Video hardware

BigBand Upgrade Touts HD, VOD

BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) says the new version of its switched digital video (SDV) platform will improve overall performance and availability of cable MSO networks, while supporting video-on-demand (VOD) and making it less expensive for operators to offer high-definition television (HDTV).

BigBand's fifth-gen SDV server doubles the number of tuners supported to 24,000, meaning it can allow more digital set-tops, particularly those with dual tuners, to access programs in an operator's "switched" programming tier.

"We've seen a pretty substantial ratcheting up of HD services that are being offered using SDV technology," says Biren Sood, VP and manager of BigBand's cable video Americas Unit. One MSO is already offering more than 20 linear channels using SDV.

Sood didn't say as much, but that's likely a reference to Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), a BigBand SDV customer that offers 45 hi-def channels and a library of about 30 HD-VOD titles. Last year, Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said SDV and other tools will give the MSO "the capacity to carry as many HD channels as can be launched." (See Cablevision Confident About HD Capacity.)

The latest version also allows for the sharing of QAM resources across SDV and VOD services, complementing the capabilities of other "universal" edge QAM vendors and BigBand's recently launched BEQ6000. (See BigBand Edge QAM Goes 'Universal' and Universal Edge QAM Market Heats Up.)

BigBand says one MSO has deployed its new SDV server and is sharing QAM resources among SDV and VOD but declined to name the operator.

The latest release also supports "hitless" redundancy at the server level, meaning a single server failure won't take customers out of service.

There are questions whether the upgrade will mean much to BigBand's bottom line or its standing with investors. BigBand missed its revenue projections for the third quarter of 2007. To keep tech investment in check, it also had to cut the cord on its struggling cable modem termination system (CMTS) product line. (See BigBand Looks to Resolve BigProblems and BigBand Terminates CMTS.)

Declining MSO stock prices aren't helping either, setting up a potentially risky 2008 for vendors if operators decide to cut back capex in order to appease Wall Street.

"The [upgrades to the SDV platform] are just promises until BigBand can prove that there's customer traction," says Simon Leopold, the communications equipment analyst at Morgan Keegan & Company Inc. "If it's simply a new product, it rings a bit hollow," and may not be enough to rally any investment forces behind BigBand, he says.

Sood says a mix of new and existing customers is using the 5.0 platform.

Although rivals are starting to round up SDV commitments from MSOs, BigBand remains well ahead of the pack in terms of commercial deployments, claiming to have gear and software in more than 20 systems passing north of 12 million homes.

BigBand has systems already deployed or initiated for deployment with six large cable operators, with the most recent deals coming by way of Charter Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. (See Charter Charts First SDV Course and Cox Flips BigBand's DV Switch .)

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision have also been announced, and speculation is that Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. is also in the mix. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has approved BigBand as an SDV vendor but has not publicly committed to any deployments with the vendor.

BigBand also lays claim to having deployments in place in cable systems based on both the Scientific Atlanta and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) digital cable environments, and multiple interactive guide implementations, including Aptiv (part of Gemstar-TV Guide), and SA's SARA (Scientific Atlanta Resident Application) guide.

Motorola, meanwhile, says it has SDV deployment commitments for 24 million homes passed, while SA/Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has pulled together deals for 7 million homes passed. Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), through its acquisition of C-COR Inc., is now linked to the Comcast trial in the Denver area but has not quantified its SDV commitments. However, Comcast selected Arris as one of its edge QAM vendors last year. (See SDV Turf Battle Heating Up.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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