Cable Tech

Cable Calls for Backup

When the lights go out, will cable's business services stay on?

The answer could be yes -- and for several days at that -- if the industry decides to adopt a new hybrid power backup prototype system, developed by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) and two vendors, that aims to help MSOs live up to the rigorous service level agreements (SLAs) required by Tier 1 business services customers. (See SCTE Powers Up Hybrid Energy System.)

Faced with millions of dollars that could be lost due to potentially lengthy power outages, the cable industry, led by the Society and its partners, developed an experimental energy system that can keep a business customer's critical communications systems -- phone, Internet access and email -- up and running for at least five days during a blackout.

Using the SCTE headquarters in Exton, Pa., as the guinea pig, the initial pilot installation links a hydrogen fuel cell system from CommScope Inc. with a 48-panel solar array, batteries and an overarching control system supplied by Alpha Technologies Inc.

Designed to kick in when the public utility power grid goes down, the prototype uses the batteries as the primary source of power. As the theory goes, the batteries will stay fresh because they are being recharged by the solar array and the fuel cells in alternating intervals.

Using that sort of cycle as the model, the system is designed to provide at least five days of power backup, and can probably extend well beyond that period if the fuel cells can be replenished, says SCTE President and CEO Mark Dzuban.

The SCTE is starting to look at standards that would integrate the energy control and management systems with the new hardware. The work it's doing in this area branches from the Society's Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI), an effort launched about a year ago.

Why this matters
MSOs already deliver services to small-business customers, with some just now starting to target mid-sized firms. But save for the likes of Optimum Lightpath , the commercial services arm of Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), most have yet to go after the kind of Tier 1 providers that require the strictest form of SLAs, such as international banks.

The SCTE is hopeful that the prototype will evolve into a hardened, commercial-level system that cable can deploy at scale as MSOs look to head further up-market and apply more pressure on incumbent telcos and CLECs using a mix of communications and cellular backhaul services.

The SCTE is still pulling together the total costs of the prototype, but likewise wonders if cable operators can afford not to consider such a system if they decide to chase the biggest game.

"We believe the cost of sustainability is an inexpensive price to pay," Dzuban says. "If you look at this from a high level, it's a million dollars a day in an SLA deal. If you're down [for just] minutes, it's huge dollars."

For more
Read more about cable's push toward bigger business customers and the industry's broader efforts to go green.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:58:38 PM
re: Cable Calls for Backup

I just wonder how soon cable will need something like this at some scale if tier 1 businesses is to be the target in question.  Among the largest operators, Comcast is just now getting its MetroE services going, and I'm not sure if that product would be a candidate for this sort of a set-up.  But I suppose it's smart to look ahead if a good number of cable's major MSOs are going to hit the large biz market with any gusto in the next 2-4 years. JB

edal 12/5/2012 | 4:57:33 PM
re: Cable Calls for Backup

This sound like a very good Idea my only worry would be vandalism. The size of this fule cell system and if it's above or below ground. I could see the solar panels being used for target pratice in certain location. Do Mso realy need a five day back up power supply? We have the cable commision on our backs for service interuptions of two hours.

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