SAN JOSE, Calif. Most home networks today are do-it-yourself jobs, built by consumers typically from Wi-Fi equipment picked up at the local electronics store. But that could change if one new startup gets its way.
Prodea Systems (Plano, Texas) has designed its own all-in-one home networking box it will sell to service providers along with its software to help them deliver and manage home net services. Five unnamed carriers are trying out the startup's products.
"The biggest problem operators have is managing the home network," said Andy Melder, vice president of marketing for Prodea. "Traditionally carriers can't see past the router."
For service providers, the Prodea software provides a platform upon which they can offer new home networking services to sell to end users. The startup hopes to make its money selling the software to service providers and by taking a cut from transactions it enables for unannounced content partners.
Prodea's software includes modules that run in the carrier's data center as well as code that runs on the in-home appliance. The appliance is essentially an 802.11 router with all the bells and whistles, acting as a media server and protocol converter and costing about $200.
The system supports all 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi links, including 11n. It also builds in home automation capabilities based on ZWave chips from Zensys (Fremont, Calif.). Its PowerPC processor runs VOIP softswitch code from Prodea on a Linux operating system.
The device will have one or more disk drives supplying 160 Gbytes or more of storage. However, the carrier, not the consumer, will control access to media on the device. Carriers will use the device's drives to store video-on-demand or other content requested by the user.
The box also helps carriers control quality-of-service, security and copyright protection on paid-for content. The Prodea software will let users access their TV and video services remotely, going through the service provider's back-end systems.
The device will allow service providers to blend broadcast and Internet video content on TVs and other devices, something Prodea could not accomplish using off-the-shelf hardware. Prodea designed the consumer box and is having it built by an Asian ODM.
"We aren't trying to make money on the box, it's just a piece of infrastructure," said Melder. "But we didn't see a device on the market with all the things we wanted to do."
Content providers including Disney and Lion's Gate have certified the device for streaming their paid-for video. As a security measure, the device won't play video if more than five milliseconds elapses between the device sending video to a receiver and the receiver rendering it, said Melder.
Prodea was founded in mid-2006 by the Ansari family who have provided all the funding for the company to date. The Ansaris created the $10 million Ansari X Prize awarded in 2004 for the first private space flight.
Three members of the Ansari family have taken positions as chief executive, president and chief technologist of the startup. Anousheh Ansari, known for her trip to the International Space Station in September 2006, is chief executive of the company.
The Ansari's also backed Telecom Technologies, Inc., a telecom software startup merged with Sonus Networks, Inc. in 2001. The VOIP software used in the Prodea device has its origins in the work of TTI.
Prodea is expected to announce an outside financial backer and content partners at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.