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2005 Pacesetter Awards

Thu, 06/30/2005 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, Editor; and Karen Brown, Senior Editor

CED magazine is proud to present the winners of its second-annual Pacesetter Awards, which are bestowed on individuals at cable and other broadband service providers who have taken leading positions or innovative "first steps" with advanced services, applications or technologies.

Now in its second year, the Pacesetters are awarded in five distinct categories: Digital Video, Video-on-Demand, Cable Telephony, High-Speed Data and Commercial Services. In its inaugural year, the editors of CED determined the Pacesetter winners. This year, readers were invited to nominate their colleagues.

Time Warner Cable flips the video switch

Pacesetter: Digital Video

(Sponsored by Pace Micro Technology)

Paul Brooks, senior network architect, Time Warner Cable; and Matthew Stanek, vice president of engineering, Time Warner Cable

2005 Pacesetter Awards
Switched broadcast video (SBV) is not necessarily a new technology (it's a central component of the IPTV rage), but cable's use of it certainly is.

But it wasn't that long ago when cable engineers offered the industry an early glimpse of how the technology works and how it might help cable operators conserve bandwidth by switching, rather than broadcasting, some of channels in their digital lineups.

In early 2003, Paul Brooks, presently the senior network architect for Time Warner Cable, graced the stage of the SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies to declare SBV as a potential "disruptive technology." Back then, SBV, at least in the cable sense, was full of potential but still lacked field punch as there was little to speak of in terms of trials and deployments.

Turning the clock to 2005, it's clear that much has changed on that last count.

Although Cox Communications was the first to publicly disclose its involvement in SBV trials at the ET 2005 confab in January, Time Warner was also there—as the "undisclosed operator" subject cited in the second part of a groundbreaking study on SBV.

And, following those early trials, the word is out that Time Warner Cable will deploy SBV in several markets this year, and follow with a wider rollout in 2006.

These early moves with SBV are key reasons why Brooks and Matthew Stanek, Time Warner Cable's vice president of engineering in Austin, Texas, are both being honored as Pacesetters in the digital video category.

Stanek & Brooks
Stanek (left) and Brooks of
Time Warner Cable
Stanek, who oversaw the preparation, requirements, installation and operation of the SBV trial system, noted that the MSO had different code running on set-tops, and that had to be accomplished without affecting the customer's ability to view programming. "Equipment installation was straightforward, but required a lot of man hours," he explained, in a written statement.

But that work has paid off, as Stanek prepares to oversee the launch of SBV across the division. "We developed tools as a result of this trial, which are now used daily by our engineering and operational teams," he wrote.

For Brooks, seeing SBV evolve from a trade show presentation more than three years ago into a deployable technology certainly serves as sweet validation to a person who has been a "big believer" in SBV almost from the get-go. —JB

Out in front with VOD

Pacesetter: Video-on-Demand

(Sponsored by Arroyo Video Solutions)

Stephanie Mitchko, vice president of interactive platform development and technology, Cablevision Systems Corp.

Stephanie Mitchko
Mitchko
Well before she entered the cable fold "completely by accident," Stephanie Mitchko ran an electronic warfare division, developing kill assessment technology. Though these jobs are in two different sectors, they do share at least one similarity: each has to take on new challenges and figure out how to implement the best system and technology toward the final goal.

"The challenge [in the electronic warfare division] was to take something that didn't exist and make something that fits [the] requirement," she recalls.

Some of that does apply to Mitchko's role at Cablevision with video-on-demand, still a nascent service in many respects. At Cablevision, Mitchko, who helped the MSO get its cable modem service off the ground, has been a pioneer of sorts in the development of several significant VOD-related initiatives, including HD-VOD (Cablevision was the first to deploy such a service), a popular gaming package, and an innovative, in-house asset management system. She is also a driving force behind Cablevision's Emmy Award-winning iO Interactive Optimum Digital Cable service, and an application that enables customers to upgrade to subscription-VOD on-the-fly via their remotes.

Although the VOD backoffice has since grown to near-maturity, Mitchko and her team initially had to create one from scratch.

"When we started to look at how to manage VOD, there wasn't as much off-the-shelf stuff as there is today," says Mitchko.

That groundwork has enabled Cablevision to manage the VOD backend and tie it into the operational systems, which allow the MSO's product group to easily manage content offerings and how they are displayed and marketed to the consumer.

These days, Mitchko and Cablevision are noodling a network-based digital video recording system that places a sharper focus on content produced specifically for television. —JB

McLeod shifts Cox into VoIP

Pacesetter: Cable Telephony (sponsored by Acterna)

Bruce McLeod, engineering manager for VoIP, Cox Communications

Bruce McLeod
McLeod
Changing technology horses mid-stream is never easy, and for Cox Communications Inc.'s drive to transition from analog voice to voice-over-IP, that required a steadying hand riding herd on the project.

The MSO found it in Bruce McLeod, its engineering manager for VoIP. His efforts in planning, testing and implementing Cox's growing VoIP service make him CED's 2005 Pacesetter for cable telephony.

