Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sprint kills two birds

There is little doubt in my mind, that someone woke up at Sprint one morning and looked at their current position and strategy and thought:

  • Launched iPhone, check,
  • Introduced all-you-can-eat unlimited data plan, check,
  • Launch 4G, check, 
  • that feels pretty good... 

That is until someone must have asked "Who are our suppliers of mobile internet technology who we will be relying on to grow drastically our capacity and services while reducing our costs?".

The answer was probably, "the same vendors whom we have relied on for 2G and 3G, Openwave and Ortiva Wireless"... Well, the market had changed and as the execs looked at the viability of their current suppliers, they probably accelerated their exit by selecting a new vendor. Sprint has been rumored to have selected Bytemobile last month, after a short evaluation. 

As you have seen, Ortiva got scooped up by Allot, a good operation for the vendor who has been wanting to expand their offering for the last eighteen months. The company was looking for good technology, at a low price, and that is exactly what they got. 

Ortiva Wireless has been one of the first pure play video optimization vendors, focusing on transrating and dynamic bit rate adaptation. A narrow field that allowed it to focus and execute well technically, on a few deployments, but lacked the breadth to challenge vendors with a more complete offering. The company never got the critical mass to grow organically fast enough, and when the news hit, last month, that Sprint, their largest customer was looking at alternative vendors for 4G,  the investors, who have put in over $40m in equity and convertible debt decided to look for alternative growth strategy. Allot had been in the market for a while for a video optimization vendor and the deal was concluded in a few weeks, for less than $16m.

The following week, Sandvine announces a joint video optimization  deployment with Mobixell at nTelos. Bytemobile had already started communicating (here) around policy-based optimization at mobile world congress, with Openet.

As for Openwave, if you have followed the saga (here), you will  not have been surprised to learn that after a few weeks of due diligence with a couple of possible suitors, the company decided to continue licensing its patent portfolio under the name "Unwired Planet" while divesting its product divisions split between Openwave Messaging and Openwave Mobility to Marlin Equity Partners for $55m.It is too bad that the strategic relationship with Juniper did not develop into an acquisition, but it is hardly surprising, considering Openwave's market share and technical results in video optimization.

Meanwhile, as Comviva, NSN, OnMobile, and Huawei enter the segment with their in-house and OEM'd technology, Alcatel Lucent, Amdocs, Cisco and others have selected partners for VAR and OEM and are actively participating in vendors' evaluations. 

These subjects and many more at the Mobile Video Optimization forum in Brussels June 12-13th. I am the show's official blogger and will chair day 1. I am looking forward to seeing you there.

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.