Cable-Tec Expo 2011: What We Learned

ATLANTA -- SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2011 -- Next-gen access infrastructures, everything cloud, cable's IP video transition and cable's shifting wireless strategies were among some of the hotter topics here this week.

Keep an eye out for our more in-depth post-show coverage in the days to come. In the meantime, here's a list of some of our higher-level takeaways and trend-spottings:

Everyone has a plan for CCAP
There were no Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) products on display at the show (they'll start showing up next year), but most of the cable modem termination system (CMTS) and edge QAM providers have product plans well underway. There's just not much uniformity in how they're approaching it.

While Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) has set CCAP as its No. 1 priority as it develops a new, integrated chassis, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Casa Systems Inc. were talking up plans to retrofit their gear by slotting in denser and denser blades tied to beefier packet routing components. Motorola Mobility LLC was touting a split approach that combines its Apex 3000 edge QAM with a product in the works called the VSP 4000 that will handle components such as the RF upstream pieces. Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), meanwhile, says it has every intention of supporting the direction cable goes as it develops specs that will replace the original vision behind the modular CCAP implementation. (See Cable Rethinks 'Modular' CCAP .)

MSOs are eager to connect their private CDNs
Major cable operators, including Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), are becoming increasingly interested in interconnecting their private content delivery networks (CDNs), partly to help them save on transport costs when cable customers try to access authenticated TV Everywhere content out of the MSO footprint.

In such a scenario, a Comcast sub on the go could access an HBO Go title if it happens to be sitting in a nearby TWC-run edge cache. Taking it all a step further, the MSOs operating this federated "feed cloud" would take on the burden of coding and packaging all of that content and then selling access and services to smaller cable operators. One engineer said it would be akin to Comcast's Headend In The Sky (HITS) service, relying on MSO fiber backbones rather than satellite linkups.

We hear that some trial work is underway. However, some in the industry that aren't part of TWC or Comcast fret that the idea will be too operationally complex to execute.

QAM video's sticking around for a while
The promise of TV Everywhere and multi-screen video offers one of the biggest incentives for cable to make its all-IP transition, but don't get ready to kiss good ol' QAM goodbye just yet.

QAM work will continue, and MSOs will intermingle QAM and IP video for years to come, said Patrick J. Wright-Riley, director of strategy and business development at Motorola Mobility, on a panel about cable's IP video transition.

Cable and wireless: More questions than answers
Cox Communications Inc. didn't announce its decision to get out of the mobile phone business at the show, but word of the decision did occur during it, casting even more questions about how cable will, or should, pursue mobile voice services. For now, there's much more interest in offering mobile broadband, and MSOs like the economics of hanging Wi-Fi gear off their plant to extend high-speed data connections to their cable modem subs and to sell backhaul to mobile voice and data players. (See Cox Pulls Out of Wireless.)

Economy 's still tough
Attendance at the show was up big time over last year, and the traffic on the show floor gave many a splash of enthusiasm, but don't let that fool you. It's still tough out there, and vendors are proceeding with much caution. Take Envivio Inc. (NASDAQ: ENVI), which filed its S-1 in April but is holding off on its initial public offering (IPO). Envivio can keep the filing active for 18 months, but company CEO Julien Signes says its IPO plans will stay in a holding pattern unless the economy shows signs of improvement. (See Envivio Goes for IPO Glory .)

For a comprehensive view of our show coverage, including stories and newswire announcements, please check out our Cable-Tec Expo micro-site, or take a peek at one of these picks below:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

craigleddy 12/5/2012 | 4:48:17 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2011: What We Learned

Judging by the big attendance at SCTE workshops on IP technologies, cable engineers clearly understand that the cable industry is going to go all-IP and they need to be up to speed. But you're right that QAM is going to stick around for awhile. IP is going to be a long transition.

For comparison, look at how long it took cable to embrace digital technology -- and we're still talking about going all-digital. Digital technology development began in the early 1990s and TCI launched digital cable service in 1996. True VOD emerged in the early 2000s and the first cable HDTV and cable DVR launches didn't occur until 2005. It wasn't until around the end of the last decade that digital cable penetration crossed 50% of basic.

Some MSOs (Comcast, Time Warner Cable) are poised to move quicker than that to get to all-IP delivery. But if digital is a similar gauge for IP, then the IP transition for cable overall will stretch throughout this decade.    


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