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SDV Gains in Great White North

Alan Breznick
3/15/2010

8:50 AM -- TORONTO -- Although many US MSOs are still not all that keen on switched digital video (SDV), the technology keeps picking up steam in Canada.

Executives from Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) and Cable Cable Inc. sang SDV’s praises at the second annual Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Canadian Summit here last week. Appearing together on a panel, they talked about using the technology to clear space for more standard digital video networks, high-definition TV (HDTV) channels, and Docsis 3.0 channel bonding.

Michael Fiorini, vice president and general manager manager of Cable Cable, said the small Canadian cable operator uses SDV to add new services on its 750MHz plant. With the technology’s help, he said, Cable Cable has added 40 new standard digital channels, more than doubled its HD lineup to 60-plus channels, added video-on-demand (VoD) and subscription-VOD services, and upgraded to Docsis 3.0 wideband service.

“We’re past the point of tweaking the HFC plant,” said Fiorini, whose company also explored analog reclamation and plant upgrades. “Upgrading your HFC plant doesn’t cut it anymore. You piss off your customers and you end up doing the same thing two years later.”

Giancarlo Urbani, director of video services and platforms for Rogers, said Canada’s largest MSO is now preparing to boost its SDV commitment after aggressively introducing the technology throughout its Ontario systems in late 2008 and early 2009.

Plans call for Rogers, which already switches 194 standard digital and 25 HD channels, to reclaim another eight 6MHz QAM channels by switching up to 180 more standard TV channels and 45 more HD networks in Ontario, and instituting higher oversubscription ratios. Plans also call for Rogers to introduce SDV in its Atlantic Canada cable systems by the fall.

"We can’t do as much in the Atlantic systems," said Urbani, "because we have only 750MHz systems there," as opposed to 860MHz systems in Ontario. But, he noted, Rogers will still be able to reclaim 11 QAM channels with SDV, cutting the number of QAM channels used from 19 to 8.

Mike Casciano, vice president of operations for Clearcable Networks, said SDV “paves the way” for the introduction of “more TV-based, real-time services, such as VOD, IPTV, and virtual DVRs.” Casciano, whose firm does consulting work for Cable Cable and other Canadian operators, also argued that the technology “virtually eliminates the need to sink more capital into plant upgrades.”

But, citing the example of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) south of the border, Casciano cautioned that SDV is not “the end-all and be-all” technology that can resolve all MSO technology concerns.

"We know it works, it’s maturing, it’s getting better," he said. "But each service provider is faced with different technical challenges. Don’t expect a silver-bullet technology to address all of them."

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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