Moto, BigBand Play Small Ball With SDV
Switched digital video (SDV) -- it's not just for the big dogs anymore.
Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is taking the bandwidth-saving benefits of SDV to the world of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable using a cost-saving and operations-reducing hosted platform that feeds off the company's Secure Operations Center in San Diego. (See Moto Aims SDV at Small Cable.)
The move could be important because, save for limited examples, SDV has been the domain of the larger MSOs, championed by the likes of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) poised to turn things up several notches later this year and into 2011. (See Comcast Getting Ready to Uncork SDV.)
The daily care and feeding of SDV is challenging enough for big MSOs that can throw engineering talent and money at it. But Motorola claims its hosted approach, announced to coincide with The Independent Show in Baltimore this week, will appeal to smaller ops because the more significant operational portions of SDV are handled by Moto, and that the approach eliminates a significant portion of the sunk costs typically associated with system-level deployments.
But smaller MSOs that take the hosted SDV path still need to have some basics in place. Their plants, for example, will need to have return path demodulators and other components that make systems interactive for services such as impulse pay-per-view. And those systems will require SDV-capable edge QAMs.
Motorola, explains Chris Poli, director of product line management for conditional access systems, would host the SDV server functions, housing them at and operating them out of the vendor's San Diego facility.
Once it's determined which channels are part of an operator's switched tier, Moto's hosted architecture calls for the SDV set-top software client to send channel change requests and the service group identifier to the San Diego-based SDV servers over a virtual private network (VPN). From there, the SDV servers tell the local edge QAM to send a multicast stream of the requested channel to the proper service group at the system and tune the set-top to the right program.
Although channel change requests and the communications between the hosted SDV servers and the edge QAMs are done over the VPN, all the pre-encrypted content still originates at the local headend. "We're just joining groups and passing them along," Poli says.
Motorola believes this approach will make SDV economically feasible for small systems because much of the engineering and day-to-day maintenance are Moto's job.
"The upfront ticket price has been prohibitive for even having a discussion around [SDV]" with smaller operators, Poli says.
And it may work for bigger operators, too. "I would not necessarily limit it [the hosted SDV approach] to the small operator," Poli says, noting that Moto has also developed SDV clients that can work in Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)-based cable systems.
But does it work? Motorola says it's done extensive load testing based on the architecture and determined what it should expect from a typical deployment. "We've found that the switching time is not even noticeable from a subscriber standpoint," Poli says.
Motorola, however, is now seeking a partner to do field trials. If Moto can find a taker and get the hosted platform installed, the company would likely spend a month monitoring traffic before it could recommend which services should move to a switched tier, and which ones should remain as broadcast.
BigBand plays up another approach
BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), a Motorola competitor that has an SDV footprint of about 35 million homes (deployed or in the process of being deployed), is also going after the Tier 2/3 cable market, but isn't chasing it with a hosted version of its platform. Instead, it's developing licensing terms and professional services arrangements that are tailored to smaller operators.
BigBand director of video solutions Yaron Raz says the vendor is addressing that segment by ensuring that the price per subscriber is not significantly higher than what a Tier 1 would have to pay to get SDV running. As pro services go, BigBand can put someone on-site or provide help remotely, depending on the need of the operator.
That approach has generated some early success with two operators: SureWest Communications (Nasdaq: SURW) and Buckeye CableSystem . (See SureWest Picks BigBand.)
Although smaller operators are interested in the bandwidth benefits afforded by SDV, they're also interested in how the technology can give them better visibility into viewership and offer them a path to IP-based video services, Raz says. Buckeye, for example, is already starting to give IPTV a closer look now that its SDV groundwork is in place. (See Buckeye Tunes Up BigBand for IPTV Trial.)
Raz argues that a hosted approach offers an overly "simplistic view" on the challenges of SDV and opens it up to variables that aren't present in localized deployments. "One size does not fit all," he says of SDV's technical and operational requirements.
He also questioned whether a hosted approach can handle the load if channel changes are making cross-country trips, and if it could sustain required reliability standards.
Moto, meanwhile, thinks it's up to anticipated rigors of hosted SDV. The vendor noted on its blog that the new system has been tested to handle 25 times the rate of traffic its "NAS-RAC" system deals with on average today (Moto's NAS-RAC is a conditional access system that has between 1.5 million to 2 million devices under management).
According to Moto, this means the hosted SDV platform "can support up to five hundred channel changes per second, more than enough for any real-world deployment."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable