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September 13, 2005 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

The Open Systems Dilemma: An Interview with Minerva's Mauro Bonomi

Minerva Networks is one of the "old-timers" in IPTV. It was involved in the early days of FastWeb, when IPTV was still a pretty radical idea. Since then, it has been part of deployments in over 40 countries. To learn more about where Minerva sits in the IPTV value chain and how they see their future prospects, we interviewed Mauro Bonomi, Minerva's CEO.

Bonomi told us that Minerva had its first IPTV platform in 2000 and has been honing its capabilities ever since. Some of their big installations along the way include Shanghai Telecom, Hong Kong Telecom, Telefónica de Espana and many independent US telcos. He believes Minerva can enable a telco to offer IPTV as good, robust and scalable as any competitive solution. As an example, he points to the SureWest system in Sacramento, California, which competes against Comcast.

But enabling competition against MSOs was not the main topic on Bonomi's mind. His much more pressing issue is how to win in the presence of Microsoft. He observed that "the big guys are falling in love with the Microsoft story" which includes seamless management of delivery of services over multiple platforms ("convergence in the back office"), instant channel change and custom mosaic screen EPGs. To judge by SBC's, Swisscom's and BT's (to name three) choices of Microsoft, he seems to be right.

Bonomi points out that Minerva's software is deployed in many installations and working well today. He also believes they provide a more cost-effective and scalable approach. But the key reason Buonomi believes the Minerva approach is better is its open platform design. "Open" in this context means the telco can "mix and match" system elements from different vendors--e.g., you can unplug one vendor's VOD server and plug in one from another vendor.

Minerva's approach is in contrast to Microsoft's, where (quoting from Microsoft's Ed Grayzck in Interactive TV Today ( ) "some things ... are just so intrinsic to the core service level of what we deliver--like DRM, like VOD, like the broadcast-delivery infrastructure, like the IPG and client- side experience" that the system prevents you from unplugging one of those elements and plugging in some third-party module.

Bonomi believes the big problem in gaining acceptance for Minerva's open approach is clear. In the old days you could never go wrong buying IBM; today the same is true for Microsoft. Managements of big telcos are reluctant to base their success in video services on small companies like Minerva. They want a big reliable name company to be the integrator--someone whom they can tell their board and investors stands behind their chosen IPTV solution.

If you look at what makes up an IPTV system today, it seems clear why big telcos want to have the name and resources of a big player like an IBM or other big integrator. Telcos see the open alternative as handing them the responsibility for selecting and integrating systems for many kinds of elements:

  • Set-top boxes (from vendors such as Thomson, Amino, i3 Micro)
  • Encoders (Tandberg, Harmonic)
  • Video content distribution and delivery (BitBand, C-COR, nCube)
  • Applications layer client-server middleware and headend systems (Minerva, Orca Interactive, Kasenna)
  • Conditional access and DRM software (Irdeto, Widevine, Latens)

To further confuse things, many of the vendors listed above also supply other IPTV system elements.

How does Bonomi think open IPTV solutions can successfully compete against Microsoft? He envisions "best of breed" solutions put together by "kieretsus"--company groupings led by major players such as Accenture or Lucent. To envision who some choices might be, he pointed out that "the enemies of my enemies are my friends". He predicted announcements by the end of 2005 or early in 2006.

We've got our antennas tuned and hope that at TelcoTV 2005 (see upcoming events below) we'll get a better handle on whether and how this scenario will play out.

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