THE BROADBAND 50 - 2011
And now it can be revealed: our Top Guitarist of All Time is … Jimi Hendrix! … No, wait, that was Rolling Stone. (Did anyone expect RS to select anybody other than Hendrix?) Here at CED, the results of our annual Broadband 50 are unpredictable, with a different No. 1 for four years running now. The Broadband 50 celebrates the companies, trends and occurrences, and people who have had a recent impact on the industry and/or are expected to have an impact in the coming year. CED editors and several anonymous but high-ranking industry execs choose, evaluate and rank them. Comments are encouraged online.
1: IP migration: A perfect circle
It has long been apparent that IP transport will eventually reach near-ubiquity, driven by the virtuous circle (… wider use drives down costs, dropping costs drives wider use, wider use drives …). Still, few can legitimately say that they expected usage to grow so quickly.
Even with YouTube, Netflix and Hulu out there, nobody outside of Apple saw the iPhone or the iPad coming – and, more to the point, nobody saw the rampant growth in IP data demands that smartphones and tablets represent. That demand includes traffic on everyone’s own networks, in addition to the backhaul some operators perform on behalf of others.
The business market – SMBs, and eventually enterprise customers – also demand IP transport, of course. And with cable giving up on cellular? It looks like Wi-Fi hotspot networks are in many more MSOs’ futures, suggesting even more IP traffic.
So expect to hear more about myriad manifestations of the migration strategy, including DOCSIS, CCAP, MPLS, pseudowires and more. – Brian Robert Santo
2: This cloud thing looks like a winner
Everything, it would seem, is headed to the cloud. And why not? Cable operators can cut down on multitudes of servers and other equipment in data centers, while businesses can reap the rewards of virtualization.
For those cable operators that lack Comcast’s financial clout to build their own clouds, there are public, private and hybrid clouds, through various partnerships and cloud vendors, to consider. Cable operators are also able to cash in by providing Ethernet transport services to and from clouds for businesses.
Comcast’s Xcalibur user interface is cloud-based, and consumers got in on the act with services such as Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s cloud-based storage.
Cablevision and ActiveVideo Networks partnered up on cloud-based interactive services several years ago, and last year, Cablevision added “Quick View” mosaics, which let customers personalize their viewing preferences through ActiveVideo’s CloudTV platform.
VOD content also made its way to the cloud for quicker, more efficient streaming services. – Mike Robuck
3: All hail Comcast
Comcast hit on all cylinders last year. CEO Brian Roberts once again took over the spotlight at The Cable Show with demos of the next-generation, cloudbased Xcalibur platform, which will march
Comcast toward the IP world, as well as a speed test running on a Comcast cable modem that broke through the 1 Gbps speed barrier.
Xcalibur, which was developed by Sam Schwartz’s Comcast Converged Platforms team, is headed to a major market deployment early this year before a more widespread launch later this year.
“Comcast's work on Xcalibur is superb,” said one industry insider. “Sam Schwartz did a fabulous job.”
Also at The Cable Show, attendees got a peak at the Technicolor device that will provision Comcast’s Skype service, which will bring HD video conference calling to home TVs, PCs, and compatible smartphones and tablets.
Comcast took the wraps off of a home security service using iControl’s software, and it announced that it was one of the investors in the start-up company.
Lastly, Comcast started reaping the rewards of being both a cable operator and a programmer. One example was earlier VOD windows for NBCUniversal programming. – MR
4: Non-traditional competitors rise up
Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon: All have the intent to do video, as well as enough cash to afford to get it wrong a few times (as a couple of them already have) before getting it right.
Is Google on the verge of becoming an MVPD with its fiber build in Kansas City? Will it stop there? Meanwhile, Google has created a gazillion-dollar business around selling ads based on search and discovery. Can it take that model to TV and thrive with it? Will Google TV ever pan out to be anything?
The same question goes for Apple TV. And Apple has that wonderful iTunes that’s so popular, but can it ever figure out how to make it competitive with service providers? Or compatible with service providers? Is Facebook going to partner up with someone huge and make TV more social? Or will it somehow provide TV programming to its worldwide audience? Is Amazon … a great site to buy gifts at?
