Thursday, February 28, 2008
Interview with Marc Zionts, CEO of Ortiva Wireless
Our interview today is with Marc Zionts, the new CEO of Ortiva Wireless (www.ortivawireless.com), a venture-backed, La Jolla-based company which is looking to provide technology that helps stream video to mobile devices. Ortiva is backed by Artiman Ventures, Avalon Ventures, Comcast, and Mission Ventures. We spoke with Marc to better understand the product and why it's needed. The interview was with Ben Kuo.
What is your product?
Marc Zionts: We build software for mobile network operators and other systems providers. It's really an enabling technology, which gives a better experience for video over mobile, and increases the coverage area for mobile services. We provide a high quality experience for subscribers, whether that is over 2G, 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G or even 4G frameworks. If you want to characterize us, we're in the category of optimizing and shaping video streams so that they can deal with the reality of mobile networks, which are highly variable and have lots of noise.
Tell us a little more about what exactly you mean by optimizing?
Marc Zionts: When most people think about video, they think about Internet technology. With video playing on your laptop, that's an IP communications path, and that works pretty well in the mobile world until you hit a base station. In a wireless network, the problem is in that last mile, the bandwidth is constantly varying. Above and beyond that, it's not just varying, but you're getting lots of interference and radio frequency noise. You put that together, and it's not a very hospitable environment for a communications link. In video, it's particularly important, because it's very delay sensitive--you've got a continuous stream of video which needs continuous quality for the user. The problem we solve is -- between that handoff and the last mile -- how do you provide a consistent quality of experience to a subscriber, if you're a service provider concerned about that experience? We're able to deal with the variable speed and noise in a very creative manner, that allows us to provide consistent quality across network operators. The result is better quality and increased coverage.
Who are your customers?
Marc Zionts: Our target is anyone interested in delivering video over a network. That could be wireless carriers, or content providers that want to get out to users. It's a broad set of customers, but our focus in the initial stage of the company is large wireless operators around the world. We have customers in trials, though we haven't announced them at this time.
You recently joined the company, can you talk about why you decided to join the firm?
Marc Zionts: First of all, I was very fortunate because I had the hottest opportunities to pick from. The reason I chose to join Ortiva, beyond the company itself was the market and fundamental demand. I strongly believe that people want to take the laptop and desktop computing experience, and take it to mobile devices. Video is becoming very powerful--not just traditional video, but also user-generated content. On a global basis, video occurring on mobile is inevitable. If you look at how young people use a communications device, it's very different than you and I might use it. Number one for me would be email, the next thing would be voice, and the next thing text, and after that instant messaging, and then dabbling with social networks like Facebook or looking at videos on YouTube would be at the bottom of the list. But if you look at the youth market, it's flipped upside down. They don't use email--it's too slow and asynchronous, and they don't have time for that. The top for them is Facebook and YouTube, then IM, then text, and then email. It's flipped from my world. We've seen time and time again in the mobile market, that what happens in the youth market crosses over to the mainstream very rapidly. Examples of this are texting, music downloads, and music ringback. Before coming to Ortiva, I saw that video was going to happen on mobile devices. Given that, here at Ortiva we have some truly deep technology innovation and a fabulous team. The fundamental market, the team, and the technology innovation are what attracted me to join the company.
What stops the carriers or others from adding this kind of technology to their existing products?
Marc Zionts: Our barrier to entry is technology innovation. It's very special. We're not a client, you don't have to load software onto the phone. You don't have to add anything to the network. We are server software, which is truly unique. There are people trying to solve this with alternative approaches and alternative technology, but we believe our approach is superior. We believe it's how we embrace the problem of noise. When we talk to hard core, network engineers, that's what keeps them up -- how to address noise in the network. We've created lots of intellectual property around our unique methods for doing that, which is a true barrier. Sure, others will try to solve this, the question is--can they? We're singularly focused on doing this better than anyone else in the world.
Talk a bit about your funding?
Marc Zionts: The company has raised two rounds of venture capital, for a total of $27M. Our B round was led by Comcast, and along with that the A round investors also participated fully. The A round investors include Artiman Ventures, a Bay Area firm, and in San Diego both Mission Ventures and Avalon Ventures.
Finally, what's next for the company?
Marc Zionts: I think we're trying to thoughtfully and methodically show our capabilities to operators, who understand the problem and value proposition. We want to demonstrate how we can improve their network, and then test, trial, and deploy the solution. That's going on now. We're in a major, Tier 1 trials in the US and Europe, and we're going to do more of the same. Ultimately we're going to go into the Asia Pacific, where there is tremendous interest in what we're doing. As a startup, we're very disciplined and very focused on matching up with the right opportunities at the right time, and methodically building our capacity to adjust to more customers as well. It's the normal progression, but the team has been through it before, has hit speed bumps, and knows which ones to avoid. We're going to try to do that down the road. We're in a good position as a startup to get to pick the opportunities we want to focus on, and make sure we're successful.