Ortiva Wireless Seeks Opportunity in 4G Video Enablement

Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series of company profiles about service providers, application developers and equipment manufacturers in the 4G video marketplace. Today’s profile is of Ortiva Wireless, which makes networking gear designed to give service providers better control over video content for wireless networks.

If there is a gold mine in the forthcoming future of 4G wireless networks, it will probably revolve around video. There’s not a single ad or commercial for any new smartphone or tablet that doesn’t include some kind of promotion showing how good the device is at giving you video on the go. And it makes sense, since everybody loves video. Who doesn’t want to watch as much video as possible, wherever they go?

Of course, anyone familiar with the opex side of the house knows that for many service providers the lure of profits via video may contain some fool’s good. That is, something that looks good but isn’t so valuable — in this case simply because of the high costs and extensive operational management involved with bringing time-sensitive, high-bandwidth streams to a small device that may be always on the move.

With 4G networks in their infancy that means there is still plenty of room in this mine-full of golden metaphors for pick-and-shovel purveyors, those who would provide the tools to help service providers dig out the value that video presents. That’s the basic business model for a startup called Ortiva Wireless, whose Internet video optimization gateway (or iVOG for short) is designed to let operators improve their customers’ wireless video experience, while reducing costs and management problems for the service provider.

The Ortiva Wireless iVOG chassis. Credit: Ortiva Wireless.

Since everyone from Cisco on down in the network-equipment market is expected to or is already pitching wares in this space, Ortiva Wireless has its work cut out for it as a startup trying to get in front of operators and their millions in expected video-related capital outlays. But Marc Zionts, Ortiva’s CEO, is confident his company has a compelling enough story line and a differentiated enough approach to win contracts in what is expected to be a hotly competitive field.

“There are some people out there who are talking video optimization but what they are really doing is just transcoding different format types” to try to improve performance, Zionts said in a recent telephone interview. What Ortiva is doing differently, he said, is instead looking to make video more efficient by tailoring the amount of bandwidth needed on a subscriber-by-subscriber basis, also taking into account the enormous variables of any wireless connection.

The press materials for Ortiva’s iVOG talk about tasks like “transrating,” which Ortiva says is the ability of its equipment to shape a video to match real-time RF network conditions, like variable bandwidth conditions. Such parameters become even more important when you move to a world of 4G networks, Zionts said, where the differences in potential bandwidth rates are much more pronounced than in the previous 3G or 2G wireless-data environments.

Though he understands the challenges facing his startup when it comes to selling into the bigger service providers who may need his gear, at least Zionts doesn’t have to educate operators anymore.

“In the fall of 2009 it was safe to say that a Verizon wasn’t thinking that video optimization was something they would need,” Zionts said. “If you fast forward a year later and see all the success they’ve had selling Android [handsets] the demeanor has completely changed. I really don’t have to talk about the problem much.”

Instead, Zionts said, questions from operators about his company’s equipment are more discussions about how it might improve video-transmission quality, and how it will scale as users rapidly join the network.

“The question becomes how do you save bandwidth while preserving quality and not do it using a server per subscriber,” Zionts said.

With a C round of $8 million in funding obtained last fall (with Intel Capital taking the lead) the privately held Ortiva has enough cash on hand to fund operations while it looks for the Tier 1 operators who will be able to afford its products, which Zionts said are roughly priced around “$1 per subscriber” served.

Zionts said Ortiva’s technology works independently of an operator’s radio-antenna technology, meaning that Ortiva products could work in networks running WiMAX, LTE, or any of the related CDMA or GSM radio technologies. The ability to work in any network gives Ortiva more chances to earn its own gold by helping as many operators as it can to find a profitable way to support more video over 4G network connections.

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