Who’s next? – Traci Patterson
5: UltraViolet: Purple haze
TV Everywhere isn’t even halfway to where cable needs to be. Giving customers expanded access to the subscription content to which they have rights is a great first step, but consumers desire universal access to everything they have rights to. That’s where UltraViolet comes in.
UltraViolet is a means to handle the distribution and the rights management of both physical and digital copies of any rented or purchased media asset – which might eventually be the basis of a particularly fine business model for, oh, say a media distribution company such as an MVPD, for instance.
The technology appears sound. The issue is implementing it smartly. In October, Warner Bros. tried out UltraViolet sales but set up a usage system so byzantine that it alienated most of its customers.
With UltraViolet, up to six people can share rights to any asset; the Duggar family might consider this miserly, but it will probably be adequate for most others.
Familiar names involved include CableLabs, Comcast, Arris, SeaChange, NDS, Cox, Cisco, CSG Systems, Adobe, Akamai, Alcatel-Lucent, Verimatrix, Widevine and VeriSign. – BRS
6: Multi-screen on the move
Cable operator executives and engineers have long maintained that serving up video content across various devices is very doable from a technology perspective, but it’s those nagging content rights that are holding things up for videohungry consumers.
We can thank HTTP Adaptive Streaming for cutting through most of the TV Everywhere clutter, although there’s still no clear winner between various HTTP Adaptive Streaming protocols.
Last year, TWC and Cox dished out their iPad apps, both of which rely on IP delivery. TWC bowed its Wi-Fi Finder and My TWC Android-based apps, as well. – MR
7: Needy consumers
I want it all, and I want it now. The industry expected this … just not this fast, and definitely not in this way. But it’s here, and the industry has done a good job of recognizing it, discussing it ad nauseam and reacting to it.
By the way, I want the ability to send something I’ve recorded on my DVR to someone else’s DVR. And I want it now. – TP
8: Business services ring up profits
Commercial services continued to keep cable operators’ cash registers ringing. For the second straight year, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Comcast each surpassed the $1 billion revenue mark. As impressive as that sounds, pretty much all of the larger cable operators have said that there’s still plenty of room to grow revenues when it comes to taking away T1 lines from telcos with faster cable services, or to make money off of the telcos through cell backhaul.
Some of the high-ticket items on the business services front included Comcast officially launching its metro Ethernet services across its entire footprint. Metro Ethernet marked a move up into the medium-size business sector for Comcast Business Services. (Cable still needs to finish up on interconnects to keep those commercial service customers in-house and to bag national customers.)
TWC spent $230 million to nab cloud vendor NaviSite last year, which brought NaviSite’s enterprise-class hosting, managed application, messaging and cloud services into the Time Warner Cable Business Class fold.
And Charter Business got its SIP trunking offering off of the ground, with a wider rollout slated for this year. – MR
9: Make mine Wi-Fi
If nothing else, the $3.6 billion deal by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House to sell wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless seemed to indicate that the cable operators are going to instead focus on building out their own Wi-Fi offerings. In theory, the seemingly unholy alliance could also lead to the sharing of Wi-Fi hotspots between the cable ops and Verizon.
Back in the real world, Shaw dropped the build-out of its own LTE network in favor of Wi-Fi services across its Western Canada footprint, while TWC lit up its largest Wi-Fi network to date in Southern California.
Cablevision, the intrepid pioneer when it comes to cable Wi-Fi deployments, launched the Optimum WiFi Channel last year, which displays maps showing indoor and outdoor Optimum WiFi access points, and TWC launched its Wi-Fi Finder app for Android devices in its Los Angeles market.
Will 2012 be the year that operators start enabling nationwide Wi-Fi access across each other’s footprints? – MR
10: DOCSIS 3.0 revs on
As cable’s vehicle for delivering ever-greater amounts of bandwidth to subscribers, the importance of DOCSIS 3.0 cannot be understated. Anywhere FiOS isn’t, an MSO is almost guaranteed to have a speed advantage, justifying premium pricing.
