Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, November 23, 2006

More Images from CONNECTIONS(tm) Europe

Tricia Parks and M. Kenneth Oshman (Echelon) confer following Mr. Oshman's morning keynote.Attendees network during Thursday's buffet lunch.
Kurt Scherf (at the podium) & John Barrett (at the far end of the table) moderate the penultimate session "Funding Innovation — The State of Venture Capital for Europe."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Current Communications and AT&T Settle BPL Dispute

AT&T's lawsuit, which threatend to delay TXU and Current's plans to deploy broadband services over power lines, has been resolved. Earlier in the month, AT&T filed a restraining order against Current Communications claiming their BPL equipment, installed on utility poles, posed a safety risk to their workers. Current countered by filing a complaint with the Texas Public Utility Commission claiming this was an attempt to delay their plans of offering high-speed internet to customers in the Dallas area. Under the agreement, Current will now notify AT&T in advance which poles they will be installing the BPL equipment.

This resolution puts Current's plans of providing diagnostic or "smart grid" services to TXU this year back on track. It is reported that Current has already installed equipment on 520 poles along 23 miles in the University Park and Highland Park areas. Although Current and TXU also plan to offer broadband services to customers, it is unclear when this will be available. However, it is likely other BPL equipment providers and utility companies were paying close attention to this issue as more BPL pilot programs are scheduled to launch in the United States in 2007.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Images from CONNECTIONS(tm) Europe - Day Two

Day One ended with dinner at the Brasserie Am Gendarmenmarkt.

A bird's eye view of Matthew Theall's luncheon keynote.

Keynote Speakers Bernd Kolb, Stefan Jenzowsky, and Lydia Aldejohann.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Images from CONNECTIONS(tm) Europe

Here are some pictures from Day One of CONNECTIONS™ Europe.

From the pre-show workshop Digital Living Markets: A Global Perspective, the panelists for the session Ensuring that the Digital Home Works included Ray Cronin (Azimuth Systems), Yaal Eshel (Jungo), Heather Kirksey (Motive Inc.), Dorron Levy (Enure Networks), and Juha Stenberg (LiLLi Group Ltd).

Workshop attendees break for lunch.

The conference started with Tricia Parks moderating a session with Guido D'hert (NXP), Horst Peiffer (Ericsson GmbH), and Thomas Salzer (Crestron Germany).

The audience for Guido D'hert's keynote.

And finally ... the reception!

TiVo Web Video 2.0

TiVo has added a new function that allows users to watch any web video content on the TV screen. This is different from the TiVoCast feature, which has been available for some time. TiVoCast downloads select video content aggregated by Brightcove through the home network, in a trickled fashion. Currently it offers content from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), The New York Times, Heavy, iVillage and CNET among others. The new feature would enable viewers to watch broadband video content from outside of the little walled garden created by TiVo and Brightcove. TiVo will support video content downloaded to PCs running Windows XP in formats such as QuickTime, Windows Media Video, and MPEG-4. It seems that TiVo heads who want to watch Grey's Anatomy streamed through won't be able to benefit from the new feature.

This feature will only be available to TiVo-owned subscribers (1.5 million of them as of June 2006) who have enabled the home network feature. TiVo has not reported updated figures for subscribers using the home network feature but we estimate that less than half of the 1.5 million subscribers have done so. The new DMA-like feature is part of TiVo's Tahiti initiative, which also includes TiVoCast, TiVoToGo and several other cool applications. TiVo is trying to retain existing customers and attract new subscribers with these new features. Nevertheless, as cable, satellite, and IPTV service providers expediate their innovation pace and add similar features, whether TiVo can survive as a standalone platform is still questionable. Mainstream consumers are still looking for their TV service providers to provide new applications including DVR, VoD, and Internet connectivity as part of the entertainment bundle.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Incumbents’ Web 2.0 Makeover

It’s a lot of fun to watch the changes happening among incumbent cable MSOs and ILECs. If you have noticed the two new announcements about Verizon partnering with Youtube to deliver Web videos to Fios TV and wireless subscribers and Comcast setting up to find the best user-generated content to show on their TV channels, you know what I’m talking about. Even with their initial victory in the net neutrality debate, the incumbents have recognized that the best defense is offense and are becoming more proactive. When you think about it, who else own access network, customer and billing relationships, multiple screens in the home, local/community presence, heavy portal traffic and service bundles that include both communications and entertainment? Can Youtube touch the TV and mobile screen without the help of a Verizon or Comcast? Sure they can, but it’s going to take them a lot more efforts? The big question for the incumbents is whether they can turn these advantages into valuable online assets.