More than three years ago, Cox realized that the cost-to-benefit equation for circuit switched voice didn't add up for about 50 percent of its cable subscriber footprint. McLeod, meanwhile, was working for a media gateway startup involved in Cox's Oklahoma City hybrid switched-VoIP network trial, and when the opportunity arose to work for the MSO, he made the leap.

As engineering manager for VoIP, McLeod was put in charge of the VoIP network design, testing and launch. That included assembling an engineering team and building a lab facility from scratch to test the myriad VoIP call management, media gateway and servers.

McLeod wanted to ensure that the VoIP components Cox used were rock solid—and that philosophy soon paid off. McLeod decided further to test the Syndeo Corp. softswitch chosen to power the VoIP plant, and after an ad-hoc lab trial "we quickly discovered that it didn't have the capabilities that we needed in terms of stability, robustness and performance—as well as lacking in features," McLeod notes.

That did force Cox to reassess the VoIP rollout timeline and the business, but in the end, the MSO's decision to align itself with pure PacketCable systems and best-of-breed gear led to a smoother rollout. McLeod also has overseen the transition of circuit-switched TDM customers to the VoIP platform, with the first market set to start that process soon. "I'm very grateful for the things that he and his team did. Certainly it was a team effort and there were a lot of people involved, but I would say that Bruce's leadership has been key," says Jay Rolls, Cox's vice president of telephone and data engineering. While Cox may have indeed been late coming to the VoIP rollout, because of McLeod's careful design and testing work "that translated into a very pristine rollout—frankly probably more pristine than we typically have. We typically hit more bumps on an early rollout than we do with this." —KB

Adelphia catches up, then overtakes

Pacesetter: High-Speed Data

(Sponsored by BigBand Networks Inc.)

Tom Buttermore, vice president of data engineering and operations, Adelphia Communications

Tom Buttermore
Buttermore
Tom Buttermore may be the winner of the Pacesetter for high-speed data, but he jokes that it should more likely be "a catching up award."

Catch up, indeed. The vice president of data engineering and operations at Adelphia Communications, Buttermore and his engineering team have managed in two years to turn a rag-tag network of rickety, undersized CMTS units into a modern cable modem plant, with high reliability and a DOCSIS 2.0 heart to fuel future growth.

It wasn't easy. Buttermore signed on at Adelphia two years ago and faced a data network that had no real provisioning other than what was contained in the billing system. Network monitoring also was minimal, with a mash of 750 proprietary and DOCSIS 1.0 cable modem termination system units from 13 vendors.

The first task was to install a solid provisioning system.

"I think we kind of set land-speed records in terms of getting a solid provisioning platform in place from an OSS perspective," he says.

Next the team brought online its home-grown "Nemos" network monitoring system, able to oversee signal-to-noise levels, traffic congestion and individual modem performance levels.

"Across the board we gained 70 to 80 percent improvement on that just by being able to provide the systems with the data necessary to go out and target problem areas and make those changes," Buttermore says.

On the CMTS front, Adelphia has been able to swap out all of its DOCSIS 1.0 and older CMTS units, and now 90 percent of the customer base is supported by high-capacity DOCSIS 2.0 units. Backbone capacity has also doubled.

The results are in the numbers. Two years ago Adelphia had about 700,000 high-speed data customers, and that has since doubled to 1.5 million customers—but remarkably with the same customer call volume.

All in time to see it handed over to Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable when their joint acquisition of Adelphia is finalized by the end of the year. But Buttermore is philosophical.

"It's been incredibly fun. You rarely get the opportunity to come into a situation like this," Buttermore says. "It was a wonderful opportunity for me." —KB

Charter: At your [commercial] service

Pacesetter: Commercial Services

(Sponsored by Xtend Networks)

Steve Santamaria, formerly the corporate vice president of commercial services, Charter Communications Inc.

Steve Santamaria
Santamaria
Under the guidance of Steve Santamaria, Charter Communications has turned a passing interest in commercial services into a growing revenue driver. In the first quarter, the company posted a commercial services revenue rise of 20 percent to $11 million—a healthy growth rate no matter what line of business you might be in.

Santamaria, the former corporate vice president of commercial services, has also helped Charter leverage its existing network to deliver services to small- and medium-sized businesses. And where its plant doesn't reach, the company has been a pioneer in the use of wireless extension technologies, with about 400 customers already getting data services from Charter in this way.

Those wireless extension deployments "are operating perfectly for us," Santamaria says. "Now we can go places where we can't extend plant."

The operator is also offering fiber-type services with SLAs (service level agreements) over its HFC network, a strategy "that opens up the market for us," Santamaria says.

Although Charter has plans for bigger commercial entities, and has hired three people just for "elephant hunting," the SMB sector offers plenty of low-hanging fruit. SMBs are "completely ignored by our competition," Santamaria says. "We're local...and [that] is huge for those customers." —JB

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