Cable Tech

Mulling a Milestone

Ah, so cable operators really are deploying switched digital broadcast (SDB) or, if you prefer, switched digital video (SDV), in some form.

At least that's the main takeaway of the BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) announcement Thursday morning that its SDV tech today passes north of 5 million homes.

Now, the big question: Which operators are included in that figure? Since SDB is supposed to be transparent to the customer, it's not as obvious as, say, an operator introducing a slate of VOD shows or a new hi-def net. Still, BigBand says its switched broadcast solution has been commercially deployed by two of the top five U.S. MSOs, and those operators are using the technology to switch digital programs on more than one million "tuners." The company added that three of the top five U.S. cable MSOs have "selected" its SDB platform.

We already know that a good portion of those homes and tuners come courtesy of a big rollout by Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) in support of the MSO's new "in-language" programming package. (See Cablevision Switches With BigBand.)

Although Cablevision is the only MSO deployment BigBand has acknowledged so far, we'll take a stab at the other likely candidates:

  • Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) has been a champion of SDV from the beginning and had rolled it out in eight divisions by the end of 2006. Time Warner Cable, when discussing results of its early SDV trials in Austin, Texas, named BigBand as a partner in a White Paper... So pretty much write that operator down in pen.

  • Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) revealed in January that it's testing the SDB waters in at least two markets, so they're in the running.

  • Cox Communications Inc. is starting to introduce switched broadcast, too, and one of their iTV engineers collaborated with BigBand on a paper in January 2005 titled "The Statistics of Switched Broadcast." Those stats didn't come out of thin air so I'll put them down in pencil, with pen nearby.

Hmm... We should be approaching at least five million homes passed with SDB by now.

But BigBand isn't the only company with skin in the SDV game. Also count Scientific Atlanta , C-COR Corp. (Nasdaq: CCBL), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA).

Still, disclosing a deployment figure like BigBand certainly demonstrates that operators are gaining confidence in the incremental bandwidth they can gain with this technology. Plus, the costs aren't too shabby, either, when compared to some other options.

BigBand, citing fresh data from ABI Research , suggests that SDV deployments run $5 to $10 per home passed (HP), versus $1,000 per HP for a PON overlay, or $50 per HP for an expansion to 1 GHz. Vyyo Inc. (Nasdaq: VYYO), the only maker of 3GHz gear (or at least until it decided to license it), has said it costs $60 to $80 per HP (not including labor and the home-side media converters) for its answer to the bandwidth question. (See StarHub Goes Out-of-Band With Vyyo.)

But operators are not going to hitch their bandwidth wagons to just one; they'll be mulling (and deploying) multiple options.

For a financial and performance analysis options, including their benefits and potential shortcomings, I encourage you to check out Alan Breznick's latest report. (See Cable's New Capex Crunch.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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