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SCTE

Tue, 06/30/1998 - 8:00pm
Michael Lafferty, Associate Editor
Emergency Alert Systems: Get ready for EAS

With the deadline for EAS (Emergency Alert System) compliance approaching, a number of companies are offering solutions to help cable operators prepare for the new requirements.

Spectrum/Mega Hertz has introduced a new addressable trunk switch designed to work with the EASpectrum Comb Generator, to allow systems serving up to 18 different communities to utilize one comb generator. The switch consists of two components: an addressable auto answer and the addressable trunk switch.

Trilithic Inc. displayed a number of additions to its EASy EAS Compliance product family at the Show, including new character generators, new crawl inserters, a new comb-based carrier substitution system and a range of new communications and control capabilities. Several EAS solutions, tailored to meet different levels of price and flexibility, were on display in the company's booth.

Dawn Satellite is offering several EAS solution types: baseband A/V, modulator IF, and trunkline override, and the company's technical sales staff demonstrated the features of the solutions at Expo.

The company's equipment packages include components from EAS manufacturers such as HollyAnne, Idea/onics and TFT. Working from operators' descriptions of their headend equipment and configurations, Dawn personnel can assist in understanding equipment choices, and custom-design EAS packages.

Sprint North Supply featured a live EAS demonstration at Expo. Sprint and HollyAnne offer the Cable Envoy, which can turn an emergency alert system into a working asset by reducing CSR workloads, providing new marketing tools, assisting engineering groups and improving subscriber relations, says Sprint.

HollyAnne Corp., which is offering EAS solutions through its aforementioned distributor, Sprint North Supply, announced a number of enhanced EAS products which provide flexibility for different system applications. In one example, the modular nature of the Cable Envoy all-channel messaging system allows the cable operator to select the configuration that fits his needs on a channel-by-channel basis. Those configurations include baseband video/baseband audio channel units; baseband video/4.5 MHz audio channel units; composite audio/video channel units; second input video channel units (useful for syndex applications); icon channel units; and video/audio switch channel units.

In addition, when used in conjunction with the MIP-921, the Cable Envoy is capable of delaying all EAS events until all local commercial ad insertions have been played. And, the Cable Envoy Message Manager and Message Scheduler have been released in a combined version.

FrontLine/Vela Broadcast released a new baseband audio and video messaging system that displays crawling EAS messages with no disruption of regular programming, according to the company. The new ACM-8 all-channel message system provides eight character generator channels from a compact, 19-inch rackmount housing of one-rack-unit in height. It can address an individual channel or groups of channels. FrontLine says the cost-per-channel in this new application-focused system has been reduced by half, while twice the number of channels can be controlled from the same rack space.

Cable operators can use the ACM-8 to display text crawls or full-page messages over normal video or a solid background.

Launching Digital: Digital video deployment session stresses preparation

Preparation and training are the passwords to a successful digital launch for cable operators, and a new "constellation" display on test gear can lead to a better understanding of digital signals and in identifying impairments, according to digital experts at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo's Digital Video Deployment session.

In preparing for digital, operators should consider digital signals to be the same as analog, and for satellite reception, they should have dishes up and operating to ensure proper signal levels and carrier-to-noise ratios, said Joe Waltrich, manager of digital special projects for General Instrument.

"Operators should also set their RF levels and fiber optic levels correctly, check for return path integrity, check splitters and A/B switches and conduct a full system check," added Waltrich.

Training technicians and engineers is also a key to a successful digital launch, said Rich White, equipment evaluations manager for Cox Communications Inc. "The headend engineer needs information on MPEG, Ethernet communications, vendor equipment and digital measurements, and on the controller side, he needs information on the billing system," he said.

Customer education, White added, is also a major concern, and is a time-consuming process. "The biggest hit is installation time. It's now about 90 minutes, with customer education being about 30 minutes. We have been leaving videotapes with our customers on how to install digital, and it has been very helpful," White said.

To better understand and identify problems with an operator's digital network, Jerry Harris of Tektronix Inc. introduced a "constellation display" method of monitoring and detecting problems.

"The constellation display is a means to understanding the condition of a G4 QAM signal and identifying network impairments. It looks like a haystack with the top truncated," White said.

Craig Kuhl

High Speed Data: LAN/WAN basics and transporting high-speed data on cable TV networks

Many engineers listened intently to a presentation by Michael Coden, president and CEO of ADC Codenoll Technology Corp., about fiber optic LAN networks. Coden's talk was premised on the perception that with the demand for data services growing, network engineers need an inexpensive solution to deliver bi-directional data over a large network.

Coden outlined LAN/WAN applications for cable TV to include the transport of data modem traffic, advertisement insertion (selling local ads on a local headend basis), set-top box access and control, network management and corporate LAN interconnects.

Of the forms of LAN/WAN data transmission, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode and Fiber Distributed Data Interface, Ethernet, explained Coden, is the most commonly deployed and the least expensive. Ethernet cards for PCs are inexpensive and omnipresent.

Previously, however, traditional Ethernet networking in video and telecommunications applications has been limited by the fact it technically travels in straight lines (instead of rings), and by the relatively short distances Ethernet can support. Ethernet transmissions over fiber networks have had to undergo a costly conversion process to ATM over Sonet (and back again once the data reaches its destination).

A new technology, EtherRing, allows for Ethernet-based data transmissions to occur over unlimited distances. As its name suggests, EtherRing is a way of transporting Ethernet in its native mode over a ring architecture.

New enhancements to EtherRing, such as Virtual LAN, will make it suited for the IP-based multicasting applications being developed for deployment on cable TV networks, said Coden.

