Liberty Global CTO Balan Nair has given a frank account of the launch process of the company’s new Horizon system and its three-year development project with NDS.
“Like any father you have challenges and the measure is not how many issues and problems you have, the measure is how your partner responds to that challenge,” Nair told a press lunch organized by the technology provider.
Nair said that the selection of partners for the Horizon had been the reverse of the normal procedure for a set-top box, choosing first the look and feel through NDS Snowflake, and then moving on to select the manufacturer.
“We went through a process when we designed our own [user interface], we hired some consultants, we spoke with TiVo, we hired a bunch of start-ups, then we spoke to NDS about Snowflake, and my own reaction wasn’t positive, but we were told it was easy to modify it.”
The next stage was to select the chip on which the set-top would run, before looking at the software that would run on it, before selecting the NDS Fusion middleware.
“This journey has been an emotional rollercoaster for a number of us, for my board as well, because everytime I went back and said my project was delayed it was a very painful experience.”
The original plan was not to market Horizon until September 22, starting sales seven days later, allocating 3,000 boxes to VIPs and favoured customers. However, demand at the call centre has already exhausted those initial supplies.
Plans to ship the box to every fifth customer were soon abandoned because of the sheer volume of requests.
Dr Abe Peled, now senior vice president, strategy, video and collaboration Group, Cisco following its $5 billion acquisition of NDS Group last month said Horizon was without question the most ambitious project that had ever been undertaken.
“I recalled a board meeting in Denver where Mr Malone questioned why we should be at the bleeding edge. The answer was the Liberty was early in its digital deployment so you might as well go for things that last,” said Dr Peled.
Explaining some of the technical challenges, Dr Peled said that Horizon had more network dependence than any other project he had ever done. “Networks are not as reliable as a broadcast, so part of the challenge was to have the software be much more tolerant of things not showing up.
“Some guy you’d never heard of who was in charge of loadbalancing changed the algorithm without even Balan knowing, because it’s in the network department. This is where Cisco comes in because there will be increased dependence on optimizing the network.”
From September 28th, Horizon will become UPC’s standard box in the Netherlands. In 60 days attention will then turn to Switzerland, followed by Ireland in the first quarter of 2013 and Germany in the first six months of the year.