Nandlall (Image source: SCTE)
with Vish Nandlall, Head of Strategy, Marketing & CTO, Ericsson
For years Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) has straddled wireless and wireline, with wireless generally dominating perception, if not reality. Even the recent acquisition of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Mediaroom IPTV platform left some questioning how Ericsson would approach IPTV--from the wireless or wireline perspective. Vish Nandlall, Head of Strategy, Marketing and Chief Technology Officer clarified Ericsson's perception of the video space and explained what the company plans to do with Mediaroom--when the acquisition is approved--during a chat with Fierce editor Jim Barthold at GENBAND's Perspectives13 conference.
FierceIPTV: There are multiple questions about your Mediaroom acquisition, but let's start with the big one. Why buy it?
Vish Nandlall: It has a tremendous footprint with the carriers and the service providers who are our primary customers. They have 11 million subscribers; they have around 20 million set-top boxes that are deployed. It instantly created scale for the Ericsson TV portfolio.
FierceIPTV: By scale, don't you mean AT&T (NYSE: T)? Especially after BT (NYSE: BT) abandoned the platform a couple months ago.
Nandlall: AT&T is the primary customer for Mediaroom today but there are a number of service providers in Canada, as well. Telus (NYSE: TU) and Bell (NYSE: BCE) are using the Mediaroom assets. I think there's a pretty deep footprint that brings Ericsson into this space in a meaningful way.
FierceIPTV: Mediaroom is seen primarily as a telcoTV technology--and its customers seem to line up behind that. Will Ericsson be moving it into the cable space?
Nandlall: It will become part of our standard offer. If the transaction closes, we're not going to limit ourselves to one channel versus the next. We'll certainly explore that and if there's interest from the cable community we'll certainly want to apply our product there.
FierceIPTV: How is Ericsson coming into the IPTV space--from a wireless or wireline perspective?
Nandlall: There are some pretty huge transformative forces in the industry now that are compelling consumption of video over wireless. Clearly we have a wireless heritage and we're going to be focused on that, but that's not going to come at the expense of the wireline. I think this is more of a focus on multiscreen versus a focus on single screen. Wireless is the growth in terms of where the connected devices are and is probably the place where there's a larger opportunity.
FierceIPTV: So it's a wireline technology you're giving a wireless twist?
Nandlall: We're not limiting ourselves simply to linear transmission across wireless. We are looking at building in technologies which we will be launching with several service providers shortly to be able to use as an on-demand mechanism for video transmission.
FierceIPTV: Will you be emphasizing 4G as a video transport?
Nandlall: I think it depends on the consumption behavior. If your provider is linear TV you'll probably watch it over wireline. Most people would agree that that's true. If it's not wireline it's over an unlicensed wireline like Wi-Fi so it's connected to your home broadband.
FierceIPTV: Do you see a place where mobile wireless would be the access medium of choice for video?
Nandlall: If you're at an NFL game and you want to take a different camera look because you're in the nosebleed seats, I think you would pay on demand to see that (on a mobile device). If there's other live content, the World Cup for instance, people would pay to see that over wireless. There's a distinction between premium and on-demand type of content where this has a compelling value. I was at the second inauguration for Barack Obama in Washington and I was so far out from the crowd I couldn't see anything. I remember thinking, "Why can't I conjure this magically on my iPhone and be able to watch this?" I think there is an unmet demand right now in terms of how people want to consume video content.
FierceIPTV: What are your Wi-Fi plans? You discussed the home broadband environment but many service providers are taking Wi-Fi outside the home. You acquired BelAir Networks so I'm assuming you're going to be doing more hotspot Wi-Fi work.
Nandlall: BelAir is very much offering a carrier grade Wi-Fi hotspot. We have a large footprint with the Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) Xfinity network. I think being able to use Wi-Fi as an auxiliary part of your overall network is becoming more the norm and less of a revolutionary idea.
FierceIPTV: But isn't video over Wi-Fi--especially if you're paying for the video--a bit tricky, considering today's connections?
Nandlall: Wi-Fi is going to change. There is a set of technologies coming out--they rolled out from a certification perspective last year--called Hotspot 2.0. That allows you to access a Wi-Fi access point as easily as you access a cellular access point. Today the process is very clunky; you get a request for authentication and go in from the SSID manually then go into the Web page and enter credentials and you have to keep doing that as you go from session to session. We've gotten Band Aids through connection managers, but those are not universal. These new sets of technologies will allow you to query through the network to find out where there are available access points and authenticate using your SIM credentials much as you do with a cellular system. These are technologies coming out through the Wi-Fi Alliance and developed through IEEE. Ericsson is very active in that.
FierceIPTV: Does that work with or replace conventional licensed wireless transmission?
Nandlall: From an Ericsson perspective we're trying to extend that into the licensed wireless infrastructure. Through 3GPP we're actually working at putting a link between Hotspot 2.0 and something called ANDSF (Access Network Discovery and Selection Function) in the 3GPP world. That allows you to coordinate your traffic across both wireless that's unlicensed and wireless that's licensed.
FierceIPTV: For the most part Wi-Fi's a stationary or at least portable experience rather than mobile. Why would you need to roam?
Nandlall: My most compelling use case is when I go to vendors and operators and inevitably they give me a way onto their Wi-Fi network. I should be able to go from cellular wireless infrastructure, roam into the enterprise and get authenticated automatically because I'm authenticated on their enterprise portal and I can use my SIM credentials to do that. The GRX folks from GSM are looking at creating a joint roaming function between cellular and Wi-Fi. The opportunity for the operator is that suddenly you can monetize that Wi-Fi connection because I can charge a termination fee for it.
FierceIPTV: That's a commercial case. Why would normal phone carrying consumers need Wi-Fi roaming? Again, you're in a hotspot, you're authenticated, done deal.
Nandlall: There is some subtlety to this. If you designed a wireless grid where you had a Wi-Fi access point every 500 meters you're actually bouncing between those Wi-Fi access points because the RF conditions change. That effectively is mobility. If you want consistency in the experience you need to have some capability between those. It's also true that if you're watching your favorite TV show in your car you may want to associate with some Wi-Fi access point or cellular access point depending on where the best signal is available. A lot of metro cities have Wi-Fi buildout … where you can get onto a Wi-Fi network, receive service and/or on the macro umbrella coverage when you're out of service. There are some instances where you can do video like, for instance, in a connected car where mobility does become very important.
FierceIPTV: Mediaroom had nothing to do with set-tops and Ericsson has never been in the business. Still, it would seem that a successful video play today demands some type of set-top or gateway device to get in front of the consumer. Are you planning any such wireline--or maybe even wireless--hardware?
Nandlall: We'll work with a lot of the prevailing vendors. I don't think Ericsson has an interest right now to go into the set-top business.
FierceIPTV: Earlier this year Arris (Nasdaq: ARRS) bought the Motorola Mobility cable/telco business from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). I was one of, I hope, many observers who thought Ericsson might win the bidding for the Moto unit. Were you in the chase?
Nandlall: We're always going to be looking to expand our footprint. I'm not going to comment specifically on Motorola, but what we're looking to understand is how we can best serve our customers when we expand our footprint and our elements. We're looking at the technology shifts and intercept points that are happening in these markets, such as whether cable providers will always be dependent on set-top boxes or if it will become cloud-based. And if so, is that a better place with a technology transition to invest, or should we invest in set-top boxes because they provide a control point in living rooms for cable operators? Those are the types of trade-off decisions that we're trying to evaluate. We're going to look where we can grow into growth technologies and not into legacy technologies, as a rule.