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Optical/IP

Set-Top P2P?

Among the scores of panels offered at The Cable Show, it's hard to pass one up that covers bandwidth, that valuable commodity that operators don't exactly have ample supplies of for high-definition television, Docsis 3.0, and video on demand (VOD). What usually follows is a laundry list of levers cable can pull to add more spectrum or use what it's got more efficiently -- switched digital video, variable bit rate encoding, node splits, analog reclamation, spectrum enhancements, MPEG-4, etc.

Here's another to add to the list: peer-to-peer (P2P) -- you know, that technology that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. are taking so much heat on based on their throttling policies… though Comcast is in the process of migrating to a "protocol-agnostic" platform (more on this coming shortly, by the way). (See Study Alleges a Cox Block on P2P Traffic and Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure.)

One of the more interesting ideas discussed on the panel involved the use of content stored on set-top DVR hard drives as part of a larger P2P-assisted, MSO-managed content delivery network.

Cable boxes participating in P2P? Sure -- why not? By managing P2P based on content proximity, data for video can be chunked and routed more intelligently and less expensively, explained Dave Lively, senior manager of video/IPTV systems test & architecture at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). Perhaps the "internal portion" of the CDN can include those set-top hard drives… and not just stuff stored on PCs.

Cable has millions of DVRs out there, and will follow with new tru2way-based boxes with on-board Docsis-powered signaling paths. Meanwhile, chip makers such as Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) have developed "hybrid" chipsets for gateway and cable set-tops that incorporate Docsis 3.0 modems. (See TI Boxes Up Docsis 3.0.) IP-connectivity stars at the set-top level are beginning to align.

The concept isn't all that far-fetched. After all, it was just revealed that Comcast Interactive Capital participated in an earlier $9.5 million A Round of funding for GridNetworks Inc. , which is staking its claim on the P2P-assisted CDN model.

Sound familiar? It might. Cisco, a major supplier of set tops to the cable industry, recently announced it had invested in that exact same A Round, which, by the way, was originally announced last October. (See GridNetworks Raises $9.5M and GridNetworks Snares Cisco Money.) Not that we'd accuse GridNetworks of stretching essentially the same news across several months and hoarding Comcast's participation in the cash infusion for just the right buzz-worthy moment -- like U.S. cable's industry's big annual confab -- or anything like that.

1 GHz? 3 GHz? Why stop there?
Another novel concept involved life above 1 GHz. John Ulm, a fellow of the technical staff at Motorola, suggested that cable operators can move up to 5 GHz before the physics run out of gas. He envisioned Wideband channels of 100 MHz or greater and speeds at Gigabit levels. If the industry started to standardize on the concept now, he said, perhaps the technology could be ready to go in five years, with commodity pricing following five years later.

Again, an interesting idea. But considering the tough time Vyyo Inc. (Nasdaq: VYYO) has had finding traction for its 3 GHz overlay over the last decade, I'm not ready to go out on a limb and suggest that 5 GHz is anywhere on cable's viewable horizon. (See G'Bye-O, Vyyo? and Vyyo Details Restructuring .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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