Comcast's Strategy Chief Calls a Power Play
PHILADELPHIA -- It's high time the cable industry started watching its wattage, insists a top Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) executive.
Mark Coblitz, Comcast's SVP of strategic planning, is calling on the cable industry to forge a new long-term energy management strategy as MSOs continue with their IP video migrations and shift more services and apps into the cloud, including network DVRs.
Speaking here at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) 's Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI) Forum, Coblitz urged MSOs and suppliers to factor energy requirements at the "design phase," warning that the cable sector's ability to grow and manage its costs is at risk, because current energy policies and today's broadband networks are ill-equipped to handle all of the power-sucking services that lie ahead. (See SCTE Drives Green 'SEMI'.)
While not a concern that must be fixed overnight, Coblitz said that it must be addressed and solved within the next five to ten years. "We will be faced with the reality that our ability to grow will be constrained by the quantity and timing of obtaining electrical power," he said.
Curbing the appetite of energy-eaters
Coblitz identified several trends that will affect cable's ability to source the power it needs, including higher demands for bandwidth, network DVRs and the emergence of wireless broadband and machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies.
While the legally approved way to do a network DVR -- such as Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s "remote-storage" DVR, or RS-DVR -- requires that the MSO store an individual copy of each customer's recording request, it's not nearly as energy-efficient as an approach that would let multiple subscribers stream from the same copy. In fact, the storage duplication for an RS-DVR is rather wasteful from an energy standpoint. (See Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' and Cablevision's Network DVR Debuts in the Bronx .)
According to Coblitz's estimation, if 30 million set-tops or connected devices had access to a network DVR and the current, legally approved method remained the only option, it would require about 300 megawatts of power. If an MSO was allowed to install a more sharable system that supported 2 million different titles, energy demand plummets to 5 megawatts. [Ed. note: As a point of reference, Coblitz noted that a nuclear plant generates 1000 megawatts.]
And that's just one example. Comcast's annual Internet usage has surged at least 40 percent per year during the past decade, a trend that required the MSO to install more than 3,000 physical servers in its dozen-plus data centers last year.
Coblitz is also wary of the emergence of M2M technologies, noting that developers typically don't place an emphasis on network efficiency. He likewise said that the increasing use of outdoor Wi-Fi units and 4G cellular services will place more stress on local wireline networks that backhaul the traffic.
Additionally, the energy demands of decoding and transcoding will also rise as MSOs support more unicast IP video traffic and, later, begin to look at bandwidth-chowing, higher-resolution video formats such as 8K, which is about 16 times more detailed than 1080p.
Forging a new energy plan
Coblitz didn't propose a new soup-to-nuts plan on Thursday, but said it's imperative for the cable industry to take a "long view about energy" and to start the process of creating a strategy.
In the meantime, he did suggest that MSOs, vendors, and industry organizations begin to factor in new energy requirements during the "design phase" of new products rather than viewing them as some tangential thing to react to when it later becomes a problem.
Consider the new plan officially underway. And it serves as fair warning for cable vendors: If you intend to do business with Comcast down the road, you'd best tune in, don your Energy Domes, and start to think about how your gear can survive on less power.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable