Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Allot to acquire Flash Networks for $110 /$120 M?

This is the latest rumor from Globe. Allot, who has raised almost $80M a month ago and was rumored to be acquired by F5, then to discuss acquisition of Mobixell or PeerApp last year, has a $500M market cap. Flash Networks has raised over $61M.

The resulting company could be booking about $120M in sales and be profitable.

Allot, in a briefing with Jonathon Gordon, Director of Marketing, two weeks ago was noting: " Our policies focus more and more on revenue generation. With over 100 charging plans surveyed in our latest report, we see more and more demand for bundle plans for social networks and video. We can already discriminate traffic that is embedded, for instance, we can see that a user is watching a video within a facebook browsing session, but we cannot recognize and analyse the video in term of format, bit rate, etc...Premium video specific policies raise a lot of interest these days."

No doubt, the acquisition of an optimization vendor like Flash Networks can solve that problem, by creating a harmonious policy and charging function that actually manages video, which accounts for over half of 2011 mobile traffic globally.

As discussed here and here, video optimization becomes an attractive target for telco vendors who want to extend beyond DPI and policy. Since video is such a specialized skill, it is likely that growth in this area will not be organic. It is likely that the browsing gateway / DPI / PCRF / Optimization segments will collapse over the next 2 years, as they are atomized markets, with small, technology-driven under-capitalized companies and medium -to-large mature companies looking to increase market share or grow the top line.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Carrier strategy against OTT: vertical integration

In an interesting new development, Bell and Rogers, respectively 29 and 36% market share of the Canadian wireless market and fierce domestic competitors, join forces to acquire a majority share (75%) in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainments (MLSE) for $1.32Bn.

Bell had already started vertical integration by acquiring the remaining 85% of CTV for $1.3 Bn last year and owns also  TSN, TSN2 and NHL Network Canada as well as a minority share of NHL's Montreal Canadien. Rogers owns the Toronto Blue jay baseball team and the broadcast network Sportsnet.

MLSE provides Bell and Rogers with co-ownership of Toronto Maple Leaf NHL team, Toronto Raptor NBA team, Toronto FC MLS team and the Air Canada center.

This is a very good example of vertical integration. The Canadian market is fairly mature, but with a high broadband penetration and a relatively low mobile broadband penetration (75%), growth is coming from smartphone and media consumption. Rogers, with 44% smartphone market share and a blended ARPU of 60$ and Bell with 26% market share and 53$ ARPU are among the most profitable carriers in North America.

At the same time, as competition increases with wireless new entrants (Videotron, Wind, ...) and OTT offers (BBC iPlayer, Netflix...), Rogers and Bell understand that the key to profitability is content. Buying these sport teams is a way for Bell and Rogers to secure premium attractive content for their domestic market, retaining control (duopoly?) of the most sought after premium content franchises in Canada.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pay TV vs OTT part IV: clash of the titans

We have reviewed and discussed at length (here, here, and here) the fundamental changes that OTT is causing to the pay TV market. As consumer electronics vendors become content aggregators and as more screens get now directly connected to the internet, there is less and less value in a set top box that is an exclusive managed device from your MSO.

Service providers themselves are ambivalent about the box. It used to be the main tangible asset that MSOs marketed to "own" a subscriber relationship, with a safe environment allowing transactions, access control and digital rights management to monetize live and on demand programs.
Lately, it has looked increasingly like a ball and chain that MSOs have dragged, a costly installed base, slow to evolve and adapt to the latest technologies, incapable of competing against better services and cost structures evolved from OTT.

Microsoft, in the latest incarnation of its XBox Live service, has brokered deals with several dozens of content providers beyond existing Hulu and Netlix and  is launching today. More interestingly, Verizon FiOS, Comcast Xfinity and HBO are also part of the package... as OTT apps. The XBox is already a high-density, high-performance gaming and multimedia environment to play online games and stream video. Adding live TV and VOD makes sense and makes the set top box completely redundant. Microsoft innovates by integrating Bing, its search engine, the Kinect, its haptic motion recognition device and voice, with the EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) of the programmer. You can literally search y voice for a show, an actor, a director and see the results aggregated on your screen from various sources.

While you still have to be a Comcast or Verizon cable subscriber to avail of the services in the states, the writing (or rather the screen) is on the wall.

This experiment will no doubt cast a new light on the 35 million XBox live accounts, putting Microsoft firmly shoulder to shoulder with Google's TV efforts (and Motorola's set top boxes) and the next generation of Apple TV.

