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Cable/Video

Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE

DENVER -- Cable-Tec Expo -- Cable TV bandwidth conservation and expansion will easily be the biggest items on the agenda when the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) opens its annual Cable-Tec Expo confab in Denver today.

Although the industry barely dodged a bullet earlier this week when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin abruptly withdrew his bid to impose digital multicast must-carry obligations on cable operators, the pressure is still mounting on MSOs to save and boost bandwidth capacity, according to industry analysts. As both satellite TV providers and the telcos roll out more advanced digital video services, analysts expect cable engineers to devise more methods to keep up.

In particular, cable operators are under increasing pressure to deliver more high-definition TV (HDTV) programming to subscribers. With high-def sets now in close to 20 million U.S. homes and that number growing by at least 1 million each month, HD is on the verge of becoming a mainstream service, much like color TV in the early 1960s.

"HD is really important," says Patti Reali, a senior analyst with the Gartner Group. "Satellite wants to be the gold standard for HD."

Read the whole story at Cable Digital News.

Cable CTOs Say OCAP Set-Tops Are Coming By Alan Breznick DENVER – Cable-Tec Expo – Nearly five years after CableLabs wrote the first technical specifications for digital cable set-top boxes and TV sets that would enable them to run on any cable system, the cable industry is finally ready to start selling that gear.

Six of the nation's largest MSOs -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems, and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- are now upgrading their cable system headends to support digital TV gear equipped with the critical OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware. They aim to deploy the OCAP software in at least a dozen markets, including such major metro areas as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, and Indianapolis, by the end of the year.

Critics charge that the MSO deployment plans sound more like token offerings to appease federal regulators, who have been pressing the cable industry to support interoperable equipment that consumers can buy at retail stores. They contend that cable operators have been dragging their feet on the issue for years because they fear competition to their leased set-top business model.

Speaking at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tec Expo confab here, two top cable engineers insisted that the industry is now committed to making OCAP work. Despite a load of technical headaches, they said their companies are moving ahead with their rollout schedules.

David Fellows, executive vice president and CTO of Comcast, reiterated that MSO's intention to launch OCAP in an industry-leading four regions by the end of the year, including its Boston, Denver, northern New Jersey, and hometown Philadelphia markets. He said Comcast is working with Panasonic, from which the MSO ordered at least 250,000 OCAP-equipped set-tops with high-definition (HD) and digital video recording (DVR) capabilities earlier this year, on the rollout plans.

Marwan Fawaz, outgoing CTO of Adelphia Communications and incoming CTO of Charter Communications, confirmed Charter's goal to get two markets ready for OCAP gear by year-end. Although he declined to name the markets, he said one launch will occur on a cable system with Motorola plant and electronics equipment and the other on a cable system supported by Scientific-Atlanta gear.

"One manufacturer is more ready than the other," said Fawaz, declining to say which vendor is better prepared. "I lose sleep worrying about it."

At least one top consumer electronics engineer thinks cable operators urgently need OCAP-enabled equipment to compete against DirecTV and EchoStar, as well as such other national players as the big RBOCs.

"Without OCAP, the cable industry would be at a severe competitive disadvantage," said Paul Liao, CTO of Panasonic Corp. of North America. "From a competitive perspective, I don't see how you can't do OCAP as quickly as possible… If you don't have OCAP, it's going to be your competitors who do that."

Some TV programming suppliers say a wholehearted cable commitment to OCAP could make a big difference for them as well. With OCAP-enabled TV sets and set-tops, content suppliers and applications providers can write just one piece of software to run the same fare on most cable systems.

"OCAP does matter to us," saidVincent Roberts, executive vice president of worldwide technology and operations for Disney/ABC Television Group. "We deliver to multiple consumer devices. That's a real challenge for us."

A number of consumer electronics manufacturers want to see OCAP swiftly deployed, too. In fact, three large electronics makers -- Panasonic, LG Electronics, and Samsung Electronics -- have already committed to building the OpenCable two-way digital TV sets that would use the software.

"From Panasonic's perspective, OCAP is an absolutely critical and essential step," Liao says. "There's only one thing that will make it better-- get it deployed."

Ironically, the cable industry is moving to make its digital set-tops more retail-friendly for consumers at the same time that the more retail-oriented satellite TV industry is adopting the traditional cable model of leasing gear to customers.

For example, DirecTV carried out a major shift in its hardware strategy in March, instituting a new leasing program that pays commissions to dealers for renting, not selling, satellite converters to customers. In the past, DirecTV always subsidized the cost of set-top box sales to subscribers.

— Alan Breznick, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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JohnMosesBrowning 12/5/2012 | 3:51:03 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE Interesting how this article makes no mention of how the cable companies are using Switched Digital to screw the customer and bypass the intent of the FCC's CableCard mandate. CableCard devices become useless in a Switched environment. The cable companies are using Switched as a way to force settop boxes down the throats of consumers who don't want them. The Cable operators want all of us to have the settop boxes so they can charge us box rental and force PPV availablity into our homes - desired or not.
Michael Harris 12/5/2012 | 3:50:55 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE Part of the issue is the CableCARD technology itself.

The current version of CableCARD is "one-way," meaning it only supports broadcast video programming. Today's CableCARD does not allow users to access pay-per-view, video-on-demand (VOD) or electronic program guide (EPG) services without a STB from an MSO, a huge drawback for consumers and cable operators alike. Those boxes are expensive.

Not surprisingly, CE players have been relentlessly pushing MSOs and CableLabs to implement a two-way CableCARD solution. MSOs say they want to eliminate CableCARD altogether and go to a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) using embdedded security processors.


paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:50:52 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE
To make the best advantage of switched digital to match say FiOS, then the cable companies will need to divide up the plant more.

