You take your chances with Howie Mandel, but with the eighth Broadband 50, it’s nothing but winning deals – the 50 most important trends, technologies and people of 2008. And we guarantee most of them are going to remain highly pertinent right into 2009. An exhaustive list of candidates is compiled by CED’s seasoned scribes. We share that list with our panel of consulting engineers – about as eminent a group as you could wish to find in the cable industry – and with their input we pare down the list and rank those who make the cut.
Here they are, CED’s Broadband 50, (26-50). Enjoy. See (1-25 here).
26 NCTA: Emergency response
Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has had a lot to work with this year. The organization joined the fight for a mandatory quiet period on retransmission talks ahead of the digital transition, fended off FCC attacks on cable moving channels from analog to digital tiers, and helped eke some practical concessions of the Commission on white space technology. And do you remember that flap with Verizon complaining about disconnect policy? Of course not. That's why it's nice to have someone like the NCTA watching your back – so you can forget stuff like that. – TLP
27 OSS/BSS: Taking care of business
Service providers who’ve been in business for a while have either accumulated multiple OSS/BSS systems or have an OSS/BSS that is an accumulation of add-ons and extensions. Integration in either instance tends toward the kludge, and kludges are just not amenable to supporting rapid service development and deployment, growing necessities for any service provider that wishes to remain competitive.
OSS/BSS vendors all have their own version of a Grand Unification Theory, but they still have to deal with legacy systems, and that just sends everyone back to Kludgeville. Providers aim to add services like wireless broadband, and more cross-platform applications such as caller ID on TV (see #25). That makes getting their support systems in order ASAP an ongoing priority. – BRS
28 Rogers Cable: Role model
Canada’s largest cable operator is a prime example of what U.S. cable operators strive to become. Rogers Cable, which combined with Rogers Wireless last year, for several years now has offered a quadruple play – cable TV, high-speed Internet, and fixed and wireless voice services – making it easier for the op to compete with telcos and satellite operators, as well as with other cable competition.
Everybody knew bandwidth caps (see #16) were coming, but no one wanted to be first. Rogers shouldered the risk and demonstrated that caps could be safely instituted if you take the time to educate your subscribers about the move.
In the summer, Rogers introduced switched digital video in its Ontario system. There’s much to covet here, and also much to learn. – TLP
29 Bright House Networks shines
Being jointly-owned by Time Warner and Advance/Newhouse, Bright House is sometimes overshadowed by its big brother, Time Warner Cable, even though it’s the nation’s sixth-largest cable operator.
In January, Bright House Networks finished its Start Over deployment in its Tampa system, which is the largest Start Over rollout to date, and then in September the service made its debut in BHN’s Bakersfield, Calif., division. Also in September, BHN deployed BigBand Networks’ switched digital video platform in three systems.
But what BHN is probably most proud of this year is its two J.D Power and Associates awards for customer service for its residential telephone and high-speed data services. – MR
30 Cisco: Many tentacles
Cisco had more than 60 percent of the CMTS market in the third quarter, including the DOCSIS 3.0 gear J:Com is using in Japan. The company is supplying Carrier Ethernet and 10- and 40 GigE equipment, and it’s working on 100 GigE transport with Comcast. It’s developing multiple WDM technologies; it’s getting ready for DOCSIS-based PON. Rogers selected Cisco’s switched digital video gear; Tiscali its IPTV equipment; FairPoint its broadband systems. The company keeps improving its set-tops, gateways, MPEG-4 encoders, edge QAMs, and that’s only a partial list. Yeah, it’s a juggernaut. – BRS
31 Edge QAMs
MSOs keep rolling out more VOD and more switched digital video. Meanwhile, bandwidth continues to be a limited resource. Edge QAMs have been the solution, and will continue to be. The deployment of edge QAMs is just another baby step toward unicast and service convergence. Sales just keep going up. Even so, the cable market has never sustained this many competitors in one category for long. – BRS
Chairman Kevin Martin – who will certainly be replaced by President-elect Obama in January – just keeps trying to jam his agenda down the throat of the cable industry. There’s the quiet period issue, the ever-present lean toward the telcos, the possibility of fines for cable pricing practices leading up to the digital transition, retrans disputes, must-carry, white spaces, the investigation of appropriate behavior by the Commission – we could keep going. He probably won’t be missed much when he’s gone, or at all, but boy did he make for some good conversations. No? Well, he’s almost gone. – TLP
33 HD: 100; no, 1,000; no, 10,000
We have no empirical evidence for this, but we believe that we are now in Glennbrittia, a land where the citizenry is fully aware that sucky content sucks just as bad in HD as it does in SD. Past a certain number of channels, or a certain number of library titles, HD loses its allure, and whatever those numbers are, the pay-TV industry seems to have exceeded them. Still, HD does look better, and with some careful bandwidth balancing (isn’t that always the caveat?), the world will eventually go all HD, all the time. “Eventually” means “not in 2009.” – BRS
34 Intelligent networks: Distributing the smarts
The basic idea is instead of implementing new services at the core, you do so at the edge, ideally faster and more efficiently. Originally applied in the old circuit-switched phone network, companies such as Cisco, Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and others have been trying to migrate the notion to cable and IPTV.
