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Canadians MSOs Switch On SDV

Alan Breznick
2/5/2009
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3:10 PM -- TORONTO -- Like several of their U.S. counterparts, the four biggest Canadian MSOs are starting to clear space for new services by cramming more digital video signals down their broadband pipes.

Gathering here at the first-ever Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Canadian Summit earlier this week, engineering officials from Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI), Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. , and Cogeco Communications (Toronto: CCA) all indicated that they have begun deploying switched digital video (SDV) technology in their markets. At the same time, Shaw Communications Inc. officials said they’re gearing up to do the same next year.

Dermot O’Carroll, senior vice president of engineering and network operations for Rogers's cable unit, said the MSO, which started rolling out switched digital in its Ontario markets in October, will complete that deployment by late March or early April. Canada’s largest MSO, which covers 2 million subscribers with its SDV installation so far, is now switching 120 standard-definition and 20 hi-def channels.

Carroll said Rogers, which is using Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) SDV products in Ontario, will next test Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) SDV gear on its eastern Canada systems later this year. He anticipates deploying switched digital in its Motorola systems next year. (See Rogers Turning on SDV .)

Daniel Prouix, senior vice president of engineering for Videotron, said the Quebec MSO introduced switched digital in a small section of Montreal last June. With the technology working fine so far, he said Videotron will likely roll out SDV in other markets this year.

R. Stephen Shaw, a digital cable engineer at Cogeco, said his company launched switched digital in one small, undisclosed western Ontario market last August, extending service to as many as 10,000 subscribers. He said the MSO, which is now switching 80 SD channels, aims to boost that total to at least 120 channels and start switching HD channels as well.

Dennis Steiger, vice president of engineering for Shaw, told us that the operator is “not officially testing” SDV yet. “We’re only looking at it on paper,” he said. But Canada’s second-largest MSO, which mainly relies on Motorola digital technology, plans to start experimenting with switched digital later this year and possibly deploy it next year.

Unlike the four biggest Canadian MSOs, Steve Irvine, director of Internet engineering and operations for EastLink, said his company has no plans for SDV yet. Instead, the eastern Canada cable operator is looking at upgrading all of its systems to 750 MHz capacity or higher, splitting nodes to as small as 65 homes passed, and reclaiming its analog spectrum.

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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