Alcatel-Lucent Cuts IPTV Costs, Adds App Options for Small SPs

Geeta Chaudhary, VP, multimedia integration, Alcatel-Lucent

Geeta Chaudhary, VP, multimedia integration, Alcatel-Lucent

September 7, 2010 – Small network service providers, who have been on the Microsoft Mediaroom radar for over a year, have an opportunity to translate access to the leading IPTV middleware to greater practical advantage, thanks to Alcatel-Lucent’s decision to launch a turnkey headend solution suited to their budget requirements.

The new Integrated Solution for Microsoft Mediaroom is a substantially modified version of the IPTV platform Alcatel-Lucent has previously deployed in more than 25 large networks globally. Where those systems involve hundreds of thousands to millions of households, the target base with the new version is systems serving one thousand to 100,000 customers.

“This promises to be a high growth area for us,” says Geeta Chaudhary, vice president of multimedia integration at Alcatel-Lucent. “Earlier most IPTV solutions didn’t scale down to small icos, and the hospitality and developer communities. We’re projecting about 11 million subscribers will come onto this architecture globally over the next three years.”

As previously reported (June, p. 30), Microsoft last year implemented a virtualized design concept for Mediaroom 2.0 targeting about 30,000 devices. “Working with Mediaroom we’ve extended the performance of that design to allow us to scale from 30,000 all the way to 100,000 subscribers,” Chaudhary says.

The solution breaks the barriers that have prevented service providers who can’t afford big multi-rack solutions from getting into IPTV, notes Vince Vittore, principal analyst for the Yankee Group. “Alcatel-Lucent’s approach to this market is unique because it combines a great user experience with a reasonable price point and leverages its experience as a video integrator,” Vittore says.

Server virtualization, widely used in the enterprise IT arena, combines what once were separate server operations systems supporting different functionalities onto a single server, thereby cutting the number of servers required in a given operating environment. Microsoft’s virtualization encompasses five of the six major functionalities supported by Mediaroom, including content acquisition, content protection, asset management, service delivery and subscriber management, which includes billing and subscriber validation. Management of consumer devices is not part of the virtualization process.

“Prior to virtualization one physical server equaled one machine,” Chaudhary says. “Now one server equals about nine machines. Depending on how functionalities are allocated, the earlier market profile for 100,000 subscribers was 120 plus servers. Now it’s down to ten to 15.”

At this level there’s no sacrifice in channel capacity, Chaundhary adds. “We kept the physical server implementation for ingestion of channels,” she notes. “The small operator with 10 to 15 servers can have a channel lineup as robust as 550 channels. And the architecture still supports instant channel chance and concurrency on VOD. Nothing has changed in terms of performance.”

The Alcatel-Lucent solution uses HP BladeSystem servers with aggregation switches incorporated into the server blades, obviating the need for cables across server modules. “Each server connects to an aggregation switch and from there the data goes to the routers and into the network,” says Frederick Gries, solution line manager at Alcatel-Lucent. “The virtualized part takes place between the servers and the aggregation switch.”

Another cost-saving aspect of Alcatel-Lucent’s support for small operators is the company’s lightweight solution for back-office operations. “We use an abstraction layer interfacing with the Mediaroom API on one side and an OSS API on the other to remove the complexity from traditional CRM (customer relations management) and billing mediation,” Chaudhary says. “The fulfillment solution extracts the billing CDR (call data records) from Mediaroom and adapts them to the customer’s existing format.”

The first announced customer for the new IPTV microarchitecture is Cinergy MetroNet, an Indiana provider serving six cities with a potential IPTV customer base of about 50,000 households. “There are two others, unannounced, that we’re deploying as well,” Chaudhary says. “Customer response has been quite favorable.”

“We want to provide our customers superior service and access to such capabilities as whole-home DVR, interactive applications and over-the-top content,” says John Cinelli, CEO of
Cinergy MetroNet, which also offers telephone and high-speed Internet services. “Alcatel-Lucent’s IPTV solution fits our business needs and gives us a powerful, flexible and differentiating tool to deliver IPTV-based services to our customers.”

Alcatel-Lucent also sees a market among larger service providers for the microarchitecture in cases where operators offering IPTV services in large metro regions want to reach less densely populated areas cost effectively. And a third market is “migration accounts.”

“In North America and Europe several legacy middleware platforms are either at the end of their life spans or at maximum scale,” Chaudhary says. “Operators on these platforms face the challenge of how to migrate to a more scalable solution within their existing budget parameters.”

Most operators deploying the Alcatel-Lucent IPTV microarchitecture can complete the job within 90 to 120 days, she notes. “We have 1,200 people testing and making available documentation to expedite the process,” she says.