Soon will be a time when subscribers will buy access from their ISP independently from aggregation and content. Channels and MSOs will compete across new geographies on unmanaged devices, across unmanaged networks. New generation of apps will enable you to discover, access and curate content from your local media servers, the cloud and your traditional providers and present the result on the screen you elect. There is no technological or logistical barrier any longer. The business model of pay TV, subscription, advertising is undergoing changes of seismic proportions.

Openwave changes gear and positioning

In the latest installment of Openwave's transformation, the company sees two high profile appointments to beef up its licensing strategy.

Daniel Mendez and Tim Robbins are appointed at General Managers of Openwave's patent portfolio, in a clear move towards further monetizing Openwave's intellectual property in deals similar to Microsoft's announced earlier this year and generating $18M last quarter in licensing. This deal followed the successful re-acquisition this year of the patents previously sold to the Myriad group.

Daniel and Tim hail from Visto, who acquired and merged with Good Technology and created $350M in license revenue from intellectual property.

What I find the most interesting in the announcement, though, is the change in tag line describing Openwave over the last press releases. Openwave used to describe itself as "a global software innovator delivering all-Internet Protocol (all-IP) mediation and messaging solutions". A somewhat accurate description but really  wishy-washy and referring to "old" technology and positioning (IP communication was a revolution in the 90's and messaging, well, is not really very innovative nowadays). 

The new Openwave is "a global software innovator and the inventor of the mobile internet". That's bold, and while I can imagine many company would and might challenge that Openwave is the sole inventor of the mobile internet, it looks at last like someone at Openwave might have read my blog post from August and taken a clue. I think that is definitively the right positioning for the company to generate more traction. It will be interesting to see how vision and strategy align with the message and positioning over the next year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

OTT wave hits Canada: BBC iPlayer launches

BBC iPlayer is a popular VOD platform from UK's BBC. It is based on subscription and features long form original and archive TV and radio content. iPAD users can download the free app from the app store and browse limited free content or have access to over 1,500 hours of content on day one with an additional 100 hours every month, updated regularly for $8.99 a month.

Canada is the 16th country invaded by the  iPlayer but the first one where Netflix is present. It is going to be interesting to see how both giants are going to react to each other's strategy, no doubt in a rehearsal of a BBC launch in the US. While Netflix is predominantly about films, BBC iPlayer is a TV content aggregator, spanning radio and TV shows, news , concerts, documentary, comedies and more undefinable British genres like Little Britain.

While the launch is currently limited to iPAD, it should not be longh before it spans iPhones, Android, Wii, PS3 and laptop, as in other markets. BBC iPlayer global is a subset of the UK selection, and will propose only TV content at the start. The genres proposed are Contemporary drama, classic comedy, family & kids, classic &period drama, entertainment, modern comedy, Science & Nature, Sci-Fi, Music & Culture, Crime &Thriler, Lifestyle and News Specials & Documentaries.

BBC does not see itself competing against Hulu or Netflix, arguing that they are specialist, providing carefully curated content, to reflect the "voice of BBC", while other aggregators are more generalist in nature. Netflix tends to agree, citing different demographic target for their users. In September this year, BBC iPlayer served 153 million requests in the UK only, with an average 1.7 million viewer a day and a monthly viewing average of 69 minutes for TV (excl. radio). Numbers for outside the UK are not yet available. Most of iPlayer usage is during TV viewing hours, hinting at strong companion screen trends.

I think it is a strong sign, to start and see niche offers transcend their geographical boundaries to go truly OTT. BBC has found a huge following and not only with Brit expats for its acclaimed shows such as Top gear, Little Britain, etc... The walled gardens are crumbling and consumers are the winners. This tidal wave has a tremendous impact on mobile networks (capacity to accommodate video traffic surge), MSOs and PayTV (where traditional service providers need to find a way to protect VOD revenues and remain relevant), and Consumer Electronics (where CE vendors see themselves becoming content aggregators through app stores and native apps enhancing content discovery and access).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mobixell update and EVO launch

Mobixell was founded in December of 2000 to focus on mobile multimedia adaptation. Their first product, launched in 2002, was for MMS (Multimedia Messaging) adaptation and was sold through OEMs such as Huawei, Ericsson, NSN and others. It launched a mobile TV platform in 2008, and a mobile video optimization product in 2010. Along the way, Mobixell acquires Adamind in 2007, and 724 Solutions in 2010.

Mobixell has 16% market share of the deployed base of video optimization engines. Nearly 18 months after the launch of the video optimization module in their Seamless Access product suite, Mobixell launches EVO (for Evolved Optimization).

