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Setting the Pace in 2006

Mon, 07/31/2006 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, Editor-in-Chief

CED formally announced the winners of its third-annual Pacesetter Awards at the 2006 Cable-Tec Expo in Denver. The awards, founded in 2004, recognize individuals at cable and other broadband service providers who have taken leading positions or innovative " first steps" with advanced services, applications and technologies.

'Setting The Pace In 2006'

In 2006, the Pacesetters were awarded in six categories: Telephony, Digital Video, Television Time-Shifting, Business Services, High-Speed Data/IP Convergence and Broadband Teamwork.

Telephony

Reggie Workman, EVP of network management, Cablevision Systems

Category sponsor: Level 3 Communications

Reggie Workman
Workman
Thanks to the work of people like Workman, Cablevision now has in place the baseline network required to turn up new, advanced IP-based services, including a successful VoIP service called Optimum Voice that touts north of 900,000 customers and a service penetration rate exceeding 20 percent in Cablevision's service area. Cablevision has also been getting high marks for its customer portal, which allows customers to log in to a Web-based system to quickly administer service changes and enhancements.

Cablevision also recently introduced a new calling plan that allows VoIP customers to make unlimited international calls for an extra $19.95 per month. That service, dubbed Optimum Voice World Call, complements the flagship VoIP offering, which provides unlimited local and long distance calling to the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

In addition to those innovations, Cablevision also developed its own provisioning system for VoIP, rather than using a third-party platform. That, of course, meant that Cablevision had to get its applications and backend systems up to snuff and implemented at the same time.

"We learned a lot, and we grew very fast," Workman recalls.

Workman, who heads up the MSO's core infrastructure for analog, VoIP, high-speed data, transport and the operator's CMTS architecture, is also working on a project that looks to distinguish Cablevision from other operators in terms of service reliability–a VoIP architecture that enlists one-for-one softswitch duplication. Although other operators that offer VoIP tend to use backups as well, they generally don't deploy one-for-one redundancy.

Workman said he expects to have that project completed by year-end, when Cablevision will have in the neighborhood of 14 softswitches located in six or seven different locations.

Once that's all in place, Cablevision will have a redundant switch for every active switch on its network.

Cablevision, like other MSOs, will be looking to add wireless to the bundle. "There's always a desire to get that quadruple play," says Workman, who joined the company in 2003, following a 24-year career at Time Warner Cable.

Digital Video

Louis Williamson, VP of network architecture and advanced engineering for Time Warner Cable's Advanced Technology Group.

Category sponsor: Scientific Atlanta

Louis Williamson
Williamson
Louis Williamson, a cable industry vet who has been recognized previously for modulating video on fiber (he was the Polaris Award winner in 1998), has also been leading the way when it comes to the deployment of switched digital video (SDV) and the testing of technologies that deliver traditional video programming to PCs via high-speed IP connections.

On the latter, he headed up a team that created Time Warner's "Broadband TV" test in San Diego, which is piping the MSO's basic tier (about 75 channels) to several thousand customers. In addition to giving Time Warner some valuable data about how IPTV resonates with consumers, the trial also told the world that the telcos aren't the only guys out there who can wield IPTV technology, thank you very much.

The Broadband TV project emerged about two years ago in the middle of the budget cycle when Williamson was asked to noodle IPTV, put together a trial system, and install it in the market to see if there was indeed any consumer interest in it. In addition to sending video signals to PCs over IP, the system had to be made to behave and adhere to the same rules the traditional cable video signals had to abide by. For example, the IPTV version had to enlist copy protection and digital rights management methods that would prevent users from redistributing the signals.

While the San Diego trial is still up and running, working well and drawing consumer interest, Williamson and Time Warner Cable are also looking at some next steps that incorporate lessons from the trial and defining a system that is considerably more scalable.

Williamson is also credited for his role in Time Warner's rollout of SDV, a technology that in the near-term will help to conserve valuable bandwidth, and, down the road, could bring revenues in the door thanks to its ability to support targeted advertising. So far, Time Warner has disclosed SDV deployments in Raleigh, N.C. and Austin, Texas, but several more are expected to follow.

Television Time Shifting

Tom Rutledge, chief operating officer, Cablevision Systems Corp.

Category sponsor: Arroyo Video Solutions

Tom Rutledge
Rutledge
Ambitious and innovative (and perhaps a tad controversial) might best describe the plans Cablevision Systems Corp. has put in motion for the Remote Storage-Digital Video Recorder (RS-DVR), a service concept and technical approach that enables digital customers to set and playback recordings on network-based servers/hard drives.

Cablevision had earlier plans to begin trials of the RS-DVR in Long Island, but has since held off pending a court decision that originated with a lawsuit filed by several studios and programmers. Using an expedited schedule, the court is expected to resolve the issue this fall, and that decision will certainly play into how other operators decide how to move ahead with network-based DVR services.