David Iler

Customer Service: Knowledge, relationships are key to customer care evolution

A deeper knowledge base and relationship management are two key components to a successful customer care program in today's highly competitive, and interactive environment, said customer care experts at Expo's Excellence Through Customer Service session.

At the forefront of what session speakers called the current "customer care evolution" are those on the front lines. " Technicians, installers and operations departments are crucial to cable's image, and their roles are changing," said Kim Elek, director of public affairs for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA).

Unlike the older, traditional way of customer interaction, today's customer care professionals must deal with "smart devices," which include cable modems and set-tops. The new method of customer care is called "consultative care," says Craig Hanson, director of advanced technologies for CableData.

"Consultative care reflects a corporate policy. It's information-based dialogue with a "customer care message, and uses human-based interaction," Hanson said. "The knowledge base among technicians, installers and CSRs needs to grow."

Relationship management, Hanson added, focuses on consistent care and the tracking of all customer interactions, while keeping a knowledge base of the customer. "I think we are in the third phase of the customer service evolution," Hanson said. "And there are four areas: Consultative care, relationship management, touch points (how the company touches its customers through personal relationships) and expert systems (growing a customer knowledge base)."

Once this knowledge base grows among techs, installers and operational departments, customers will have a different attitude toward their operator, and, says Elek, "will be more likely to consider their local cable company as their long-term provider of future services." — Craig Kuhl

Cable Games: TCI staff take top honors
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For the second consecutive year, Tele-Communications Inc. staff took top honors at the annual Cable-Tec Games. Doug Nolan, of TCI of Santa Cruz, earned the gold in the overall category. As a result, he will have his name engraved on a standing trophy, and the SCTE will pick up the tab (airfare, hotel and Expo registration) for him to defend his title at next year's games in Orlando, Fla. Two of TCI's local Denver crew won the silver and bronze for their overall efforts. Tom Lockwood took home the silver, and Eric Drugan donned a bronze medal.

TCI personnel had their hands full fending off a considerable challenge against a contingent of competitors from Multimedia Cablevision operations in Kansas and Oklahoma. They fielded nearly half (10) of the 24 competitors. As a result, they came away with nearly half of the medals in the individual events.

The games challenged specific technical skills, as well as knowledge of the industry in general. Competitors had their meter reading (sponsors/judges: Trilithic, Wavetek), TDR (sponsors/judges: Riser Bond, Sencore) and splicing (sponsors/judges: Gilbert Engineering, Thomas & Betts/LRC) skills put to the test. They also played a game of Go Fetch (sponsors/judges: TVC Inc.), where they had to race against the clock in picking out a variety of both familiar and obscure tools, parts and hardware from a jumbled mass.

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The ever-popular Cable Jeopardy game, bolstered by a slick, new computerized format developed by the National Cable Television Institute (NCTI), challenged players and spectators on basic facts and arcane minutiae of the industry.

Individual winners included: TDR: Gold-Eric Drugan, TCI; Silver-Cliff Salmond, TCI/Tucson, Ariz.; Bronze-Keith Vandevelde, Multimedia Cablevision. Cable Jeopardy: Gold-Tom Lockwood, TCI/Denver; Silver-Tom Saylor, Technology Services/Troy, Idaho; Bronze-Doug Nolan, TCI/Santa Cruz, Calif.

Splicing: Gold-Kenny Murray, TCI/Santa Cruz, Calif.; Silver-Joel Hutchings, Multimedia Cablevision; Bronze-Tom Lockwood, TCI. Go Fetch: Gold-Mike Burnett, Multimedia Cablevision/Hutchinson, Kan.; Silver-Tom Lockwood, TCI; Bronze-Eric Drugan, TCI/Denver.

Meter Reading: Gold-Chris Elmore, Multimedia Cablevision/Wichita, Kan.; Silver-Joel Hutchings, Multimedia Cablevision/Edmond, Okla.; Bronze-Keith Vandevelde, Multimedia Cablevision/Wichita, Kan. — Michael Lafferty

Network Architectures: HFC architectures

Preparing a cable plant for the new suite of communications services, such as delivering a specific channel lineup for individual homes, was the topic of an HFC Architectures workshop. John Dahlquist of Harmonic Lightwaves opened the session by articulating an architecture philosophy based on scalability. As revenue grows and penetration increases for enhanced services, it's important to build networks that can be scaled incrementally to meet traffic needs, he said.

Given the range of individual network configurations in existence, there is no single solution to designing a scalable network; however, dense wave division multiplexing offers, said Dahlquist, a way to concentrate equipment at the headend and economize on fiber. Specifically for critical return path flow, "the dynamic range of DWDM is greater than any other system," said Dahlquist.

Don Snipes, chief technologist of optoelectronics for Scientific-Atlanta, later told the audience that wave division multiplexing offers a method to separate broadcast and narrowcast transmissions.

Subdividing nodes is a way to increase bandwidth and can be facilitated by adding optical receivers and/or return transmitters, then configuring the node to access a portion of the RF system. Downsides to deploying scalable nodes include a higher initial cost and the need for more advance planning in the actual placement of the nodes, a tricky endeavor given take rates that are unevenly distributed.

Snipes, citing high projected demand for data and other interactive services, raised the specter of lost revenue because of delaying system upgrades. He also explained the benefits of a 1310 nm overlay network. — David Iler

 

Overall: Lockwood, Nolan, Drugan

TDR: Drugan, Vandevelde, Salmond

Jeopardy: Lockwood, Nolan, Saylor

Splicing: Lockwood, Hutchings, Murray

Go Fetch: Burkett, Lockwood, Drugan

Meter Reading: Elmore, Vandevelde, Hutchings

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