In the cable space, the idea is that more and more traffic is coming from sources outside of operators’ systems, and is bypassing the CMTS, so it behooves MSOs to implement systems with enough intelligence to identify and decide what to do with various data types as they come in. On the face of it, it’s a sensible notion. Vendors are pushing it, but it remains to be seen if operators are buying. – BRS
35 Going mobile
Mobile TV continued to blossom this year as AT&T got into the act. In May, AT&T announced that its Mobile TV service for cell phones launched in 58 markets nationwide.
AT&T has partnered with MediaFlo USA – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm and the same partner that Verizon Wireless is using for its V Cast Mobile TV service – to deploy the mobile video service.
Meanwhile, EchoStar bought some 700 MHz spectrum (see #40) that might be appropriate for mobile video services, though it’s keeping mum about its plans.
According to ABI Research, the total number of Mobile TV subscribers will grow to 462 million in the next five years, with much of that increase being driven by the expansion of 3G networks. – MR
36 Memories may be beautiful, and yet…
There were some notable departures this year from the cable industry. CableLabs CEO and good guy Dick Green still has next year before stepping down, but SCTE CEO and President John Clark departed after the board of directors chose not to renew his contract.
Comcast’s Steve Craddock, senior vice president of new technology, also left the building this year when he retired.
Paul Woidke left his position as SVP of technology at Comcast Spotlight earlier this year to become OpenTV’s SVP of advanced advertising.
Lastly, former Comcast Internet engineer Jason Gaedtke left CableLabs to become the CTO of Joost. – MR
37 MPEG-4: Steady as she goes
The transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 is on. Encoders, decoders, transcoders, set-tops and gateways are available from dozens of companies. Service providers just have to choose what to do with it. From where we stand, it looks like cable operators will make the transition gradually, starting with introducing MPEG-4 video in switched digital deployments, and also in VOD. – BRS
38 QoE: The new QoS
Providing quality of experience (QoE) became a key concern in 2008. Adequate service used to be adequate, but no longer. With competitors offering the same set of services, and pretty much the same set of features, differentiation is going to come down to subscribers’ perception of quality.
Ongoing emphasis on customer retention (see #4) will make QoE a major priority in 2009. Vendors with network management and service monitoring solutions are now officially in clover. – BRS
TiVo decided that partnering with cable is a way to prosper, a decision that appears to be working out. In January, after three years of technology meshing, Comcast finally launched TiVo’s service in Boston, and in August, Comcast launched it in Connecticut.
Another interesting thrust? Bringing the Internet to TV screens. With TiVo Desktop Plus PC software, TiVo subscribers can now pull in video content from the Internet for viewing on their TVs. The company has also partnered with industry bigwigs YouTube and Netflix, among others. Oh, yeah; and TiVo subs can order Domino’s Pizza on their TV sets now. – TLP
40 700 MHz auction
It was the most lucrative auction of public airwaves to date, receiving pledges totaling just under $19.6 billion for licenses to segments of the 700 MHz band. And no surprise: AT&T and Verizon were the two biggest spenders, together bidding about $16 billion. And watch out, wireless folk: Winning cable ops included Cox Communications, which plans to build and launch its own wireless network in ’09; Bresnan Communications; and Vulcan Spectrum, which is controlled by Charter Communications Chairman Paul Allen. – TLP
41 ACA works tirelessly to protect smaller MSOs
The folks at the American Cable Association (ACA) worked overtime this year. The ACA voiced its objections on broadcasters’ retransmission fees, which it said are especially harsh on the smaller and mid-size cable operators, to members of both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.
The ACA asked the FCC to address the disparity in regulatory fees between cable operators and satellite providers.
The ACA also seemed to take a more coordinated approach this year in working hand in hand with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). – MR
42 Comcast headquarters
Green is “in,” and MSOs are turning to new green techniques (see #44), ranging from recycling office paper, to installing sizable solar panel arrays, to building green skyscrapers – as the nation’s largest cable operator did with its new corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. The 57-story building features a vegetative roof, and an erosion control and storm water management system. Roof fans vent hot air, which otherwise would have to be cooled. The company estimates that water-saving features will save three million gallons of water each year. And check out that wicked-cool video wall in the lobby. – TLP
43 Cable operators continue to roll with Ethernet
Cable operators continue to gain ground in the Carrier Ethernet space. According to Vertical Systems Group, cable operators have the smallest base overall of installed Ethernet ports, but they’re the fastest-growing segment among telco and competitive providers. When it comes to standardization, Carrier Ethernet still needs work, but from a technological standpoint, it's more than stable enough for service providers to implement it, then turn around and offer Ethernet services to their business customers.
