Eye Spy: Spotlight on Competition
IP IS HIP: FCC chmn Michael Powell says IP is where it’s at, ranking it as the #1 technology being worked in Silicon Valley (Cfax, 9/14). Glancing at the number of IP announcements made each day proves his point. Take, for example, Eagle Broadband, a broadband and communications provider that counts municipalities, public utilities, real estate developers, hospitality companies, telcos and even some cable companies as customers. In the past few months, Eagle has inked more than $10mln in contracts, including a $1.7mln order with General Dynamics Interactive for IP set-top boxes for a new Las Vegas luxury casino. Hospitality multimedia provider Aero-Vision signed a $6.2mln deal for IP boxes and financing. "We’ll work with partners to help them design and build a broadband network," says Randy Shapiro, Eagle Broadband’s vp, marketing. "Our preference is to do it over fiber, especially if you’re going to build a new network. We do a revenue split, and they pay us a fee to deliver services to the community." Most of Eagle’s cable customers offer video and ‘Net services, but they may look to it for help launching voice and home security. Eagle still does security using a copper line, but for everything else "we’re very much a proponent of providing services in an all-IP format," Shapiro says. Eagle recently signed content agreements with leading broadcasters, cable nets and movie studios-a feat it says marks the 1st time a company has secured IP video content rights. "It took a lot of education," Shapiro says of the agreements, which include pacts with Discovery, ESPN, ABC and Warner Home Video. "The content providers are rightfully concerned about piracy." But there are advantages, he contends, to offering a true end-to-end IP video solution. "First, there’s the quality of the video itself. Even digital doesn’t provide as high a quality," he claims. "There’s also a cost advantage, especially for the telcos. Cable companies have spent billions upgrading their networks… Still, there are constraints on those networks. The risk cable companies have…is that telcos are looking at an all-IP format of 20-25 megabits. Cable networks are tapping out at 500-700 Mhz (6-7 megabits/sec downstream)." ANOTHER TAKE: Motorola vp, systems engineering Mark Depietro has doubts about the telcos’ bid to use fiber as a video conduit. Skipping the usual caveat about the prohibitive cost of a full-on FTTH rollout, Depietro says it’s a question of experience. "Verizon has a lot to learn about running a video business," he says. It lacks useful knowledge about negotiating content rights, he adds. Concurrent CEO Gary Trimm says the telcos’ obsession with low bit rate transmission will devalue the quality of their video offering, especially compared to the picture subs are used to getting with digital cable or DBS. – AC SIMPLY THE BEST: You can’t buy advertising like this. Money Magazine (Nov) presents a guide to HD. For HD programming "cable is the best-it offers a wide array of local programming and has enough bandwidth to rapidly add new HDTV channels," the article proclaims. "What’s more, for cable subscribers who already get digital service (which averages about $50 a month before premium channels, plus a set-top box rental fee of up to $7/month), a move to HD often costs nothing." Money notes satellite generally can’t offer as much local programming in HD. CASH GROW: Cable is starting to overtake telcos in the generation of free cash flow, Communications Media Analysis Group’s 50-page broadband report says. While the major MSOs have accelerated FCF, the 4 major incumbent telcos are starting to show signs of struggle to maintain their levels, thanks to increasing investments (fiber-to-the-home doesn’t come cheap), dividend payouts and those infamous price cuts (SBC last week slashed DSL to $19.95/month for some customers).