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November 03, 2006

Espial's Evo Server Based on a Strong Pedigree

By Michelle Pasquerello, TMCnet Associate Editor

In the technology industry, acronyms and terms are constantly being introduced as newer and better solutions arise, from the advent of FM and AM radio, to TV, then VoIP, IP and even SIP. It’s no surprise then, that in an industry looking to IP-based technologies, we’re seeing the rapid growth of IPTV (News - Alert).  
As a quick 101, IPTV is television content that, according to Wikipedia, “instead of being delivered through traditional formats and cabling, is received by the viewer through the technologies used for computer networks.”
While IPTV has been around since 1994, it is only now starting to get a name for itself among the other big-technology applications, such as VoIP, SIP and IMS. One of the leaders in the IPTV space is Espial (News - Alert), a provider of IPTV middleware and applications with 9 years experience in the development of interactive technologies for Tier 1 channels and operators.
Espial started with consumer electronics interfaces— many gadgets that presented data via a screen were furnished by Espial. Chances are, if you’ve taken a ride in a BMW 3 or 5 series, watched television in a hotel room or caught up on sports on a Hitatchi HDTV, you’ve had the pleasure of using Espial technology. Espial knows embedded devices and the psychology of subscriber interactions, and while consumer electronics is still a healthy legacy market, the move to IPTV was natural for Espial. Its initial foray into IPTV found it successfully saturating the next big interactive entertainment market, the hospitality industry, by virtue of its market-dominating customers LodgeNet and OnCommand. In the past 3 years, Espial has become known as one of the leaders for STB middleware with its Evo Client offering, an IPTV platform that is novel in its open and modular architecture, interactive applications, and customizable and brandable user interfaces it calls “SkinTones”.
Now Espial is launching its latest IPTV offering called Evo Server, a carrier-grade product collocated with the services provider’s head-end or operations center.  Evo Server is not an immature product – it has had trial deployments with two lead customers since 1Q06. What sets Evo Server apart from the competition is its open environment which it calls the “Future-Proof Framework” that allows operators and third parties to add applications, integrated third party IPTV ecosystems, and make easy ports to new set-top boxes.
“Open means something very specific to us,” said Brian Mahony, VP of Marketing for Espial, in an interview with TMCnet. “Our Future-Proof Framework has tangible financial benefits that allow the operator a much greater level of self-sufficiency at less cost. The ability to create new services or SkinTones without an army of consultants alone is a major benefit, and something not available by the more closed solutions available on the market right now.”
In fact, Espial’s modular architecture could be just what the IPTV industry is missing, said Mahony.
“Today’s IPTV systems, including Microsoft (News - Alert), are very monolithic, so it is a ‘take it or leave it’ approach” said Mahony. “You’re usually limited to whatever applications you’re given and to create anything new, you have a fairly lengthy and costly project on your hands.”
Espial has had quite a few successes when it comes to IPTV partnerships. For example, sources say Espial technology is embedded in the Siemens (News - Alert)/Myrio solution which utilizes the Evo Browser and the service creation environment, bringing openness and service creation capabilities to Siemens at customers such as KPN and Belgacom. Also, it is commonly known that Espial technology is the IPTV platform for NTT Communications in Japan, through its partnership with Sumitomo. Mahony declined to comment on these deployments citing confidentiality. “We go directly to operators to build mindshare, but we also work with partners,” said Mahony of Espial’s partnerships.
The other benefit of the Evo IPTV platform is the superior quality of experience it offers. Just considering EPG navigation time, it can be 2-10 times faster than what Espial calls “first-generation solutions.” Aside from its open architecture, the Espial Evo data-driven architecture has “special sauce” resulting in faster performance for end users. Again, Mahony did not elaborate on Espial’s trade secrets, but compared the system’s performance to “imbedded C code.”
“This is why we chose a data-driven model from the beginning and why it’s better,” said Mahony. “The benefit is having the ability to create new applications, new content, and having the ability to create unique SkinTones. It’s similar to the trend of customized ringtones that we have with mobile phones today.”
Another key attribute of Evo is scalability. In comparison to “monolithic solutions” (we know who Espial is talking about), Espial’s scalability has a 10,000/1 server/STB ratio whereas the numbers for some of the other middleware players work out to be in the hundreds.
For Espial-customer Auroras Entertainment, an IPTV solutions provider, ensuring advanced television entertainment services was paramount for their small and mid-sized customers, giving them the edge to compete in the rural broadband market. Auroras tapped Espial’s Evo solution for a low-cost wholesale IPTV solution for their Tier 2-3 telcos and ISPs.  Auroras “Everything on Demand” model allows consumers to watch what they want, when they want and with Espial Evo, Auroras is putting in the infrastructure that supports the future of IPTV. Their service offering includes local and national channels, community access, High Definition entertainment, movies on demand and digital music.
Recently, Espial topped ABI Research’s (News - Alert) IPTV Client Middleware Vendor Matrix rankings, an analytical tool developed by ABI Research to provide a clear understanding of vendors' positions in specific markets. According to the release, ANT Plc and Microsoft claimed the second and third spots in the company's most recent evaluation of worldwide IPTV client middleware vendors, putting Espial in the lead of the IPTV race.
Espial bases their success on their flexible solution combined with their open architecture. “Providers want openness and the ability to customize. That is where the IPTV industry is headed today,” concluded Mahony.

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