mediaroom, Freund advised other operators to determine their bandwidth capacities and "use that as a guiding light to determine which solutions will best meet your needs." Because SureWest has been using Minerva and Mediaroom simultaneously during the transition, the MSO had to vet the network’s ability to handle that traffic early on.

Also, he said, "From an integration standpoint, it’s a complex system. Our headend is quite toasty with 100-plus servers running in it. Keeping up with applying patches was definitely something we struggled with initially."

Jerry Weber, CHR Solutions’ director/IPTV and Field Services, offers the following five tips to operators considering a Mediaroom implementation:

  1. ?Negotiate content licenses with an industry group such as NCTC or NTTC to get the necessary content licenses. Using a partner with relationships will make the process much smoother.?
  2. Decide up front what platforms to offer content on: TV, mobile, tablet and the Internet. Deciding later in the game that you need more features will slow down the roll out process as the system needs “retrofitting” delaying services as additional testing will be required to insure interoperability.
  3. Don’t underestimate the requirements and timeline. Service providers must first do an inventory in-house to see if they have the staff, resources and systems necessary to deliver the future service. With optimal third party assistance, appropriate staff training and the proper equipment, expect a minimum 6-9 month delivery window and ideally 12 months for a tested solution.
  4. ?Analyze integration requirements with current billing and back office systems.
  5. ?Service providers must be able to facilitate changes in customer needs and wants, changes in available offers, changes in delivery methods, and changes in end point devices. Customer demands are ever evolving so you need flexibility in your backend provisioning and billing. Managing the multi-vendor networks in addition to the changing needs of customers is one of the single most challenging aspects of turning up IPTV.?

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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