As a follow-up from the 360 degrees review of the video optimization market and in anticipation of the release of my market report, I had a recent chat with Yehuda Elmaliach, CTO and co-founder at Mobixell about their recent announcement, introducing Mobixell EVO.

"We wanted to address the issue of scalability and large deployments in video optimization in a new manner. As traffic grows for Gbps to 10's and 100's of Gbps, we see optimization and particularly;y real-time transcoding as a very CPU intensive activity, which can require a lot of CAPEX. The traditional scaling model, of adding new blades, chassis, sites does not make sense economically if traffic grows according to projections."
Additionally, Yehuda adds "We wanted to move away from pure volume reduction, as a percentage saving of traffic across the line to a more granular approach, focusing on congestion areas and peak hours."

Mobixell EVO is an evolution of Seamless Access video optimization that complements Mobixell capabilities with cloud-based services and benefits. The current Seamless Access product sits on the Gi Interface, after the GGSN and performs traffic management, shaping and video optimization. The video optimization features at that level are real-time transcoding, dynamic bit rate adaptation, offline transcoding and caching. Mobixell EVO proposes to complement or replace this arrangement with a cloud-based implementation that will provide additional computational power and storage in an elastic and cost effective manner for real time transcoding and for a hierarchical caching system.

Yehuda adds: "We have launched this product based on customer feedback and demand. We do not see customers moving their infrastructure to the cloud only for the purpose of optimization, but for those who already have a cloud strategy, it fits nicely. EVO is built on the principles of virtualization, geometric and automatic scalability and self replication to take advantage of the cloud architecture. "

An interesting development for Mobixell. EVO has no commercial deployment yet and is planned to be generally available in Q2 2012 after current ongoing trials and proof of concepts. Mobixell sees this platform being deployed first with carriers private clouds, then maybe using mixed private and public clouds. The idea is a waterfall implementation, where routine optimization is performed at the Gi level, then moves to private cloud or public ones as peak and surges appear on the network. The idea has a certain elegance, particularly for operators that experience congestion in a very peaky, localized manner. In that case a minimum investment can be made on Gi and complemented with cloud services as peaks reach certain thresholds. It will be interesting to see if Mobixell can live up to the promises of EVO, as security, bandwidth, latency and scalability can reduce the benefits of a mixed core / cloud implementation if not correctly addressed.
Mobixell is the second vendor to launch cloud based optimization after Skyfire.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Need an IT manager for my connected home!

I am not really an early adopter. I tend to integrate new products and technologies when my needs change.
Until recently, my electronic devices were dumb and mute, just performing what I wanted to, either working or not.

In this new era of hyper connected homes though, everything becomes exponentially more complex as you add more connected devices. Since I have started my business, I had also to use cloud-based apps and services to expand my brick-and-mortar tools.
Now, with two desktops, a laptop, a tablet, two smartphones, a connected PVR, a PS3 and countless accounts and services from Dropbox, Youtube, Netflix, Google apps, Tweeter, Blogger... it does not take much to see how how these devices, interacting with all these apps and data points can quickly start conflicting with each other.
Especially when you layer that these devices communicate over LAN, Wifi, Bluetooth, RF, IR...
Add as well surveillance camera and energy management modules in the future and complex becomes complicated.

UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) usually do a good job of device discovery. Service and content discovery and priority setting is where it starts to get tricky.
Here are a few of the problems I had to face or am still facing in this hyper connected world.

Authentication and handover:
I use Rogers as a service provider for one of my smartphones. I use their self-help app to manage my bill, my subscription and travel packages. One of the things that is truly a problem is that it works only on a cellular network. Most of the times I need to use it is when I am travelling to add or remove a travel pack for voice, data or text. Because of the expensive roaming data rates, it does not make sense to connect while roaming just to enable a feature that saves me the roaming costs. Obviously, Rogers has not enabled Wifi - cellular authentication and credentials handover.

Authorization and software version control:
I am a Bell subscriber for TV and internet at home. I was excited when I received an email showing off Bell's new mobile TV and companion screen apps for my iPhone / iPad. I was less excited when my iPhone, on rogers network could not use Bell's content, even though I am a Bell customer. Too bad, but I thought at least I could use the PVR remote control with my iPad on Bell's network. Does not work either, because I would have to upgrade my PVR. A PVR, I am renting from Bell. You would think it would be possible for them to know what PVR I am using and therefore allow me to re flash the software to avail of new capabilities or try to up sell me to the latest new PVR and features...

