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Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Cable still learning the ropes on wireless
U.S. cable operators are rapidly deploying Wi-Fi networks and starting to turn up bundling partnerships with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), but the industry still has plenty to learn about the wireless world. "These are the early innings of the game," stressed Bright House Networks SVP Strategy and Business Development Leo Cloutier at a Light Reading Cable breakfast session sponsored by Cisco and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). "We're learning a lot as we go this year," he said.

One area that's just coming into play is the new roaming agreement between Bright House and other major U.S. cable operators. Bright House and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) are the first to use the new "Cable WiFi" SSID, though other cable Wi-Fi roaming partners are expected to follow suit soon. (See Cable Goes Big With Wi-Fi Roaming and Bright House Lights Up Wi-Fi in Florida .)

U.S. cable could also learn some lessons from European MSOs that have already started to employ "community" Wi-Fi, which splits the signal in a home gateway so an authorized cable modem customer can tap in while they are away from home. Telenet of Belgium has such a project well underway, with more than 600,000 home gateways already capable of sending out a quasi-public Wi-Fi signal, said Jan Haes, the operator's manager of qualify and performance. (See Intel's Docsis 3.0 Chips Also Do Wi-Fi Sharing and Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home .)

The 'mid-split' is (almost) real
The nation's Tier 2/3 MSOs are known for taking risks, and they didn't disappoint during a general opening session populated by engineers with independent cable operators. The highlight was when Massillon Cable TV Inc. GM and Technical Operations Manager Kelly Rehm dropped the bomb that the operator is preparing to execute a "mid-split" that will essentially double its upstream capacity. The notion of the mid-split -- the widening of upstream spectrum from 5MHz to 45MHz to 5MHz to 85MHz, has been discussed for many years, but the operational challenges involved (remapping the downstream channels and tweaking the cable plant among them) have relegated the idea to a bullet point on PowerPoint slides and the topic of cable technology fairytales. But no more. Rehm said Massillon intends to move ahead on its mid-split project next year. It's one that the cable industry will be watching closely.

Huawei is not folding the tent
A recent government study indicating that U.S. companies should be wary of doing business with two China-based telecom giants didn't prevent Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from coming out in force or dampen its enthusiasm for the U.S. cable market. "Nobody cancelled any meetings … and nobody is asking to pull [product] back," said Ron Pitcock, VP and GM of Huawei's MSO business unit. "People look at this as a business decision, not a political decision." At the show, Huawei showed off a line of set-tops, cable modems and tablets for MSOs, and continued to focus its domestic efforts on IMS platforms and gear designed for EPON Protocol Over Coax (EPoC), a budding Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) standard. Huawei showed off a prototype of EPoC, which it hopes to have in field trials next year. EPoC "is our future in the cable industry," Pitcock proclaimed. (See US vs Huawei/ZTE: The Verdict and Huawei Responds to U.S. Investigation.)

HEVC key to more efficient video future
A big video star at this year's show was HEVC, or H.265, a video encoding format that offers a 50 percent efficiency improvement over H.264/MPEG-4. Motorola Mobility, for example, showed a glorious 4K UltraHD picture running at just 3.5 Mbit/s. While UltraHD is one possible future application of HEVC, it's expected that, in the near term, mobile operators will turn to the technology to keep their Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks from breaking under the strain of the data load coming way of HD video streaming via smartphones and tablets.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:18:44 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

DOCSIS 3.1 will be a game changer!

User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 5:18:43 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

Indeed. Now the car's out of the garage and it's time to see what this baby can do. But there will be lots of tire-kicking and searching under the hood before it gets on the road.

One of the subtle but important story lines here is that the cable industry is extending the life of Docsis, even before 3.0 really has reached mass scale, so it doesn't reach a way station where everyone gets bogged down in endless debate over what comes next. There still will be lots of debate over D3.1 specs and whether FTTH or other alternatives are needed, but the authors appear to have addressed a lot of key criteria.

Rouzbeh Yassini offers good perspective in the Light Reading video on this topic.



User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:18:42 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

Good combination of mostly emerging technology. (Notice how Expo seems to embracing some of the space held by the ET event?) A few comments:

* D3.1. I thought the ZTE/B'House and Cisco (Hranac/Mattingly) papers would be more controversial. But the former makes the case for DPoE and EPoC in greenfields alone, ceding the ground to 'advanced DOCSIS' in existing plant.

* CCAP. The whisper campaign has begun on which products are more CCAP than others. Who's going to make those calls?

* Wireless. Intrigued to hear software-defined networks (a popular LR topic) figure in paper by Husnain Bajwa of Ericsson (via BelAir) on Cable Wi-Fi and Small Cells.

* Midsplit. Masillon was also early on DTAs, but two years into it sounded some regrets. Other ambitious tier 2/3s are pushing relatively hard on Wi-Fi, FTTX (RFoG), SDV (hosted variety). Midsplits still sound like a mess to me. 

* Huawei. Can't discount their might. Any outsider who's visited HQ comes back transformed. What I've heard of their mis-steps are those of any company that hasn't taken their Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends/Influence People) lessons to heart.

* HEVC. Still wondering whether CE industry will skip 4K for 8K. Either way, this will help. But my how MPEG2 has just long legs, with encoding geeks still wringing out more efficiencies.

Possible runner-up: newly minted ESAM, one of the signaling protocols that will help operationalize multi-screen/TVE (it converts SCTE 35 into XML format). 

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