Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Allot acquires Ortiva Wireless

You probably by now all know to whom I was referring to in my last post, when I was mentioning rumors of video optimization vendors getting closer to policy vendors. Allot announced this morning the acquisition of Ortiva Wireless for an undisclosed amount. 

This is the 4th consolidation in this space in 24months, after Ripcode was acquired by RGBNetworks, Dilithium's assets were sold to OnMobile in 2010 and Openwave products division was acquired by Marlin Equity partners earlier this year. Additionally, in related spaces, Avaya acquired Radvision and RealNetworks licensed its codec to Intel in 2012.

I had first heard that Ortiva was in advanced discussions with Allot on March 31st. At that point, Ortiva having allegedly lost future business with Sprint to Bytemobile was in a dire situation, as far as future revenue prospects where considered. Furthermore, one of its main investors, Intel does not appear on the last two financing bridges filed with the SEC. Allot, who had been rumored to have looked at many vendors in the space over the last 18 months, was the number one contender for a possible acquisition. Neither company wanted to offer comments at that stage, even when last week, the rumor became public in Israel and was commented on Azi Ronen's blog here

Beyond the purely opportunistic approach of this acquisition, it makes a lot of sense for Allot to have tried and integrate video optimization functions in its portfolio. Bytemobile has strong announced ties with Openet and last week, at the Policy control and real time charging conference 2012, the core of many discussions revolved around how to monetize the tide of OTT video traffic.

I was appalled to hear that, when asked about the best way to price for video, a panel composed of Reliance India, Vodafone Spain and Telefonica Czech, was mostly concerned about congestion and looking at pricing based on time of day. This is a defensive, cost-containment strategy that is sure to backfire. Many vendors who have been selling cost reduction as the main rationale for video optimization have backpedaled in the last few months. As it happens, many operators found out that in peak periods, managing aggressively the size of the feeds to reduce costs is not working. They see that a reduction in 20 to 30% of the size of the individual feeds does not mean less cost, but 20 to 30% more users accessing the same capacity at the same time. Which leads in many cases to no additional  revenue since they have not found a way to monetize OTT traffic and no cost reduction, since the network is still not able to meet the demand.

It is of course, one of many possibilities, but what strikes me, is that the industry has not yet agreed on what is the best way to measure video. Capacity (Megabytes), definition (HD or standard), duration, recentness, rights value or speed (Megabit per second) are some of the metrics that can be used for video charging, but in absence of a single accepted metric throughout the industry, many operators are hitting a wall. How is the industry supposed to monetize a traffic that it is not able to measure properly ? How can prices be shared and accepted by all the actors of the value chain if they measure the value of a video differently?
Costs for content owners and aggregators are measured in rights, geographies, storage, version control... Costs for CDNs are measured in geographies, point of presence, capacity... Costs for mobile carriers are measured in capacity, speed, duration, time of day, geography...

This is a  conundrum this industry will need to solve. If the mobile network operators want to "monetize" OTT video traffic, they first need to understand what measures can be used across other mobile networks horizontally and vertically with the other players of the value chain. Only then, an intelligent discussion on value and price can be derived. In the meantime, OTT vendors will continue selling (and in most cases giving) video content on mobile networks, increasing costs with no means for a viable business model.

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