The Hotspot Content Connection

By Gerry Blackwell

December 02, 2004

The infrastructure's basically ready, but startup OnAir Entertainment still has a few details to work out.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup OnAir Entertainment Inc. has a slightly different take on the increasingly popular notion of delivering pay TV services over IP networks. OnAir is targeting wireless operators such as Wi-Fi hotspot providers, wireless access service providers, and enterprises operating wireless networks. It has a relatively inexpensive video-over-IP system it claims can deliver VHS-quality video to a laptop computer via a Wi-Fi network.

The OnAir system, which consists of a Linux-Intel media server and patent-pending client and service management software, integrates with existing Wi-Fi infrastructure. A basic system that can deliver four channels of video content and supports from five to 25 simultaneous users costs less than $5,000. It can also deliver video to Wi-Fi-enabled PDAs and will eventually be able to provide service to smart phone users as well, says Raghu Nath, the company's vice president of business development.

OnAir demonstrated the technology earlier this year to hundreds of thousands of mall shoppers in a cross-country tour organized by Intel to promote the potential of its Centrino Wi-Fi technology. The company is also partnering with WayPort, which Nath says is the second-largest hotspot operator in the country. It is currently market trialing the technology in WayPort locations, including at the Austin, Texas airport, as well as with independent hotspot operators such as Buck's, a coffee shop in Woodside, California known as a hang-out for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

The company, founded by a group of Bay area high-tech industry veterans with media, Internet and security backgrounds (Nath is a co-founder), believes its technology will find a ready market because Wi-Fi service providers are beginning to look for value-added services to offer their subscribers.

"In our discussions with operators, they're telling us they face two kinds of challenges," Nath says. "It's a market that is getting mature. Therefore, additional revenue streams are becoming more importantespecially since plain access service is being given away for free at some locations."

"The other thing they're looking for is a competitive edge over other operators. To them, [OnAir] offers an opportunity to charge a premium for an add-on service."

OnAir is mainly targeting three distinct segments: Wi-Fi service providers in airports, hotspot operators or venue owners in cafis and other retail locations, and hotel and conference center Wi-Fi service providers. It also has a pitch for enterprise customers such as hospitals, brokerage houses, and other financial institutions. For each it has a slightly different product offering and a different business case.

The basic video delivery engine will allow it to narrow-cast different qualities of video depending on the type of receiving device and the type of network. For example, the wireless video feed to laptop computers running its client software is about 720x480 pixels and equivalent to VHS quality. The system would deliver a much rougher quality of video to a PDA or smart phone. Where available, it could deliver broadcast-quality signals over a wired Ethernet network.

Security to protect the intellectual property of content providers is a key selling point. The technology features several layers of security, including "military-grade" encryption. Even if somebody broke in to or stole an OnAir media server, they couldn't access the content stored on it, Nath says.

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