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Virgin STBs to Ride Broadband Video Expressway

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED)'s upcoming Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) boxes powered by TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) software will let subscribers stream hi-def video using dedicated, managed spectrum that will be kept separate from the MSO's traditional, best-effort high-speed Internet service. (See TiVo Coming to Virgin's Non-DVRs, Too and Virgin Presses 'Play' on TiVo.)

Blazing a QoS-enabled, Docsis-based IP video path to the box was one of the more interesting elements Virgin revealed today about the new set-top platform, which will sport 1-Terabyte of storage. Virgin said pricing and availability of the product will be announced in "due course," but the MSO is expected to launch it before the end of 2010 as it grapples with competitors such as BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Sky (NYSE, London: SKY), and YouView TV Ltd. (formerly Project Canvas). (See Electra Complains About YouView/Project Canvas and BBC Trust OKs Project Canvas.)

Among the tidbits shared today, the MSO noted that a dedicated internal modem capable of delivering HD video and other online services will grace the box without impacting a customer's regular broadband connection. (See Virgin Media Sheds Light on TiVo Plan.)

Virgin didn't say as much, but sources who are familiar with the project say the operator will allocate spectrum for those set-tops across its existing Docsis 3.0 architecture, which today is being used to offer best-effort 50Mbit/s and 100Mbit/s downstream cable modem service tiers. On top of that, it's believed that Virgin will also apply QoS to video that's delivered to those boxes over a dedicated IP data path, creating an expressway of sorts for broadband-delivered video. (See Virgin Media CEO Disses DSL and Virgin Offers 100 Mbit/s.)

The set-top's internal modem "will provide dedicated connectivity for video and TiVo-based apps, but won't be a regular broadband connection per se," a Virgin Media spokesman tells Light Reading Cable via email. However, that dedicated pipe won't interfere with a customer's regular broadband connection, he adds.

While that approach might raise hackles in the US as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) looks to codify network neutrality rules, the current regulatory environment for broadband in the UK is less tricky and should pave the way for an MSO to offer a prioritized, managed over-the-top video service. (See Net Neutrality Bill Is DOA and FCC Chairman Defends Calls for Net Neutrality.)

The question now is whether Virgin will apply QoS to all Web-sourced video that's piped in to the new Cisco/TiVo boxes or if it will use the new, controlled environment to serve video and other content only from a "walled garden" that features partners that have agreements with the operator. The OTT partnership concept is not foreign to TiVo, as it already has video relationships in the US with Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), among others. (See Cox, TiVo Strike a DVR Deal and New TiVo DVRs Built for Web & Cable Content.)

The Virgin Media official stopped short of calling it a walled garden, but confirmed the MSO will decide which apps will be allowed to reside on the box and use its modem connection.

In addition to applying QoS, there are other reasons why Virgin is opting for a more closed environment for its new boxes. For one, it should prevent potential pirates from copying or redistributing high-value, DRM-protected material that's sent to the box over IP.

The idea of building hybrid, multimedia set-tops and gateways capable of delivering IP video is becoming popular in Europe. Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) is also keen on it, but is taking a much different approach that will spawn a "Horizon" gateway that will feature technologies from a wide variety of suppliers. (See Liberty Global Reveals IP Gateway Partners and Celeno's Cable Breakthrough.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:19:43 PM
re: Virgin STBs to Ride Broadband Video Expressway

We're also hearing that the modem going inside these  Cisco/TiVo boxes will be of the D3 wideband variety, which makes sense since Virgin may need a bonded downstream to do HD streaming while keeping the whole quality of experience in tact.  Virgin, however, declined to confirm it. JB

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