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Cable SDV Makes Bid for a Tech Renaissance

Switched digital video (SDV) appears to be enjoying a comeback of sorts as US MSOs give the technology more love as they consider it not just for the bandwidth savings it affords, but also its ability to usher in IP video services and more targeted advertising.

Much of the renewed optimism in SDV can be pinned on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which recently disclosed plans to deploy the technology starting later this year in a "limited number of systems," with broader deployments slated for 2011 and 2012. (See Comcast Targets Philly With SDV and Comcast Getting Ready to Uncork SDV.)

Comcast's more aggressive interest in SDV, alongside momentum occurring at other operators, has caused Heavy Reading to bump up its forecast in the category.

Heavy Reading senior analyst Alan Breznick, who shared his most recent data Tuesday during a Light Reading Cable Webinar titled "The Return of SDV," now believes the number of North American homes passed with SDV will reach 65 million by the end of this year, nearly double the 35 million at the end of 2009. That's up from the 50 million Breznick originally anticipated.

"If all goes as projected, 2010 will be the year of the technology's biggest gains," he said.

He also expects that number to breach the 90 million mark by the end of 2012, thanks in part to plans underway by cable to migrate to IP video services, which, in his estimation, represents "the new golden goose of the industry."

But deployments, at least near term, are still being driven by SDV's bandwidth-saving properties, added Ray Bontempi, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s senior director of product management – video infrastructure solutions.

Furthering that theme, he says MSOs are likewise seeing SDV as a path to deployments of MPEG-4 feeds of traditional broadcast channels. For example, a set-top that can decode MPEG-4 content could query the cable system to see if such a version of a network is available and start a multicast stream.

This audience poll offers a sense on how cable's bandwidth needs are stacking up:



And SDV doesn't necessarily have to be a technology that only the major MSOs can afford; its future growth may depend on smaller MSOs that are typically priced out of deploying it.

Motorola's trying to address Tier 2/3 needs with a "hosted" SDV platform that calls for the local cable system to link up to a Moto-operated SDV server farm via a VPN connection. In that scenario, the set-top box, which would house an SDV software client, would send a channel-change message to the server farm that, in turn, would allocate the required QAM resources and force the box to tune the appropriate channel number. (See Moto Aims SDV at Small Cable.)

Although that sounds like a lot of heavy lifting, the total exchange between the set-top and the server farm "is measured in the order of milliseconds," said Chris Poli, Motorola's director of product line management, conditional access products.

The hosted approach is supposed to make SDV affordable to smaller operators, which may not have the capital to install all of the SDV components or have the staff to handle the daily care and feeding, which Motorola would instead manage. In that model, Motorola would also supply customers with local channel-usage reports so operators would have an ongoing idea of which channels (typically the less popular ones) are candidates for switching.

But Motorola has yet to announce any takers for its hosted SDV, though the company hopes to have some deployments to mention, perhaps before the end of this year.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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