DOCSIS 3.0 is also a key element of the IP migration underway. IP migration means cable companies will ultimately become broadband companies (Charter is already floating that message). Having a fat IP pipe able to handle multiple streams of video, multiple data streams and voice simultaneously will be the key to MSOs’ competitiveness for a long time to come. – BRS
11: Making broadband affordable
It was a good year for broadband affordability. Comcast has its Internet Essentials program that provides children in low-income households with low-cost Internet access and affordable computers. Time Warner Cable has its cost-conscious TV Essentials video tier that excludes high-cost channels such as ESPN.
And then there’s – deep breath – BendBroadband, Bright House, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast (via Internet Essentials), Cox, Eagle Communications, GCI, Insight, Mediacom, Midcontinent, Sjoberg's Cable, Suddenlink and TWC, all of which are participants in the FCC’s Connect To Compete (C2C) program. C2C offers reduced-cost broadband to low-income households with students who otherwise lack access to the Internet. The program is slated to start at the beginning of the 2012 school year.
And, finally, there’s the question of allyou-can-eat broadband, and whether cable will follow in the footsteps of the wireless carriers and abandon it. – TP
12: Transcoding for multi-screen
Transcoding is table stakes in multi-screen delivery. A booming device market requires supporting several video encoding formats, numerous screen sizes, multiple resolutions and varying bit rates, all in an almost overwhelming number of combinations.
One of the more interesting recent discussions is about where to put transcoding resources – in a gateway in the home, in an outdoor gateway serving about 10 homes each, in the headend … or should they be distributed?
On the business side, there are too many vendors. Something’s got to give. – BRS
13: Navigation: A key ingredient
That little demonstration that a few people saw and heard about at The Cable Show last year, the one where Brian Roberts demonstrated the next-gen Xfinity TV experience: That’s what we’re talking about. That kind of navigation ability.
“It’s a key ingredient for winning the customer's loyalty,” according to an industry insider.
Search and discovery on TV has to get much easier. Now it tends to be something between frustrating and excruciating. There are several user interface/guide specialists working on that, but can cable figure out how to exploit the resulting targeted ad opportunities? And who would get the money? – TP
14: A la carte: Oh, dear
This year, Shaw became the first major North American MSO to offer the option to select channels. Rogers and Comcast followed. These MSOs are offering the option to select channels within a tier. It’s not pure a la carte, but it is the first time consumers have been able to pick and choose channels.
The sluggish economy is cutting into consumers’ budgets, and giving them limited channel selection can help them manage their costs. Of course, that will only encourage those who have been agitating for full a la carte all along, unaware or uncaring of the fact that it would likely blow up TV As We Know It.
And if usage billing is inevitable, as some in the industry insist, then so is a la carte. They’re the same thing by definition. In the near term, more MVPDs are likely to adopt the modified approach. In the long term, a la carte appears very likely. – BRS
15: The economy drags on
It’s still crappy. And it’s still forcing some consumers to cut the cord in order to save costs. It also affects deployment plans, the hiring process and a company’s most favorite line – the bottom line.
Reports at the end of last year said that companies would start hiring more rapidly in Q1, but that remains to be seen. I’m just glad I’m not a chief financial officer right now. – TP
16: Customer service: Yeah, it’s important
Operators are doing their best to improve it, but complaints about ineffective customer service are frequently posted on social networking sites, and quips about the same thing find their way into comedic programming.
On “Saturday Night Live,” the Devil, horrified by the news of the JoePa/Penn State scandal, claims he’s quitting because evil just isn’t what it used to be. “I’ll probably just go back to my old job, I guess,” he says when asked what he’ll do instead. “I was doing customer service at Time Warner Cable.”
If perception is reality (and in this case it pretty much is), then you’ve got some service to upgrade, because the customer is king, even if that customer is screaming at you over the phone. – TP
17: Wheeling, dealing cable ops
OK, so last year’s buying and selling of systems and companies by cable operators fell way short of the salad days of TCI and MediaOne, but there was still a fair amount of wheeling and dealing.
The biggest was Time Warner Cable’s purchase of Insight, which gave us the second-largest cable operator in the nation gobbling up the ninth-largest. While TWC shored up its Midwest presence with Insight, it also bought NewWave Communications to add systems in Kentucky and western Tennessee to its operations.