The Incumbents do face a few challenges. The first one is the dilemma between the traditional, walled-garden approach and the intrinsic social aspects of Web 2.0. The beauty of social networking and video sharing is that consumers themselves can easily share their life and favorite media with all of their family members and friends, regardless who they use for their broadband Internet services. With a walled garden that limits portal access to only existing broadband subscribers, BSPs are forcing their subscribers to other Websites. BSPs seem to be noticing this dilemma and Verizon is now offering its Playlinc online gaming services to all Internet users and Comcast has decided to allow all of its TV subscribers (with or without a Comcast broadband subscription) to access its portal. Will those who game on Playlinc be more likely to sign up for Fios when it comes to their neighborhood? You bet. The second challenge is more of a myth: Google is cool and Verizon is not. Is this true? Maybe. Can it be changed? Sure. Our consumer research shows that consumers currently are “neutral” in terms of who they want as their Internet content service providers. Googles and Yahoos of the world get the same score as Comcasts and Verizons when it comes to Internet video services. In an age when broadband operators are launching services like fashion items (Unik-the FMC voice service from Orange was part of its “Fall Collection”), who says service providers are dull?

Evaluating Home Networking for IPTV Deployments

Parks Associates moderated a panel discussion yesterday at the TelcoTV conference titled "Home Networking: Evaluating Your Options." A quick straw poll of the audience revealed that an overwhelming number were service providers. It's good news to see the interest in home networking from the service provider community. Not only do we anticipate that home networks (now enabled via both residential gateways and stand-alone routers and adapters) will add value to broadband and voice services, but will allow the video services offered by numerous providers to be deployed quicker (bridging between the modem/RG and set-top boxes, for examples) and with more applications (whole-house DVR).

With representatives from Entone, MoCA, HomePlug, and HomePNA, we walked through an evaluation framework that service providers can use as they are comparing and contrasting their various home networking options. From the discussion, the key variables that emerge in evaluating these solutions are:
1. What is the guaranteed throughput that a home networking solution can offer?
2. How does a home networking solution address quality-of-service measures?
3. How does a home networking solution account for security, both inside (encryption) and outside (combatting leakage) of the home?
4. How does a home networking solution deal with interference?

Additional questions that came from the audience included:
1. How do the different home networking solutions support multicast?
2. How are home networking solutions providers working to bring down the total bill-of-materials costs (BOM)?

One audience member brought up a relatively new initiative from the ITU called G.HN. My understanding of this effort is to look at developing a single home networking standard that will work over multiple PHY media (twisted-pair, coax, and powerline). Market competition will certainly shake out the winners in this area, but a European-led effort for standardization is certainly one to watch.

From the rest of the TelcoTV show, one key takeaway I had is related to how the service providers may either embrace or compete with the over-the-top video services now available from many different providers. We saw some interesting demonstrations of middleware and encoder vendors offering ways in which service providers can actually bring the over-the-top video into their service mix to extend the value of their multi-channel television offerings. In a recent article (, my colleague Michael Cai commented on what is driving incumbent service providers to take a closer look at incorporating user-generated and over-the-top video content into their mainstream services

"The video market is becoming fragmented," he said. "And if the cable operators and phone companies don't pay attention to what their customers want to watch, they risk leaving money on the table because people will go other places to get it."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

AT&T Attempts to Delay BPL Deployment in North Texas

In a move that could impact future BPL deployments around the U.S., AT&T has filed a temporary restraining order against Current Communications Group Inc., TXU’s partner in deploying BPL in North Texas. The order claims that the equipment Current is installing on some utility poles, owned by AT&T, pose a safety risk AT&T employees. One has to wonder if this is truly a safety issue or an attempt to hinder TXU and Currents strategy to provide BPL services to homes across North Texas.

Although it seems this issue will not delay TXU and Current’s goal of providing broadband service by the end of the year, if successful, it could provide a strategy for other Telcos to delay BPL deployments around the country. An agreement between Current and AT&T is pending regarding this issue.

BPL Overcomes FCC Hurdle

As expected, the FCC ruled Friday that Broadband over Power Line (BPL) be classified as an “information service”. With this ruling, BPL now is on an equal playing field with DSL and cable modem service. While deployment of BPL remains sparse in the United States, this ruling could spark a renewed interest and increased investment in the technology.

