Mixed Signals Beefs Up Video Monitoring
In June at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) COO Steve Burke couldn't say enough about the importance of video quality, expressing that the so-called "five nines" (99.999%) reliability benchmark will someday be applied to video services. After all, video is still the foundation of the cable industry.
Responding to this anticipated trend, Mixed Signals Inc. has expanded its video-monitoring platform to ensure that operators can not only keep close tabs on video quality as programming is obtained from the source, but to continuously monitor and check those signals as they flow further down the cable plant and to the "edge" of the system before they enter customer homes.
To do that, Mixed Signals is complementing its existing monitoring solution, which is used in primary and secondary headends, with additional probes that run video checks at hub sites, where edge QAM devices are modulating an increasing number of services, such as video on demand (VOD) and switched digital video (SDV).
The latest components to enter the Mixed Signals monitoring ecosystem are "Sentry Verify," a hub-monitoring product that checks video after it exits the headend but before it enters the edge QAM; and "Consul," a reporting engine that runs root cause analysis and gives operators a broad view of network health. Sentry Verify is available now, and Consul is expected to be ready for deployment by early 2009.
Those two products work in conjunction with "Sentry Edge," a post-QAM monitoring device Mixed Signals unveiled this summer, the vendor's legacy "Sentry" headend monitoring device, and "Medius," a reporting system based on data received from the Sentry platforms. Mixed Signals calls the complete monitoring system "Source-to-Edge," or S2E.
"Cable operators are looking not just for monitoring tools in the headend," says Mixed Signals CEO Eric Conley. "Now they're looking for a comprehensive solution that allows them to monitor [video] everywhere."
Such systems are critical, he says, because they not only improve video service reliability but also slash operating expenses as truck rolls and mean time to repair are reduced.
"Stretching the scope of monitoring to the edge just improves that [opex] scenario," he notes.
The headend side of the vendor's platform takes a deep dive into the video as it arrives from the original source, checking that the structural integrity of the video and audio packets are intact. Further out, at the hub sites, the system runs more checks to ensure that packets aren't missing and the video is still up to specs.
All of that data is fed to Medius, where root-cause analysis is performed, and any problems can be correlated. The Consul system aggregates that data across multiple regions.
Although Mixed Signals, which competes in this sector with the likes of IneoQuest Technologies Inc. and Symmetricom Inc. (Nasdaq: SYMM), is looking to check video from the source to the edge, its expanded platform doesn't necessarily do everything an operator might desire from a monitoring perspective. (See IneoQuest Probes SDV and Symmetricom Expands Cable Play.)
Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), for example, markets a system that checks the health of cable modems, set-tops, and embedded multimedia terminal adapters (E-MTAs). "That complements what we're doing," Conley says.
And, for now, Mixed Signals's S2E system is limited to traditional cable-video delivery methods. MSOs are also looking to complement their existing MPEG-based video transport systems by piping in some on-demand and "niche" video fare using the IP-based Docsis platform.
Monitoring IPTV fed over Docsis is not in Mixed Signals's current monitoring product pipeline, "but it ultimately will be" once a significant number of cable MSOs get closer to deploying such applications, Conley explains.
Among U.S. cable operators, Bright House Networks and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) already have Mixed Signals gear deployed across the board. Other major MSO customers include Comcast, Cox Communications Inc. , Charter Communications Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI), and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
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