From there, it was more a matter of fine-tuning around the edges for most MSOs: Midcontinent bought systems from US Cable, Knology sold systems it had bought from Cobridge to Troy Cable, and Charter swapped systems with James Cable and then bought some from Windjammer Communications. – MR
18: Google/Moto and other combos
Google said it was plunking down $12.5 billion to buy Motorola Mobility to protect its Android assets and have access to Motorola’s treasure chest of patents. Conspiracy theorists posited it was all about planting moles within the cable operator industry through Motorola’s hardware team. Oliver Stone will keep us posted.
BigBand Networks, long the subject of buyout rumors, fell to Arris last year, while historically staid Aurora Networks went on a buying spree by purchasing GoBackTV and Trident7 PON technology from Enablence.
And CommScope scooped up edge QAM manufacturer LiquidxStream Systems and wireless antenna vendor Argus Technologies. – MR
19: OTT: Through the pipe and to the TV
Verizon announced in December that it is working on an over-the-top service that would stream movies and TV shows to customers outside of its FiOS video service scribers – more specifically, with its poor PR surrounding its price increase. So enjoy its struggle … and its bandwidth-hogging video on your network. – TP
20: Putting the advertising puzzle together
Advanced TV advertising does two basic things: encourage viewers to click buttons and count those clicks. Nobody’s put it all together yet, though. The non-traditional competitors already do both of these things extremely well, but they’re still figuring out the TV part.
Wireless carriers are enthusiastic about location-based advertising, plus they’re trying to turn mobile devices into debit/credit cards, which could be an incredibly competitive combination.
Cable, meanwhile, as an industry waits for Canoe and its vendor partners to get the sophisticated ecosystem they’re devising ready for actual business.
This market seems like a race among several brands of molasses. – BRS
21: Gateways open up in 2011
While “gateways” can mean different things in telecommunications, it’s safe to say that whether they are defined as a gaming console connected to the Internet or a home networking device or an all-in-one super gateway for video/voice/data, they started to become more prevalent last year.
Last summer, Comcast started trialing its wireless “Dory” gateway, which includes a two-line EMTA with an integrated router, a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi access point, before rolling it out nationwide on its more expensive tiers in the fall.
Across the seas, Liberty Global announced its Samsung-built Horizon multimedia gateway, which is slated to launch in several Liberty Global-owned systems this year.
And here’s a new twist being considered: shared home gateways. They’d be mounted outdoors (in enclosures), with each serving about 10 homes. – MR
22: HD DTAs: Gamechangers?
For a device that is about the size of a pack of cards, HD “universal” DTAs could pack a solid punch in the cable operator world. HD uDTAs are not only small, but they’re also very cheap when compared with advanced two-way set-top boxes.
The HD uDTAs are only able to transmit into TVs, so that eliminates services such as VOD, but cable operators are clearly interested in the cost and bandwidth savings. The HD uDTAs also have the advantage of working in both Motorola and Cisco security systems.
HD DTAs by Motorola and Nagra, among others, started cropping up at The Cable Show last year, with Nagra announcing it had a deal in place with Cable One. At Expo, Evolution Digital showed off its wall-plate-mounted Liberty HD uDTA.
Comcast, the pioneer of SD DTAs, conducted field trials with HD DTAs in 2011, with the goal of getting them into customers’ hands before year’s end. – MR
23: Mobile backhaul still hot
Did we mention yet that data traffic is increasing? It is. And did we get around to the fact that no wireless carrier has the capacity to deal with all of the data traffic growth on their networks? Huge opportunity, we hear, for cable in particular.
Of course, any cable operator looking to do backhaul is going to have to get versed in interfacing with packet networks. Did we mention that there’s a migration to IP going on? – BRS
24: Adaptive bit rate streaming
It’s not enough to be able to distribute multiple video streams at multiple bit rates. In networks where the amount of available bandwidth is subject to rapid fluctuation, a video streaming system has to be able to respond, either by lowering bit rates in mid-stream to ensure that every device on the network continues to get an uninterrupted stream or by raising the bit rate to improve image quality when sufficient bandwidth once again becomes available.
