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Video services

Iowa Cabler Gets Wired for IPTV

ORLANDO, Fla. -- TelcoTV 2009 -- The examples are still few and far between, but cable operators here and abroad are starting to deliver IPTV services over Docsis 3.0, a CableLabs platform that bursts data in excess of 100 Mbit/s.

Here in the U.S., the latest service provider to join that relatively exclusive club is Butler-Bremmer Communications. It offers its services in northeast Iowa and operates some hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant as well as some copper and fiber-to-the-home networks, but was looking to unify all its video services on one common IPTV platform.

So it's bringing the HFC portion of its plant to the IPTV world using "Direct-2-Edge," or D2E, an architecture developed by Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) that bypasses the "core" cable modem termination system (CMTS) and pipes in IP video directly through edge QAM devices. In the home, a tuner in the wideband modem acts as a gateway and redistributes the video to an IP set-top box. The content, meanwhile, is being fed to Butler-Bremmer by Falcon Communications Inc. in MPEG-4 format. (See Harmonic Scores IPTV Wins.)

Harmonic's D2E architecture uses some proprietary signaling for channel changes, but it leverages a standard Docsis downstream, Yoav Derazon, Harmonic's senior manager of cable solution and strategy, said here at the show.

He admits that D2E is not gathering much interest yet from large U.S. cable MSOs, but says it's gaining steam with smaller service providers, such as Butler-Bremmer, that offer video today using a mix of RF and IPTV technologies, but want to migrate the cable video elements to IP. That way, the operator can standardize on IPTV boxes and use the same encoding, encryption, and conditional access systems. Plus, the operator can then use the same user interfaces and the same tiers of services whether they're being piped in via DSL, FTTH, or cable plant.

"That way, [the operator] doesn't have to market the video service twice," Derazon explains. He also claims that the cost per bit of delivering IP video through the edge QAM is five to ten times less than delivering it through the traditional "core" CMTS. BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), by the way, is taking a similar architectural approach to cable IPTV with its vIP PASS platform. (See BigBand IDs IPTV Partners , BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork, and Koreans Take Cable IPTV for a Spin .)

Derazon says most of the interest for D2E comes from U.S. service providers, including many telcos. Harmonic estimates there are about 850 independent phone companies in the U.S, with at least 400 offering video services over HFC.

While that gives Harmonic sizable market for its cable IPTV architecture, its largest D2E customer is SK Broadband in South Korea, which has about 3.5 million subscribers. Of that total, 1.5 million are using FTTP, with the rest being served by HFC. SK is using D2E to deliver about 90 video channels today, but anticipates growing that to about 150, according to Derazon. The operator is also offering on-demand video using set-tops with hard drives that use progressive download techniques.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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