With all the financial performance pressures on cable operators, many seem to be more interested in making investments in technologies that have fairly immediate impact on their financial results, rather than on new applications which may (or may not) bring them lots of future revenue. We saw many fewer whiz-bang technology demos and more suppliers focused on pragmatic issues like managing traffic, provisioning service and supporting customers.
The applications being shown at the ICTV booth were emblematic of this shift. ICTV supplies "HeadendWare", a centralized software platform that extends the life of existing digital set-tops by supporting multimedia and two-way real time interactivity on the TV. Several years ago ICTV was demonstrating how their platform would let cable operators offer "the hottest games". At this show, Ed Forman, Senior VP of Marketing, was speaking instead about "fully interactive TV-based customer support" to "lower support costs while increasing customer retention". The focus is no longer on providing applications like "Monster Truck Rally" or "Deadly Tide" but instead on things like animated interactive tutorials and self-provisioning.
Another area of concern to MSOs is how to manage the various types of traffic that occupy their bandwidth, especially the peer-to-peer file sharing programs which take huge amounts of upstream bandwidth (see http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0208.html#link6 ). Ellacoya Networks is is one of the companies addressing this concern through their tools for monitoring and managing the traffic. Ellacoya's CEO, Ron Sege, demonstrated how their IP Service Control System enables operators to "identify, report on, and limit aggressive applications".
Ellacoya's system allows operators to set up restricted bandwidth pools for specific applications and/or user groups during peak hours. High-usage applications get high throughput when the network is lightly loaded and lower throughput at times of peak demand; bandwidth can be allocated by type of traffic and user. It allows prioritization of on-net versus off-net traffic, limiting of upstream off-net peer-to-peer traffic, and other sophisticated features to reduce the need for additional backbone bandwidth. It also provides information to assist operators in offering tiered and usage-based services. Ellacoya's software is currently in use at several smaller broadband operators such as Millennium Digital Media, and is in trials with major operators.
Helping customers to set up their broadband account and customize their online experience can take significant MSO assistance. Netsurfer is another company focused on the practical side. Their subscriber connectivity and management software helps decrease the need for a technician at the subscriber’s home, automates provisioning and subscriber activation, provides self-diagnostic tools to cut down helpdesk calls and enables automatic downloads and updates. They have provided their software to more than 500 broadband and dial-up service providers in 14 countries.
At the show we spoke with Netsurfer Chairman Jeff Russell and CEO Steve Walden, one of Dave's colleagues from his days at Prodigy. They told us about Netsurfer's newly disclosed relationship with Cablevision Systems, which was recently announced. Cablevision selected Netsurfer's software tool, branded Net Guide, to address customer needs from PC installation and support to the introduction of new features and services.