Credentials management
At some point, security relents before complexity. When you want to run a secure network across several interfaces and devices, managing credentials with associated permissions becomes tricky. You have to find a way to have credentials that can easily be shared, remaining secure while managing what device has access to what dataset under which conditions.

Connectivity, content discovery  and sharing:
Inevitably, users buy new devices and add up capabilities along the way. The flip side of that coin, though is that it makes for a very heterogeneous environment. When you start having several devices with similar capabilities or overlaps, you want them to function with each other seamlessly. For instance, my old desktop running XP cannot easily join the workgroup of my new desktop and laptop running windows 7.
There are solutions, but none of them straightforward enough for a regular user. A last example is the fact that my laptop, my iPad, my iPhone, my PVR, my 2 desktops and my PS3 to some extend all act as media servers. They all have local content and they all access content from the cloud, the internet or local content stored in other devices. Again, I haven't found a solution yet that would allow me to manage and share content across devices with clear permission management. Additionally, there is no search or recommendation engine that would allow me to perform meta search across 1) my local content on several devices 2) the internet and OTT content providers and apps I am using 3) the electronic programming guide of my set top box and present me a choice like: do you want to watch boardwalk empire Sunday at 9 pm on HBO, now on HBO Go, buy the entire season on Amazon or play the episodes from my PVR or media servers.

Too often, i have to transcode videos or change content format to ensure that I can see them on all my screens. This leads to multiple versions of the same content, with associated discoverability and version control issues. Another example is around contact management. It is incredible that Apple still does not get contact management right. If you enable iCloud and have your contacts synchronized with anything that is not apple (Google contacts or linked in) you end up with endless duplicates contacts with no hope to merge and delete without adding on new expensive apps.

Control and management:
It strikes me that with that many connected devices and apps, I have not found yet a single dashboard giving me visibility, control and management of all my devices, allowing me to allocate bandwidth, and permissions for sharing data and content across platforms.

I think at the end of the day, this field is still emerging and while it is possible to have a good implementation when purchasing a solution from scratch from a single vendor or service provider, assembling a solution organically as you add new devices is likely to have you spend hours deciphering DNS and DHCP configurations. I think what is needed in the short term is a gateway platform, acting as middle-ware, indexing and aggregating devices and content, providing a clear dashboard for permissions management and authorization. That gateway could be the set-top-box if it is powerful enough. It would give back to MSO the control they are loosing to OTT if they are willing to integrate and provide a cohesive environment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

MTS Russia selects Flash Networks

The deal was won last year, after a RFP shortlisting 4 major vendors. A trial in Murmansk followed the selection of Flash Networks. The solution is being deployed commercially and will be live at the end of 2011.

This is the first major announcement from Flash Networks in the video optimization space, confirming the conversion and acquisition of some of their customers from web optimization to video optimization.

“Using the data optimization platform allows us to reduce our mobile network data transmission load by almost 40% and our transit load by 30%, ultimately resulting in faster Internet speeds and better quality of data services for our users”said Sergei Stepanyuk, Head of Data Transmission Department at MTS. 

full release here.

Video optimization 2.0, market reset

On the heels of broadband traffic management's show in London last week, I thought it was time to take stock of that market segment as most vendors have launched their second generation product recently.

The market leader, Bytemobile (with 55% market share of deployments), started the trend this summer, when launching their new dedicated appliance, the T-3000. While this is not strictly a new version of their Unison product, it is a new computing platform sold as an appliance, departing from the software infrastructure business model. It is a first step towards solving some of the scalability issues experienced by the former solution, that saw dpi, policy, charging, web and video optimization inextricably amalgamated, whether you wanted to use all products or not. It gets rid as well of these expensive load balancers that were a high cost low yield proposition. Bytemobile is not the only one to experience price pressure and to take the knife to load balancing as the bandwidth requirements increase.

Mobixell, with 16% market share, seems to be at last in a position to digest their 724 solutions acquisition. While both product lines were quite complementary and had little overlap, it was a tough proposition for Mobixell to acquire 724, rationalize the technologies and workforce and face the ire of their traditional resellers and OEM (NSN, Huawei, Ericsson...). These were weary to see their supplier compete head to head with them in mobile broadband as Mobixell was rolling out 724 seamless gateway proposition along with their streaming and transcoding platform. The result saw Mobixell practice a tough price attrition in the market, helped by a low cost structure (724 solutions technology comes with integrated routing and inter process UDP-based communication that provides great scalability at low cost). Mobixell announced the launch of the new product release, called EVO, taking some of the computational power to the cloud. While some are skeptical about how much can be accomplished in the cloud for real time video optimization, it certainly is a good step towards cost and CAPEX containment worth exploring.