For any MVPD performing multi-screen delivery – yep, multi-screen is involved again – ABR is now de rigueur in whatever video processing platform is being used. – BRS
25: Feeding the video frenzy with CDNs
So everyone wants their video anywhere, anytime and on any device. One way of making sure that video is poised for rapid deployment is through content delivery networks. The prime example of a cable CDN is the Comcast Content Distribution Network (CCDN), which allows Comcast to use its national backbone to tie centralized storage libraries to regional and local cache servers.
Of course, not every cable operator can afford the grand-scale CDN build-out that Comcast is undertaking, but smaller MSOs can enjoy some of the same benefits through partnerships. – MR
26: TV Everywhere: Waiting game
Multi-screen technology stole the spotlight this year from the other side of the equation: TV Everywhere. As one industry insider put it, “[TV Everywhere] is a great start, but nothing too significant is happening … yet.” Maybe next year. – TP
27: The conglomerated back office
It may be unfair to smoosh the entire back office together … well, no, it’s not. Customer service and service quality feed into each other.
Besides, there’s universal agreement that having silos in and among these systems is bad. And, yet, most operators still have some. Here, again, it’s the multi-screen phenomenon providing incentive for MVPDs to get alacritous where previously they’ve been deliberate.
Multi-screen has to be monetized, but there aren’t a lot of monetization options. One of the more likely opportunities is to create cross-platform promotions and features, which cannot be properly accomplished when operations, business systems and customer care are not well integrated. – BRS
28: IPv6: A necessary evil
The world is pretty much out of IPv4 Internet addresses. There are ancillary benefits to supporting IPv6, but right now, the most critical issue is that anybody wanting to grow any aspect of their broadband business has to be in the process of upgrading their infrastructure to handle IPv6.
IPv6 might not be the sexiest thing on this list, and as a major issue, it should go away next year, but a necessity is a necessity. – BRS
29: Direct to subs: Dumb pipe or value-add?
Last year saw a proliferation of deals between cable operators and programmers for streaming services such as HBO Go, Max Go and ESPN’s service. Suddenlink, Comcast, Dish Network, AT&T and Cox all cut deals with HBO Go that allowed the video service providers to stream the TV Everywhere content to various devices.
“This is important to watch,” an industry insider told CED. “How much does the content provider value the role of the distributor for connecting to the customer?” – MR
30: A tip of the cap to bandwidth management?
Until the floodgates open soon for widespread fiber-to-the-home deployments, which probably won’t be in your lifetime, cable operators are going to use their entire bag of tricks to manage bandwidth.
Bandwidth usage caps, proposed last year by the likes of AT&T, Shaw and Suddenlink, don’t seem as evil as when Time Warner Cable first proposed them a few years ago. On the one hand, cable operators want to use their cable data pipes to provide more video to their customers, but on the other extreme, they’re going to charge you if you go nuts.
All of which is why those bandwidth-enhancing technologies, such as PON, GPON, Fiber Deep, etc., are appealing to service providers. – MR
31: HN ’til the end
There was some home networking news this year, including a CableLabs tru2way interop on the subject and Cablevision announcing that it will support HN self-installs. But home networking took a backseat to both the move toward all-IP and gateways, both of which enhance home networking. Also, multi-screen kind of jumped in and stole the buzzword spot. But HN is alive and well, and it’s a great opportunity for MVPDs.
Verizon commercialized Home Control, a set of broadband-based home networking services, including home security and home automation, all with supporting hardware. And Comcast has invested in a company, iControl, that is developing a similar set of HN applications, which it began test marketing. – TP
32: Those 10/100 GigE backbones
The last mile gets the attention of the popular press, and the “edge” has the buzz, but important work is also being done in core networks.
Multiple benefits accrue to those that install high-speed, high-capacity backbones. In large multi-system networks, where video is brought in at multiple points, video acquisition can be consolidated into as few as two facilities. Management and maintenance become less complicated. Capex and opex are both usually reduced.
When catering to business customers, the existence, extent and capabilities of an IP backbone can all be factors in landing the account. Comcast's CDN strategy relies on its IP backbone. – BRS
33: QoS/QoE/QA: Quality is Queen
The process of assuring quality is becoming ever more preemptive. Test and monitoring companies have developed tools that they say can help an MVPD identify incipient problems in video quality before those problems become serious enough to warrant customers calling to complain about them.
