Cable Tech

BigBand Edge QAM Goes 'Universal'

Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS)'s $730 million bid for C-COR Corp. (Nasdaq: CCBL) may have stolen all the thunder on Monday, but smaller competitor BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) is trying to drum up some noise as well by introducing a new "universal" edge QAM capable of sharing resources among different cable services, including video-on-demand (VOD), switched digital video (SDV), and Docsis-based high-speed Internet services.

BigBand, which competes in the sector with the likes of Arris, C-COR, Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Scientific Atlanta , Tandberg Television , and a host of others, says the BEQ 6000 is a third-generation edge QAM, a device that "bridges" the IP network and the traditional cable network. (See BigBand Intros eQAM.)

So far, five operators -- Cox Communications Inc. , Dutch MSO N.V. Multikabel , and Akita, Hino, and Baycom of Japan -- have deployed BigBand's new entry. Cox is using it to support its SDV deployment in Northern Virginia. Multikabel is leveraging it as the downstream component of a modular cable modem termination (M-CMTS), a new architecture specified by CableLabs that allows operators to scale downstream and upstream capacity independently. The Japanese MSOs are using the device for a 120-Mbit/s data service that uses Docsis 3.0-based channel bonding.

BigBand claims to be the first QAM vendor to support both SDV and M-CMTS implementations.

"We think [that capability] establishes a benchmark," says John Holobinko, vice president and manager of BigBand's Cable IP business unit.

BigBand claims to have deployed more than 74,000 QAM channels over the last four completed quarters, though the vast majority of those installations, including SDV work with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), involve the vendor's earlier generation edge QAM equipment. (See SDV Deployment Snapshot.)

While BigBand is leading the way in eQAM deployments in support of switched digital video, investors and analysts have been concerned that the vendor has yet to score a trial with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which has already selected gear from Arris and Harmonic. (See Comcast Taps Arris for Edge QAM Initiative .)

Although the edge QAM category has more than a dozen competitors and is threatening to become a commodity product, BigBand believes it can tilt things in its favor through its deployment performance as well as the "total cost of ownership" (TCO) of the device. The latter accounts for capital cost of the equipment, including spares wiring and racks; the operational costs, including cooling and maintenance costs; and other deployment-related costs, including truck rolls to fix problems on the network and subscriber churn associated with poor picture quality.

The price of the device itself represents the smallest component of the overall cost of the QAM, Holobinko notes. "It doesn't take a lot of subs to churn to add up to a lot of money."

BigBand can generate lower TCO than competitors because of its installation experience and the learning achieved in such "intangible areas," says Keith Rothschild, the company's manager of cable edge product marketing.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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