Test & Measurement

Symmetricom Expands Cable Play

When it comes to serving the needs of the cable industry, Symmetricom Inc. (Nasdaq: SYMM) is no longer a one-trick pony.

The company, known in cable circles for technology that synchs up myriad components of a modular cable modem termination system (M-CMTS), took advantage of this week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Conference on Emerging Technologies to unveil a video quality monitoring platform tailored for cable. The company claims this will resonate as MSOs launch and deploy switched digital video (SDV) platforms and as video-on-demand (VOD) usage grows.

Symmetricom, which will compete with vendors such as IneoQuest Technologies Inc. and Tektronix Inc. , said its V-Factor Quality of Experience Platform can monitor and assess video, correlating impairments to the problems occurring on the network.

While that's already important in the IPTV world, Symmetricom has outfitted its system to handle similar functions for cable-fed VOD and SDV, which use MPEG transport technology.

"There's a fundamental issue that IP wasn't built for video, so video quality has to be maintained," says Jim Chiddix, the former CTO of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and now a member of the Symmetricom board.

While cable "has gotten very comfortable" with MPEG transport and the robust forward effort correction it affords for piping in digital video, MSOs could be faced with quality issues as more two-way applications, including SDV tiers and advanced VOD apps such as Start Over, grow in popularity.

On top of that, cable is doing more than ever with IP, using it to move video along their national and metro IP backbones before converting content to RF and pushing it to the consumer. SDV and VOD streams start out as IP before they are multiplexed into QAM channels at the edge of the network, and that increases the complexity of the network and the potential for defects in the video.

"We've begun to hear [from operators] that this is becoming an issue," Chiddix says. "Things are happening to video that are tough to diagnose and correct."

If issues can't be detected and diagnosed on all ends of the network, operators could spend unnecessary dollars on truck rolls and set-top switchouts. And customers are certainly more apt to take their business elsewhere if the video quality from the cable operator is crummy.

Symmetricom is addressing this with a system that monitors the various video ingest points on the network. V-Factor also includes a set-top side that requires a small software client, about 64 kilobytes. Symmetricom is already implementing such a system with Orange (NYSE: FTE) using set-tops from Sagem Télécommunications SA .

Symmetricom would not discuss exact pricing for its platform, but an operator's investment level is determined by the number of headend analyzers (in this case, the Symmetricom Q-1000) required, how many channels require probes, and how many set-tops are hanging off the system, according to Joyce Kim, a Symmetricom vice president of marketing.

Although V-Factor is already in the field with some telcos delivering IP services, Symmetricom is still in the early discussion phase with cable operators.

That should expand its cable presence, which, for now, is limited to the Docsis Timing Interface, a key ingredient of the M-CMTS architecture. (See Symmetricom Issues Guide.)

Although the M-CMTS and its ability to separate out downstream and upstream capacity has some linkages to Docsis 3.0, most operators appear to be focusing early deployments on integrated CMTSs outfitted with cards with denser downstream ports. (See CMTS Downstream Prices Plummet.)

But an increase in shipments of edge QAMs, which look to support Docsis downstreams as well as SDV and VOD, indicate that "the M-CMTS is on the forefront of many cable operator minds," insists Jeremy Bennington, Symmetricom's business development manager. He says Symmetricom has licensed its DTI client to 11 different manufacturers, including a mix of CMTS and edge QAM suppliers. Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) are a part of that group.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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