Flash networks with 8% has been quite busy on the market, silently plowing ahead, upgrading existing customers and winning a handful of deals. They have announced the new version of their product and are as well taking a big step in technology investment in that space.

Ortiva wireless with 3% market share has seen some very good progress this year, bagging some good high profile accounts, nearly tripling their year on year revenue, from an admittedly small footprint. The company has not announced a new version of their product yet, staying on their existing appliance model.

Skyfire labs, with 2% market share, a very innovative start up with a cloud based approach, evolved from their tablet and smartphone browsing app has also been able to grab some high profile tier 1 carrier, together with high profile VAR agreement with infrastructure vendors.

Openwave, with 1% market share, as you know, has had a very busy year on the corporate and financial front (herehere, here, and here), but has not announced much from a product, technology or customer standpoint. They are fighting for their survival and seem to be focusing to a return to financial stability (PS revenue increase, licensing of their patents to Microsoft) before investing further in technology or customer acquisition.

NSN has been developing their homegrown technology, wanting to end the reliance on their traditional partners in the space and came out with a very basic first attempt, focused around loss-less transmission. Nowadays, they are trying to push their "liquid" network concept and seem to be going at it in a fairly scattered manner.

These new product announcements signal, beyond the usual technology investment from start ups and established vendors, a market reaching a level of maturity fast, only 2 years after inception. Some might even say that this segment is commoditized before having really taken off. According to my calculations, this is a market that has generated about $90 millions for vendors this year. We can see from the number of players why price attrition plays an important role, even though traffic is increasing fast. We will see some consolidation and attrition in that space soon, as insufficiently capitalized vendors wont be able to sustain the market growth.

RGB networks, Juniper, Cisco, Huawei, Acision are all active in this space too, while others are preparing to enter the market. The market share are {Core Analysis} calculations, part of an upcoming report on the mobile video optimization space. Details and questions can be addressed here or at

Friday, November 4, 2011

Openwave licenses its patents to Microsoft

In a press release dated November 03, Openwave has announced its 1Q12 results and a licensing agreement with Microsoft in a separate release.

Openwave has had quite a momentous summer , between the unraveling of its relationship with Juniper, the re-purchase of its patent portfolio sold to Myriad group, and the replacement of its CEO (herehere and here). Never a dull moment. Having said that, the portfolio of patents that Openwave re-appropriated is a good representation of the pioneering position Openwave had in the industry in the 90's, with many seminal patents in mobile internet and mobile browsing. It was a good move to get them back, from a company valuation standpoint.

(In thousands, except per share data)
Three Months Ended
September 30,June 30,September 30,
 2011  2011  2010 
Maintenance and support10,67110,67713,993
Patents 15,021  10  4,000 
Total revenues 52,396  35,215  41,528 

While the company results for this quarter seem, at first glance, positive, they actually tell an interesting story. License revenues are still decreasing, (quarter to quarter and year to year), maintenance and support flat vs. last quarter and decreasing vs last year indicate an aging slowly decreasing customer base. The steady increase in services revenues, together with the decrease in license would tend to indicate that the company is milking customs development and change request opportunities, while customers are hesitating investing in the new product range.

Operating Expenses:
Research and development9,3489,83611,430
Sales and marketing8,73711,50910,821
General and administrative7,7867,1676,612
Restructuring and other related costs 5,072  524  708 
Total operating expenses 30,943  29,036  29,571

Cost of revenue is flat-ish, with the notable exception of cost of services, indicating further the custom development aspect. OPEX remains on par vs. last quarter, despite a $5m restructuring charge, mostly financed by lower marketing and sales expenses.

What stands out, is that Openwave manages to turn a $3m profit in this quarter. It is due to the licensing agreement with Microsoft, whereby they are licensing Openwave's entire portfolio of 200+ patents. Patents revenue for this quarter were $15m+.
It is a good operation for Openwave, to license its portfolio to a presumably non -competitor in the infrastructure space. It brings revenue, maybe some more significant strategic tie-ins in the long term. Unfortunately it does little to Openwave's capacity to recapture market share.
For Microsoft, it is an interesting move. I suspect many of the patents will be quite liquid, when it comes to the next round of litigation. Interested to see how Nokia/Microsoft/Openwave can take on Apple and Google for the mobile internet supremacy.