The Industry Comes to Atlanta

By Ron Hendrickson

Expo Attendance Tops 10k: An expanded program of educational sessions and technology exhibits helped drive attendance past the 10,000 mark at Cable-Tec Expo 2011, the SCTE announced. The event recorded an overall increase of 24% in attendees from the United States and more than 60 other countries. International attendance was up 21%. In addition, more than 200 engineering and operations professionals -- double the anticipated number -- registered for the pre-conference Capacity Management Symposium on Monday, Nov. 14.

On the road from MPEG-2 to DOCSIS IP: After freeing up bandwidth by reclaiming analog channels and implementing switched digital video, operators can launch services that will generate revenue while the migration is progressing, said Patrick Wright-Riley, director of strategy and development for Motorola Mobility.

Network DVR, for example, moves processing to the network and allows customers to take content outside the home. VOD in the cloud allows for third party management of content.

And as the cost of DOCSIS channels potentially come down as a result of CCAP, multiscreen delivery via DOCSIS will become more of a reality.

Aurora Moves QAM Away From Edge: With its new Universal Services Node QAM, Aurora Networks has pushed edge QAM technology further into the network -- all the way to the (you guessed it) node.

As power is limited and space is tight in headends and hubs, moving the edge QAM to the node alleviates pressure to provide more of both, said Dawn Emms, Aurora's director of marketing.

In addition, as a universal services QAM device, the channels can be used for multiple types of traffic, including DOCSIS data or VOD. "We are no longer at a point where we need to dedicate channels," Emms said.

Cox Talks V2B 2.0: Since implementing version 2.0 of its video to the backbone network for content delivery in 2010, Cox Communications has seen reliability, operational and engineering benefits, said Mark Pellegrio, Cox senior manager, transport networks, during Wednesday's IP video transition panel discussion. This method utilizes dedicated wavelengths to retrieve content from two national headends.

A tree-and-branch topology provides resiliency to two fiber cuts, Pellegrio said, while costs are reduced because broadcast video traffic is removed from routers. At the same time, scalability and service velocity increase as new channels need to be added only once at the master headend to be made available in all markets.

V2B 2.0 is not all roses, however, as there are some challenges. There is no return path for monitoring at the master headend for monitoring video quality, for example. And it is inefficient for intermarket content exchange, Pellegrio said.

On the other hand, V2B does provide a path to the future, when 100 Gigabit wavelengths and routers emerge. "I don't see there (being) a lot of angst when the transition takes place," Pellegrio said.

Evolving from Legacy to IP:The transition from QAM-based MPEG-2 to DOCSIS IP is based on three basic principles, according to Patrick Wright-Riley, director of strategy and business development, Motorola Mobility. Manage bandwidth, make investments progressively in ways that will generate revenue, and ensure that while the focus of the migration is on the home, mobile devices can be supported as well.

Speaking at a packed IP Video Transition seminar Wednesday morning, Wright-Riley said that the road to IP begins by minimizing the bandwidth used for MPEG transport through analog bandwidth reclamation and switched digital video (SDV). "(You can) reconfigure the QAMs for voice and data based on your needs," he said. "It's all about revenue."

He listed several options that will generate income for operators and tie them more closely to consumers. Network DVR, for example, not only drives the processing into the network, but it also allows consumers to access their content from outside of the home. Putting VOD in the cloud makes it possible for third-party management of content. "(Operators) focus on offering it to customers, but don't have to deal with managing a full library," Wright-Riley said.

And regarding multiscreen delivery via DOCSIS, the cost of a DOCSIS channel will come down as CCAP becomes a reality, Wright-Riley said. "It will not catch up to the cost of an MPEG channel, but it will become such that multiscreen will become easier."

Making it All Work: A choice faced by operators as they consider their multiscreen futures is whether to opt for a best-of-breed solution or an integrated package put together by a federated team of vendors. Yaron Raz, the director of digital video solutions for Harmonic, told  BTR the integrated approach may be especially attractive to small and medium size operators -- and even the lower edge of tier ones -- who don't have the internal resources needed to integrate the many moving parts of a multiscreen platform. These platforms include transcoding, DRM, the CDN and many others. The key, he said, is making all of these pieces work together.

