A triple play for Israeli IPTV

The future of communications – Give me one bill – for video, voice, service and Internet. Throw in wireless and I’ll be happier.In the world of high tech, triple play is not related to baseball, but to IPTV (Internet Protocol …

The future of communications – Give me one bill – for video, voice, service and Internet. Throw in wireless and I’ll be happier.In the world of high tech, triple play is not related to baseball, but to IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) where voice, video and data are delivered through one Internet connection to multiple devices. Israeli engineers, as pioneers of the well-established voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) technology, are stretching the limitations of the Internet a little wider. They are taking IPTV and the technology behind it – Video Internet Protocol (VIP) – to the newest frontier of the IP landscape.

“Channel surfing is primitive and stupid,” says Jon Medved, a cofounder of Israel Seed Venture Capital, a leading IP investment firm in Israel. “IPTV will be search driven,” he says. And if you are travelling, “You won’t have to be a slave to the 15 video offerings in the hotel.”

Thanks to the technology of Israeli companies such as BitBand, BigBand and Softier, IPTV now has the technological infrastructure needed to feed the world’s hungry media consumers the videos and TV shows they want.

Some of the latest integrators of Israeli IPTV technology include US companies such as Comcast, Qwest Broadband, and Time Warner Cable; and Italian companies such as Fastweb.

IPTV means that in the near future when you’re home sick from work you can watch the 18th episode of Gilligan’s Island, Angelina Jolie’s latest movie, and the Yankees in the playoffs back to back.

According to Wikipedia, as of June this year, there were over 1,300 free IPTV channels available on the Internet. The site predicts that this sector will grow rapidly as more and more television broadcasters worldwide transmit their broadcast signals over the Internet.

The problem today is with connecting all the devices to the Internet, explains Medved. Israeli technology is helping make that transition.

“Right now there’s no umbilical chord between Yahoo or Google and your service provider,” he told ISRAEL21c. “And the loyalty is to the content. Video is delivered today via a hard wire link between the carrier as it were – whoever packages the video – and the consumer. You can’t access this unless you make a deal with your cable provider.

“At the same time, we’re looking at device shifting – being able to watch something on your laptop, your TV or your cell phone regardless of where it’s stored,” he continues.

As a result, the telecommunications companies will be striking back, says Medved, by developing TV services to reach the goal of triple play where video, phone calls and the Internet can be bundled together as a single service to the consumer.

“A grand slam adds wireless to the occasion,” notes Medved, who overhears consumers saying, “Give me one bill – for video, voice, service and Internet. Throw in wireless and I’ll be happier.”

According to Medved, Israeli companies such as set-top box manufacturer Softier are on the cutting edge of making Video Internet Protocol (VIP) a reality for mass-IPTV consumption.

“The same thing that happened with using transmitting voice technology [Skype] is now happening with videos and movies. You’ll be able to sit with a remote on your couch – and you think having 500 channels to choose from is something, well, think of the Internet on TV.”

Everything’s going to change, forecasts Medved and the emergence of services such as TiVo is only a glimpse of what will be, he adds.

Eatamar Drory, founder and CTO of Israeli set-top box manufacturer Softier comments. “Everyone knows what Skype is. Now we are moving into the area of transporting video over the net: IPTV. Israel is leading the way and generating leaders. A lot of the big guys are in Silicon Valley,” says Drory, whose company also keeps headquarters in the famous technology hotbed.

“Israel happens to be a highly concentrated area for companies in IPTV and this field is divided into three areas: telcos, webcos and consumers,” says Drory.

Softier manufactures set-top boxes, addressing telcos and webcos. “With our box, a client can operate it in download or streaming mode.”

“IPTV is happening in Italy, Hong Kong, and the US with TiVo. The number of users today is in the lower millions but it is growing rapidly,” Drory points out, while forecasting that company sales will climb exponentially in the coming years. Sales currently are doubling every quarter.

Softier’s set-top box has a browser, like Explorer in a PC, where it points a device to a particular site on the Internet.

Softier partners include Texas Instruments, Microsoft, and Israeli companies Orca, Infogate and Israel’s latest rising star- BitBand.

For the second year running, BitBand has won the Red Herring100 Europe, of which 16 Israeli companies were mentioned; its customers include Comcast, Cablevision, Qwest Broadband, and Time Warner Cable, among others.

“We were voted as a company that will change the world,” says Ervin Leibovici CEO of Bitband. “Red Herring sees IPTV as a significant emerging market which will revolutionize the way we consume entertainment. Content providers are pushing services: NBC, Disney and CBC are proactively giving access over the net because they [the networks] understand if you can’t beat them, join them. There is no way to stop [IPTV from happening]. And you can’t sit on your content. It is not going to work.”

BitBband Technologies, delivers video storage and streaming through IP networks for telecommunication companies and uses a range of technology partners such as Softier, to make that happen. Networks use BitBand to change over to IPTV without having to do major system overhauls. The result is that telcos and service providers can introduce new services to clients while getting the most from their existing infrastructure.

“We have grown our business and product portfolio and helped generate about 1 billion Euros of revenues,” he adds, referring to the Italian broadband giant Fastweb, which integrates its IPTV service with BitBand products.

Leibovici puts IPTV into perspective: “The next big thing is IPTV. But if you step back, it really started 20 years ago with Internet access. My kid who is 10 years old knows about Skype. The next step is TV over IP. If you look at VoIP 10 years ago and where IPTV is today, it should take about 10 years for this service to be for the masses.”

To speed things up, companies are finding great ways to work together. “Technologies need to dance together for the operator to have an end-to-end solution,” retorts Softier’s Drory, who helps BitBand and companies like it create what he calls an “IPTV ecosystem”.

A third rising star in the Israeli IPTV landscape is BigBand, which provides broadband infrastructure for video, voice and data. Partners include Philips, Nortel, Fujitsu and Amdocs.

And while infrastructure technology companies such as Softier, BitBand and BigBand lay the groundwork for IPTV, young Israeli companies are hoping to ride the wave of IPTV technology. Companies like Eyescene are creating innovative Internet-based TV guides and entertainment platforms to help make sense of new media. Eyescene will help viewers enjoy and find what they are looking for in the vast web of media expected to become as prolific as websites are today, says Eyescene’s CEO Offer Kohen.

Kohen, a film and media expert, has known for more than seven years that media is going digital and channels will increase exponentially into the tens of thousands. He is just waiting for the explosion to happen. His platform at Eyescene is ready for the transition.

“Bandwidth problems are being solved now,” notes Kohen, who has developed what he calls an IPNTV, an interactive promotional network to put all those channels in order right from your desktop. Eyescene is also planning to help networks make the most from their advertising buck.

“We will have an entry-point for blogs, Video-On-Demand and TV where users can profile what they see and compare it to their friends,” says Kohen. “We are building an environment for everything that has to do with rich media.”

Based on the predictions of the companies themselves and with the backing of business specialists at Red Herring, little except for continued innovation is standing in the way of Israelis helping IPTV enter each of our homes within the next 10 years.