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A Brief History of Set-Top Box Innovation

Given all the recent and turbulent attention on “innovation,” as it relates to set-top boxes and IP gateways, I’d like to provide some industrial context. As a company involved in set-top and IP gateway innovation for almost half a century, we certainly have an informed viewpoint. After all, set-top boxes are a core part of our video DNA.

Let’s briefly review the innovation chronology for the cable set-top box. The original function of a set-top box – back when they were called “converter boxes,” in the early 1980s – was to convert an incoming channel so it could be watched on the TV.

Another big chapter was called addressability: The ability to remotely control a box’s ability to descramble and tune premium channels. Then came the “advanced analog” box, so named because it contained enough memory and graphics resources  to accept downloaded features, like an on-screen display, volume control, virtual text channels, a sleep timer, parental locks, reminder messages, multi-lingual displays.

In the mid 1990’s the industry took the big leap to digital video compression, and the first digital set-tops. Initial benefit: More channels – Ten video streams could fit into the space of one analog TV channel. High Definition TV later followed with HD set-tops, which brought much higher video quality. Next came digital video recorders, which gave rise to the mass adoption of time-shifted television, with thousands of hours of on-demand content, in both standard and high definition. And let’s not forget caller ID on TV, multi-room and whole home DVR, and EBIF-based interactivity, all in various stages of rollout by service providers today.

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Mobility Reporting Solution Offers Actionable Data

As an informed mobile service provider, you know that the spread of mobile applications and growth of associated traffic will place unprecedented new demands on your network infrastructure. What you probably don’t know is the specific mobile application usage trends, or how those shifting traffic characteristics may impact specific parts of your network over time.

mobile applications

In fact, one of the biggest challenges for mobile service operators today is being able to proactively predict and plan for the evolving subscriber traffic patterns on their networks. Communication protocols and consumer applications are continually changing and operators must remain agile – capable of quickly updating usage policy rules, as the need dictates.

Forward-looking network planning, operations and marketing leaders now demand actionable insights and detailed data that they can trust. Therefore, they now require an adaptable reporting tool that provides insightful reports, so they can maintain a superior quality of service within this changing environment.

Moreover, operator technical staff sometimes feel like they’re flying blind and need a real-time network intelligence-enabled view to help them troubleshoot events as they occur – thereby ensuring optimal network performance for all subscribers, under all usage conditions.

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The Money Cloud

Contributed by Sachin Sathaye, Marketing Manager, Service Provider Video Solutions Group

Call it the service provider cloud. Call it the network as a platform. Call it a two-sided market, or a “B2B2C” business architecture – consumers on one side, businesses on the other. In every way, this sustained push of Internet Protocol into the day-to-day activities of service providers is bringing with it substantial new revenue opportunities.

Which is good, because the one-sided business model – marketing services to consumers only – shows every sign of heading into a period of increasing costs, and flattening revenues.

My personal favorite, of the nomenclature above, is “two-sided market,” also sometimes called the “B2B2C” business architecture; because it illustrates that service providers can grow well beyond serving “just” consumers. Residential delivery of voice, video and broadband services are the bread and butter, no doubt – but the second side stands to be just as significant, over time.

business to business to consumer

What’s the second side? It’s a group, really, of entities that could benefit from business and technology arrangements with service providers. It’s content owners, content aggregators, application developers. It’s retailers and advertisers. It’s utilities and governments. Just like Amazon needed a nationwide mobile arrangement to move electronic books into Kindles, so will a whole range of new applications and services need that kind of managed middle-man connection.

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Broadband Stimulus: Be a Hero! Try your hand at showing how you would spend the funds

Contributed by Stephen Liu, Mgr. Marketing, Service Provider Routing & Switching

Play Cisco myPlanNet

If you happen to “stumble” upon some cash, would you use it for good? And if so, what would “good” look like?

The Broadband Stimulus Program has opened up a world of opportunities for everyone, provider and subscriber alike. What would the world look like if everyone was connected? What sort of transformations could you imagine? The possibilities seem staggering.

Fortunately, there is a fun and interactive way to experience the way people will shift the ways they work, live, play, and learn with broadband. It’s not a white paper. It’s a game. You don’t read about it; You submerse yourself in it. It’s called Cisco myPlanNet.

Since its introduction in October 2009, over 15,000 people have begun to play Cisco’s myPlanNet in over 130 different countries. Several articles have even been written praising the unique perspective this method of “edutainment” brings:


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Machine-to-Machine (M2M) for Mobile Operators: Lessons from the Market

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology and solutions are helping to create an “internet of things” that will drive productivity and improve lives – for consumers and businesses.  At the heart of this internet of things is an intelligent IP network that enables harmonious collaboration of devices in ways that appear seamless to the user.

Mobile operators in particular are looking at the explosively growing M2M market as a major source of new services revenue. ABI research predicts that the mobile M2M market is set for explosive growth, from approximately 71 million connections in 2009 to 225 million connections globally by 2014. This growth in mobile connectivity to machines ranging from vending machines to automobiles is being driven by a number of factors including, according to ABI research:

  • Telematics (i.e., convergence of telecommunications and information processing) and telemetry (i.e., remote measurement and reporting of information) are seen increasingly across many vertical industries as sources of greater operational efficiency and increased incremental revenue.
  • M2M applications are benefiting from the R&D and the scale of the mobile handset industry
  • Technical advances in air interface standards are enabling new 3G M2M market segments.
  • Government mandates are increasingly requiring the use of telematics and telemetry functionality
  • Mobile network operators (MNOs) are seeking to expand their data service offerings into M2M

Challenges for Mobile Operators

The M2M Market presents some unique technical and business requirements for Mobile Operators. The most obvious technical challenge is being able to provide connectivity to potentially many millions of virtually any kind of device. Additionally, while many M2M end devices transmit only limited traffic and thus do not require high throughput or a 3G connection, other devices have the potential to scale up bandwidth requirements significantly, for example, streaming of video from surveillance devices upon detection of a security event. The looming shortage of public IPv4 addresses is also a potential constraint, with some operators postponing commercial M2M service launches because they need to preserve their IP address allocations to satisfy the continued high growth in the number of mobile broadband subscribers.

Operators also need to adopt aggressive new business models to exploit the M2M opportunity. Average Revenue per User (ARPU) for connected M2M devices is much lower compared to mobile broadband subscribers. This can be problematic for operators where an industry indicator of overall financial health is the growth or decline in overall ARPUs. Of course, the number of potentially connected M2M devices is expected to dwarf the number of mobile broadband subscribers. M2M also brings with it specific customer support requirements, often including expertise that operators may not have in key M2M applications such as automatic telematics, transportation fleet management, security and public safety, remote healthcare monitoring, and remote automation for energy and utilities. Lastly, M2M brings with it transnational competitors operators, all seeking to service their enterprise customers with an integrated, global connectivity solution.

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