Touted as a possible avenue to provide high speed services to rural areas, it remains uncertain if BPL can be a cost effective option. However, the use of BPL technology could provide solutions in two viable areas. A more immediate use of BPL could be in the field of monitoring. Sometimes referred to as “smart grid” technology, BPL’s duplex communication capabilities would allow utility companies to monitor and better manage demand and quickly troubleshoot issues. Secondly, BPL gives companies, such as Google and EarthLink, a network to leverage and differentiate themselves from their DSL and Cable competitors. Google and EarthLink have already made investments in companies that provide BPL products and services.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Google's Print Ads Program Unveiled

Google today announced the alpha test of its Print Ads program that allows advertisers to bid against each other to place their ads on newspapers and magazines. More than 50 major newspapers are currently on the trial.

This is another splash Google made in bolstering its role as an innovator in the advertising space. The impact is both near-term and long-term: first, the Print Ads program is essentially a B2B transaction platform that connects the buyers and sellers of the ad space on printed media and eliminates the middlemen played traditionally by media buying agencies. Presumably, Google will generate some broker fees from facilitating these transactions, although it admits the initial cash outlay will be more than the cash generated.

But Google stands to benefit not just from an “eBay-like” service. The more long-term benefits are from advertisers’ trust of and reliance on Google as ad optimization engine, whether it’s search, display or offline traditional media ads. By entering this traditional media space, Google reveals its ambition to provide a holistic solution to advertisers and tries to alleviate advertisers’ long-time agony of unable to optimize ad buying across multiple media formats. This weakness is correctly spotted by Google, and this Print Ads program and Google’s purchase of DMarc earlier this year are clear steps toward that goal. Google sweetens the deal by providing access to its measurement metrics database. Even though the value-added here appears to only provide print ads’ impact on online traffic patterns, this offline and online “linkage” is the tip of an iceberg of how advertisers can understand their ad placement’s impact on their top-line. If you continue to probe and speculate Google’s future moves (if I may), the outcome could be more than just cage-rattling, but groundbreaking. Imagine, Google can invent better algorithms to measure TV ad viewing than Nielson does, and imagine it can get its hands on scanner data that capture consumers buying habits, then all of a sudden, Google’s tentacles will reach all corners of the advertising space. With its powerful computing power and impressive collective brain cells, Google might be able to tell advertisers that maximization of sales or customer retention can be achieved by placing x% of ad dollars on search marketing, x% on radio ads in certain markets, x% in TV ads, and so on. It is the Holy Grail advertisers are searching for and once they have it from Google, Google will be the single most influential force in maneuvering ad spending.

Of course, such a solution is not come by easily and Google might fail in the process. But the company is constantly experimenting and righting itself back on track. During Google’s searching process, the increasingly endangered species are media buyers. Commenting on this Google news, Peter Gardiner, chief media officer for New York media agency Deutsch downplayed the impact on his industry by saying “It might start changing the way we do certain things.” Come on guys, let’s be realistic. It is not “might” but “have to” for you.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Let the Masses have Wi-Fi

A ruling announced yesterday by the FCC may have flown under the radar, but it emphasizes the success of a technology such as Wi-Fi as a differentiating broadband offering, and it also speaks to the law of unintended consequences. The title of the ruling is awkward ("Petition for Declaratory Ruling Regarding the Over-the-Air Reception Devices [OTARD]Rules"), but the premise is simple. At Boston's Logan Airport, Continental Airlines installed in its President's Lounge (frequent-flier club) a wireless access point that allows club members to access the Internet free of charge. At the same time, Massport (the Massachusetts Port Authority), which owns Logan, has a fee-based hot spot system installed. Massport challenged the installation of the Contential access points on the grounds that it violated the airline's lease at the airport, among other concerns.

While the FCC's Memorandium Opinion and Order ( is full of lots of technical language and legalese (which basically say that Continental has the right the have its private and free Wi-Fi network on the same property as a fee-based Wi-Fi network without interference from the landlord), the comments from FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein make it clear that the FCC tends to be very hands-off in regard to the open spectrum afforded to Wi-Fi operators. Copps, in particular, speaks about the ability of travelers to freely choose "from among multiple providers, including members-only airport lounges as well as coffee shops or businesses that may choose to attract customers by offering Wi-Fi service at lower prices than the airport authority offers."

And that's the law of unintended consequences - the role that free Wi-Fi services in particular have had in helping businesses differentiate themselves, particularly in catering to the needs of active business travelers. In a study conducted last year by Parks Associates (Mobile Entertainment Platforms & Services), 12% of Internet users indicated that they have used free Wi-Fi hot spot services, whereas only 3% said that they had paid for them, either as a subscription or for a one-time use. One would expect that a hotel or coffee shop offering such services as complimentary has gained more than a few loyal customers over the years. Whereas many early predictions about the Wi-Fi hot spot market were predicated mainly on how much revenue could be attained through the fee-based services, it's clear that free Wi-Fi is here to stay, and the current FCC leadership will continue to support it.