"Rutledge's interpretation that recording on servers is exactly the same as on a hard disk DVR in the home, and therefore permissible by copyright law, might finally make network PVR a real-life, commercial offering that will benefit cable customers across the nation," noted one of the multiple individuals who nominated Rutledge as a 2006 Pacesetter.

Business Services

Jason Welz, VP of business services, Cox Business Services, Northern Virginia.

Category sponsor: Vyyo Inc.

Jason Welz
Welz
Jason Welz, considered a rising star by many of his peers, is being recognized as a Pacesetter for starting Cox's business services division from the ground up, and turning it into a profitable endeavor that is today targeting business, large enterprise and government contracts in the hotbed of Northern Virginia.

Welz notes that the area is tantamount to a business services "goldmine," as it is home to plenty of government agencies. "It's similar to being in the real estate business in Manhattan. It's just a good place to be," he says.

Welz, who joined Cox in 2004 following several years with Time Warner Cable and its Road Runner division, spent his first year with the company building the fundamentals of doing business services. That meant establishing tech support and heading up construction and network needs required to get the commercial service up and running. With a sales group now dedicated to commercial services, Welz and his team are in the market to educate the area's businesses about what Cox has to offer them in terms of advanced services.

"We've been holding a lot of customer information meetings–exploratory meetings–to give them a sense that there's an alternative here. We've had no where to go but up in this market," Welz says. "The good news is that the market has been extremely receptive."

Welz is also helping to set the pace when it comes to establishing peered "soft connects" with other cable operators that provide business-class services. Initially, the opportunities will emerge at the micro level, but once operators start to hammer out larger, master interconnect agreements, the entire industry looks to benefit greatly from this longer-term vision and goal.

In Northern Virginia, Cox is bordered by Comcast systems. Working together, the MSOs could build upon some commercial business opportunities together, and essentially "normalize" those offerings across large boundaries.

"Other than my day-to-day at Cox, I'm most passionate about this opportunity we have as an industry to do something unique from a competitive and service perspective," Welz explains. "My general feeling is that commercial [services] is still one of, if not the greatest, untapped opportunities we have in our industry."

High-Speed Data/IP Convergence

Scott Hightower, VP of voice & data product development, Cox Communications.

Category sponsor: Camiant Inc.

Scott Hightower
Hightower
Scott Hightower, a 17-year Cox veteran who got his start as a producer for the MSO's New Orleans division, is being recognized for helping Cox lead the way in the development and deployment of applications linked to PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM), an architecture that injects QoS into IP-based services.

Cox has been early to the PCMM game by deploying a speed preview application that allows the company's high-speed customers to try out a higher speed tier for a limited period of time. If that higher tier suits the needs of customers, they are then given the option to upgrade automatically.

Initially, Cox market-tested the new PCMM-powered system in the Pensacola, Fla. area, but also plans, following additional tests, to roll it out to other properties. The PCMM-based system will eventually replace a more manual system Cox has been using that requires modems to perform a "soft reboot."

But before the PCMM project got that far, Hightower and his group had to obtain the necessary "buy in" for it–that meant establishing a business plan, getting the project into the budget, and then coordinating the necessary engineering resources.

The early reaction from the market looks promising. Cox is seeing customer response rates for high-speed Internet tier upgrades that are better than what it has been able to generate from direct mail campaigns.

As Cox penetrates its markets with policy servers and PCMM, the company is also seeking out other applications that can leverage the new architecture, but has yet to identify which ones it expects to test or deploy. However, those that are sensitive to delay and jitter–such as voice, gaming and video–"are the ones that we think can benefit from a platform like this," Hightower said when the MSO first announced plans for the speed preview application. PCMM "will give us more control on how we can tailor the experience down to the customer level," he added.

Broadband Teamwork

Chris Bowick, SVP of engineering & CTO, Cox Communications; and the Cox E.O.N. team.

Category sponsor: Scientific Atlanta

With the E.O.N. (Extendable Optical Network) initiative, Bowick and his team are leveraging a wide range of technologies and concepts with the goal of future-proofing the Cox network. Specific initiatives linked to the project include bandwidth expansion, switched digital video, digital simulcast, boosting high-speed Internet speed and capacity, video-on-demand (including the hi-def variety of VOD), node splitting, and service group reductions. Cox will use some level or a combination of these initiatives in all of its systems.

Cox E.O.N. team
A portion of the Cox E.O.N. team joined the Pacesetter event at the ’06 Expo.
ChrisBowick (third from right) and his team are working to future-proof the Cox network.

In addition to Bowick, several other individuals at Cox are being recognized for their important participation in the E.O.N. project: Dick Mueller, Jay Rolls, Sherryl Love, Mark Williams, Bob Hattori, Doug Brooks, Guy McCormick, Darrell Wells, John Hildebrand, Sabrina Calhoun, Ken Williams, Rick Stetson, Steve Watkins, John Crow, Dan Estes, Anthony Black and Derrick Hanson.

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