Multiple Multiscreen Choice: Preparing for multiscreen is one of the more interesting issues being discussed in various venues at Cable-Tec Expo. Steve Tranter, the VP of Broadband and Interactive for NDS, said that a key decision the industry faces is whether the lion's share of functionality for multiscreen -- such as adaptive bitrate streaming -- should be at the headend or in a home gateway. The headend approach, which he calls "managed," emulates legacy networks. The gateway approaches, which he labels "unmanaged" because the raw IP feeds extend all the way to the home, require special sensitivity to maintenance of QoS and Net Neutrality rules.

Tricky Multiscreen: The world of multiscreen demands that content be customized for PCs, TVs and any number of mobile devices. The last category is particularly tricky, with adaptive bitrate streaming approaches from Adobe, Microsoft and Apple. Greg Baumhover, the Sales Manager for Global Accounts for Elemental Technologies, told BTR that platforms need to be scalable, high density and able to accommodate new protocols as they become available.

Real Time Really Growing: It's not news that real time video is a growing percentage of what cable operators carry. What may be a bit of a surprise is the speed of the growth. In a report released last month, DPI vendor Sandvine said that real time entertainment was 30% of traffic on fixed networks in North America in 2009, half last year and will hit 60% this year. Marie Fiala Timlin, the company's Assistant Vice President for Products & Solutions Marketing, also said that "prime time" is shrinking from 2.5 to 2 hours. Those factors, combined with the shift of some heavy OTT users to minimal subscription plans, have serious ramifications for operators' infrastructure planning.

Beyond Voice: The cable industry has recognized that its voice services is hitting a plateau and that to continue accelerating revenues requires new and innovative products, according to Camille Issa, the director of MSO business development in the carrier systems division of Metaswitch. He told BTR that these advanced features must be easy to use and that work must continue on UIs, clients and applications.

Gateway to Subs' Hearts: Mark Palazzo, the vice president and general manager of Cisco's Cable Access Business Unit, told BTR at Cable-Tec Expo that interest in hybrid QAM/IP gateway devices has grown significantly during the past year as operators realize the move to an all IP network will take longer than initially anticipated.

Savvy Travelers: Irad Carmi, the president and CTO for TOA Technologies, told BTR that mobile workforce management tools can drive 15 to 25 percent increases in work order completion within three months of the end of roll outh . He said that drive time can be reduced between 10 and 30 percent and overtime essentially eliminated.

CTO’s Dish on Digital: MSOs remain focused on building out the digital ecosystem, according to the panel of CTOs assembled Tuesday morning at Cable-Tec EXPO’s opening session.

A catchy phrase? Yes. But, it’s also a complicated endeavor with multiple parts, Tony Werner, EVP and CTO, of Comcast Cable said. One component, going all digital, is well underway, as by the end of next year there will be few analog signals left in Comcast’s system.

Other pieces include converting to a web services architecture for application development, and moving content into the cloud. This will allow for a development timeline of days and weeks, not months or years, Werner said, adding that a final part of creating a digital ecosystem will be the home network portion and enabling things like DLNA.

“Our business can’t be just delivering to big screens in the house. (Consumer) devices are hungry for content,” Werner said.

Fellow panelist Mike LaJoie, EVP and CTO, Time Warner Cable, agreed with his colleague’s assessment of the “next big thing,” adding that what is driving these advancements is how people’s expectations are changing. “They expect their communications products to be with them wherever they are.”

By building out the digital ecosystem, MSOs will be able to offer integration of consumer devices. Yet, whether or linear channels can travel outside the home has become more of a business rights issue than a technical one. “From my perspective, the only thing preventing customers from taking (content) outside the home is an access control list,” LaJoie said.

Platform development must not only be quick, but also consistent across devices. By integrating the back end, Comcast, for example, is able to change the look of a user interface easily on all devices, Werner said.

And, having a richer UI is a key for helping viewers find the content they want to watch, Nomi Bergman, president of Bright House Networks said. At the same time, the migration to switched digital video is allowing operators to offer more long-tail content. “(But) without the UI, it is not meaningful. It will become more meaningful as we expand the UI.”

--Monta Monaco Hernon

--Notebook compiled by Monta Monaco Hernon, Ron Hendrickson and Carl Weinschenk

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