Earlier this year, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) announced the winners of its yearly awards, which included a tie by Time Warner Cable and Optimum Lightpath for the “Services Innovation” award.
Also this year, Time Warner Cable, through its Time Warner Cable Business Class division, launched an Ethernet over HFC service that was targeted at small- and medium-size businesses. – MR
44 Green: The new black
Remember those wacky hippies with their recycling and saving energy and infrequent bathing? As Meatloaf once argued, two out of three ain’t bad. Communications companies are among the most enthusiastic greenies, both for philosophical and bottom-line reasons.
Various CPE devices are qualifying for Energy Star certifications. Many MSOs are buying green vehicles to expand their fleets. Vendors of everything from routers to set-tops are finding ways to reduce the power consumption of their products. In addition to paying less for power, in some cases less heat dissipated means lower AC bills, too. – BRS
45 Network management: Net-neut blues
Comcast got caught cutting off some BitTorrent traffic in 2007, and the communications industry had to deal with the repercussions through much of 2008. Once again, explaining technology to the public was a disaster. The upside: The concept that networks must be managed was generally accepted (finally), and the situation forced the development of some network management principles that will, in fact, be more fair for everyone involved. – BRS
Canada’s third-largest operator has been busy. In February, it became the first large North American cable operator to deploy DOCSIS 3.0 channel bonding – with Cisco’s technology. Additionally, Aurora Networks won a large contract with Vidéotron to upgrade the op’s network; the op’s parent company, Quebecor Media Inc., was the successful bidder on 17 operating licenses for 3G Advanced Wireless Services (AWS), allowing Vidéotron to offer, through its own network, wireless telephony service; and Vidéotron deployed caller ID on TV, thanks to Integra5’s i5 CSP. Not bad, eh? – TLP
47 100 GigE: More is better
It was a technological hiccup that there is a 40 Gigabit Ethernet step in between 10 GigE and 100 GigE, but the whole communications industry is working on the evolutionary progression. GigE in the backbone is one of the things making national networks and architectures that include super headends viable. Some service providers like Comcast and AT&T are already preparing to go to 40 GigE, and are occasionally boasting about achieving new speed and distance records with 100 GigE test equipment. – BRS
It’s not a new concept, but what is new is that it now makes business sense. Consumers are excited about 3-D and are willing to pay more to see it. It’s still a ways off for cable – probably about 4 or 5 years out – standards are in the very beginning stages of being nailed down, and it’s still too early to spell out any technical details. But cable ops should be paying close attention to the activity in this space – more specifically, to the SMPTE 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force and the Consumer Electronics Association’s “discovery group” that is investigating the need for 3-D standards. – TLP
As investors, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Google and Intel have cast their collective lot to build a nationwide WiMAX network based on Sprint Nextel’s proposed purchase of Clearwire.
The merged entity, which will keep the Clearwire name, wants to build a nationwide WiMAX network, which, if it remains on schedule, should provide mobile broadband data services long before the major phone companies are able to upgrade to a network (specifically an LTE network) able to rival WiMAX for speed and access. – MR
50 Time Warner Cable ready to go solo
The big news for the nation’s second-largest cable operator came in May when Time Warner Inc. and Time Warner Cable announced that their respective boards had put the stamp of approval on Time Warner Cable separating from its parent company.
Time Warner Cable will pay a $10.9 billion, one-time ransom – er, dividend – for the separation. Time Warner Inc., which had an 84 percent stake in Time Warner Cable with the remainder of the shares owned by public stockholders, will receive $9.25 billion of the payout, or $10.27 per share of Time Warner Cable’s common stock.
The separation is slated for early next year. – MR
Detour to Area 51
Area 51: This is where stuff that almost made the Broadband 50, but didn’t, can be found. These are candidates that may not be very well known, but threaten to do something that might earn them a place in the list next year.
Coppergate is a semiconductor vendor that specializes in HomePNA chips; although the comparison isn’t precisely accurate, it is to HPNA what Entropic is to MoCA. The company is thriving by supplying AT&T as it rolls out U-verse, but Coppergate has its eye on a means of making whole-home networking truly practical, both technically and economically.
Aspera says it does large-file transfer, and, yes, it does do that, and it does it very, very well. But what it hasn’t exploited yet is the fact that its file transfer technology depends on some very nifty bandwidth management techniques. If you’re interested, you have to call them – they are very busy.
Digital watermarking hardly suffers from a lack of awareness, but as more video gets distributed ever more widely, digital watermarking is going to become that much more important as a means of tracking and discouraging content theft. Keep an eye on companies like Digimarc, Thomson, Widevine and Verimatrix.