UTOPIA's Potential for Hosted Services

Last week, I had the opportunity to go visit TenX Networks to see what kind of network devices they build and how this could apply to UTOPIA. (Disclosure: they bought me lunch, but nothing fancy.) Their basic premise is to build network appliances using off-the-shelf Linux software to keep costs low while providing a high level of functionality. In short, they have an office full of really cool toys. I got a demonstration of their media server appliance powered by Ubuntu and MythTV (with what appeared to be a lot of useful hacks). We also talked about a SMB appliance that was a router, Asterisk PBX and CRM server all in one. I was impressed with how smoothly the media center performed and when coupled with the high bandwidth UTOPIA offers, there is significant opportunity for new hosted services.

The initial intent of the media server was to provide a single point of media storage in the home and then distribute it to sets using STBs or an inexpensive client system. With the kind of bandwidth offered by UTOPIA, however, this opens up the possibility of providing a hosted media server solution for the home with a speed comparable to running it locally. Think of it as the ultimate networked DVR for your CD and DVD collection, one that would be accessible both in your home as well as any remote location. Pop in an over-the-air HDTV tuner and some DVR functions and you have yourself a very compelling product.

So why would you need the kind of bandwidth offered by UTOPIA to provide this service? Because HD signals are bandwidth-hungry. A 1080p movie (Blu-Ray quality) can consume 16-24Mbps. Mutliply that by 2 or 3 sets and you can easily exceed the bandwidth offered on cable, DSL and even FIOS services. Toss in a few heavy-duty file transfers from home to this new media server and you have yourself a terrible bandwidth crunch. Unless, of course, you have a full 100Mbps or 1Gbps link between your home and the media server, soemthing UTOPIA provides that other providers can’t or won’t.

Business services make an even more compelling case. The SMB appliance we talked about is as close to office-in-a-can as I’ve ever heard. Rolling all of the functions of Exchange, SharePoint, CRM software and a PBX into a single box can spell some serious cost savings for small companies that couldn’t afford to buy it all separately. Even better is that an application service provider can buy a system running this software and rent it to interested companies. The downside is, again, the demand for bandwidth, something UTOPIA can provide that others can’t. Word on the street is that even Sen. Howard Stephenson, one of the more outspoken critics of UTOPIA, was wowwed at the possibility of what such a platform can do with UTOPIA’s big pipes.

This just touches the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the possibilities of having an XBox Live, World of Warcraft or Steam server running on top of UTOPIA. Think about having Netflix install a caching appliance on UTOPIA to deliver movies to customers with better reliability and quality. Picture looking at a real-time HD stream of the security cameras in your office when an alarm is tripped, not some grainy black-and-white. The entire UTOPIA footprint is nothing more than a big, fast LAN on which to run whatever cool application you can think of. All we need are companies who see the potential and start selling those services.

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11 Responses to UTOPIA's Potential for Hosted Services

  1. Jonathan says:

    Here is an article about a guy in Canada who did just what you are talking about with MythTV in 2004. He purchased channels wholesale off satelite and resold to his neighbors. Every neighbor he put on the system he added a new tuner card to his backends. He says that his customers (neighbors) rarely had to schedule recordings because he had all ready recorded and stored all of the popular shows.

  2. Jesse says:

    This reminds me of another Cringely post from around 2001 about rolling your own DSL. His proposal was to buy up an old burglar alarm company and use their dry pairs to deliver DSL service to all of the endpoints. It probably wouldn’t work so well today as a long-term solution, what with copper being relatively limited, but it does bring up ways to creatively bypass the incumbents.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Yea, Mike actually had SDSL modems years ago but couldn’t get burglar alarm circuits out of Qwest to make it happen.

    If it would have worked we would have at least connected a couple of our friends houses together.

    Now days you could using something like this Long Range Ethernet device at up to 32,000 feet for a blazing 4.6Mbps speed. They also make a model that does 50Mbps at 6,000 feet. The devices seem to use QAM, CAP, or other modulation techniques similar to DSL and Cable. Very handy for attaching outlying buildings like parking attendants and information booths to campus networks without running fiber. Telephone lines usually already exist.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Oops forgot the links.

    32k foot model
    6k foot model 50Mbps

    Disclaimer: This product found through Google search. I have no experience with this specific model or brand. Posted here purely as an example.

  5. Harold Bills says:

    All those 26 cent per channel / package costs for each video customer do add up to a significant number especially when you consider a channel package as robust as iProvo and Utopia. It is surprising that the video suppliers are actually signing contracts with him. They tend to be very difficult to work with especially when you are doing something out-of-the-box like IP TV.

  6. Capt. Video says:


    The story you posted is from 2004 and a Google search to see if I could see if he was still doing this or if others were turned up nothing. I strongly suspect this guy was shut down.

    The story says,
    “What’s happening in Andrew Greig’s neighborhood is going to happen in three to five years in many neighborhoods.”

    Well it’s 5 years latter and we are not seeing this in many neighborhoods? I suspect it is not even happening in this neighborhood anymore, but I don’t have anything to suggest that is right.

  7. Capt. Video says:

    That 26 cents was a 2004 price. You can pay over $3 for a popular sports network who’s initials shall remain nameless. I can think of 3 sports channel (carried by iProvo/UTOPIA) that cost over $7 combined, for just 3 channels.

    If you want to watch the Jazz, BYU or Utah you must pay through the nose and you cannot place those channel in an optional sports package that sports fans can elect to pay for. So even if YOU don’t want to watch them….YOU must pay for them if you buy cable.

    And this year (2008) your local broadcast channels that give their signal for free to anyone with an antenna, will be charging cable companies for their signal. Expect your rates to go UP in Jan.

  8. Jesse says:

    The programmers have one heck of a cartel, don’t they? It’s no wonder Congress and the FCC keep on eyeballing a la carte programming options.

  9. Jonathan says:

    Capt. Video:

    I was going to mention after your first post that the article was from 2004. Hence the reason for pricing being so good possibly.

    I would imagine that pricing models have changed since then. Not being in that business I don’t know. I just liked the article because the guy was running his own VOD with commodity hardware and software.

  10. Capt. Video says:

    A “People’s Cable Company”, I like the idea.

    But it’s an idea some well entrenched powers would work to kill. (existing cable and phone companies.)

  11. Jonathan says:

    Maybe if our only feed were PBS/CPB programming.

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