To watch shows for real on the Internet, they are not free. You can download them from iTunes for a price.

Cable TV has a very low cost per bit transmitted. It is just that few of those bits are used by any given consumer. You are in fact receiving 100s of channels encoded at Mb/s 24/7.

seven
larytet 12/5/2012 | 3:50:52 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE i do not quite understand the "switched digital". to support switching MSO will need to modify the plant, right ?

and another thing. i would prefer to buy a package containing 4 or 5 channels i do watch, instead of 100+ channels which i never turn on. assuming that MSO sells 5 channels package for let's say $20/month.

It is not clear why TV in Internet (low quality) can be delivered for free and i have to pay to the cable company for delivery of channels full of ads. Somethign is wrong here. After all these are the same bits here and there. assuming $0.2/1Gbyte traffic wholesale costs we can easily calculate delivery costs
100KByte/s * 2 hours every day or 60 hours/month should cost $5 (!?). Right, 100K/s is not HDTV, but i pay as i go and if i do not watch i do not pay. or should we believe that cable cos create value when deliver that bits ?

Disclaimer. Currently i do not have any TV service and watch TV online if i have time for this.
spelurker 12/5/2012 | 3:50:51 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE > i do not quite understand the "switched digital".
> to support switching MSO will need to modify the plant, right ?

Not really. A cable TV fiber node has ~120 channels @ 6MHz each on it. digital TV and HDTV allow more than one video signal to fit in a 6MHz channel. So that means there are potentially hundreds of TV channels.
To 'switch' switched digital, the MSO has equipment at their central office (head end) which only sends a particular channel to the neighborhoods (fiber nodes) in which someone is watching that channel. So when you flip channels on your TV remote, your set-top box tells the MSO what channel you want to watch.

The way this makes sense is a statistical game. Essentially, there is a core group of programs which are being watched by most of the households in the neighborhood, and a bunch of programs which no one in the areas is watching. This allows the MSO to offer more programs than can be sent down the cable at once. If there are 500 TVs in a neighborhood, then they can be tuned to at most 500 different programs, but 400 of those TVs are probably tuned to the same 50 programs, so the MSO only needs to send ~150 programs to that neighborhood.

It's just new software in your set-top box, same cable plant.
alchemy 12/5/2012 | 3:50:49 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE spelurker writes:
Not really. A cable TV fiber node has ~120 channels @ 6MHz each on it. digital TV and HDTV allow more than one video signal to fit in a 6MHz channel. So that means there are potentially hundreds of TV channels.


Today, the rf spectrum on the cable plant is 100% occupied. To make room for data and telephony services, they need to reclaim some of the bandwidth that is today chewed up by legacy analog and proprietary Motorola & Scientific Atlanta digital technology.

Personally, I wonder about the user experience. MOT and SA digital set top boxes already are very slow when you're channel surfing. If I were an MSO, I'd want the switched digital stuff to be as close to real time response as possible but all that digital rights stuff may actually make it worse than today's experience. I'll be curious to see how well this technology actually works in the real world.

On the CableCard topic, I think today's proprietary 1-way CableCards are pathetic.
larytet 12/5/2012 | 3:50:45 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE i think that iTunes charges significantly more per customer than the show costs to the cable provider.

i will put it another way. Let's say that a TV station chooses to use Internet as a main delivery system. Delivery will cost according to my calculations $5/month (i assumed 60 hours of watching at 100KB/s)
i do not need 24/7, because i want to sleep sometimes and i do not need 100+ channels, because most of them i did not even try (i do not know Spanish, not interested in arabic channels, i do not care about sport events).

so, where that $60+/month bill we should pay comes from ? according to your logic this is what cable cos pay to the content providers to get that shows created. and you apparently base the logic on the prices iTunes charges for the download.

let me doubt it. i can watch 70+ TV channels for free on channelchooser and if you google around you will find 10s of channels more. these are not your US popular shows, but the US is with all due respect less than 10% of the world population. my line is - ads pay for the show production (or cover significant part of the costs). and we (customers) pay too much for the delivery.

content is not cheap either. i think that one of the main reason is lack of true competition among content providers. another is that the US population is comletely brainwashed by cable cos and content providers talking about how expensive to do this and to do that. US customer watch 15-25% of the time ads (mostly food related ads) and fails to figure out that there are alternatives.

watching TV is a national sport in many countries, but the US is probably in one of the top slots. this is one of the natural outcomes of the currently existing system, where relatively small number of cos create content. among other results we should expect sliding of the average IQ in the US.

larytet 12/5/2012 | 3:50:44 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE ... just did a quick google and it is suprisingly hard to find any statistics. The National Report Card is probably reliable, but not conclusive and covers relatively short period.
http://nationsreportcard.gov/s...

after reading all these articles i guess i should back off and apologise. the whole issue of how we estimate IQ and what to do with the results is apparently not clear.
larytet 12/5/2012 | 3:50:44 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE actually US economy is more like 30% of the world's economy, but it depends on how you calculate it. unfortunately about 2/3 of this financial services.

Re IQ: US is not even in the top 10 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I...

and we (world population) probably ARE getting dumber http://www.fourmilab.ch/docume...
and may be television is one of the reasons.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:50:44 AM
re: Cable Bandwidth Dilemma Looms at SCTE With all due respect, the US is 25% of the worlds economy, the place where the most content is made, and IQ is not slipping.

The reason content is often free is because it is bad. For every actually funny downloadable video there are 1000 that are just awful.

Perhaps you are a xenophobic moron, but I never justified anything. I simply stated how things actually are.

By the way, your IQ slipping would be a lot more effective in a post where your English (the language you were trying to communicate in) was proper.

seven
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