Some advances in quality assurance border on the astonishing. Some tools are getting keener at detecting and evaluating the seriousness of compromises in video quality – some tools can do this with encoded video. Others are getting ever more sophisticated at analyzing network operational data to help identify, and sometimes locate, problems. – BRS
34: Retrans reform
Broadcasters are demanding more and more money for retransmission consent, and they’ve learned that if the cash isn’t immediately forthcoming, they can yank their programming with impunity.
This is one of the two or three singlemost-critical issues for smaller operators. For larger MVPDs, however, the retrans issue constitutes, at worst, a serious headache, and they’ve got other fish to fry.
A congressional bill to completely eliminate retrans rules was introduced last month, largely as a political stunt. Its failure (barring a miracle after press time) will turn retrans reform into a hot potato that no one in Congress will want to pick up again in 2012. Thank you, Jim DeMint. – BRS
35: Connected TVs: Friend, foe or frenemy?
With a projection of more than 138 million connected TV units shipped worldwide by 2015, there’s no doubt that consumers are very interested in Internetconnected, or smart, TVs. Before this one slips out of the barn unchecked, cable operators have the chance to make sure that connected TVs are an opportunity and not a threat.
“Internet-connected anything will resonate with customers,” Liberty Global CTO Balan Nair said in CED's CTO Roundtable last year. “However, the successful ones will need an interface that allows the user to access what they want with more ease and relevance.”
Or, as an industry insider said of connected TVs: “Very significant. Will impact All-Vid and the acceptance of future content and services.” – MR
36: Hospitality market: The proverbial lowhanging fruit
“This market is in desperate need of new solutions,” according to an industry insider. “We are not there yet in delivering them. [But there are] some starts with Pro:Idiom and ADB's set back box.”
Maybe we’re not there yet, but Time Warner Cable Business Class got its hotel groove on with several IP-based hotel deployments in New York. TWCBC worked with IPTV vendor iBahn to deliver data and video services to the hotels.
Also last year, Charter Business scored an agreement to provide its optical data, Internet and HDTV programming to 12 hotels in the St. Louis area that are managed by Lodging Hospitality Management. – MR
37: LTE: Broadband LiTE
Wireless broadband, based on LTE technology, is a key driver of the multi-screen phenomenon and is having profound effects on the competitive landscape. The success of wireless broadband has convinced Verizon and AT&T to stop expanding FiOS and U-verse, respectively, much beyond where they are today.
Meanwhile, Cox’s failure to build a wireless network was so complete that Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House decided to sell their spectrum holdings (to Verizon). Then Cox itself did likewise.
Meanwhile, cable has pretty much abandoned erstwhile partner and WiMAX champion Clearwire (which has begun evolving to LTE) in favor of reselling LTE wireless broadband from Sprint and Verizon. – BRS
38: Security services: Another revenue opportunity
Hey, when you’ve got the biggest truck in town, you want to make sure it’s always loaded to the rim and headed down the money-making highway. Such is the case with broadband services such as home security, energy management and medical monitoring.
By themselves, these are incremental drops in the revenue bucket, but Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Comcast felt strongly enough about home security to ramp up their deployments last year. The pairing of wireless technologies in homes with broadband pipes makes these types of services fairly easy to deploy. – MR
39: Social networking: Angry birds
One of my friends, who is currently living in Iran on a visa, posted this on Facebook recently: “Internet speed in Iran has been pretty good for me so far. Also more reliable than f@#$ing Comcast.” Something tells me that Comcast will not find this post as humorous as I did. I mean, the guy prefers Iranian Internet to Comcast’s. …
Cable operators, telcos and satellite operators all get bashed on social networking sites, although there seems to be far more Comcast haters than any others. So keep tweeting and commenting, trying to alleviate the haters’ concerns and service issues, and keep reaching out with promotional offers and contests. Strive for the reaction DirecTV got this year for offering NFL Sunday Ticket for free to new subscribers (and to some old ones that argued enough) – because that’s the only positive service provider social networking example I can think of. – TP
40: Intriguing micropayments
Interesting things could happen if smartphones/tablets are consumers’ TV remote controls and credit cards. Consumers could buy additional services, movies, episodes or seasons of old TV shows, merchandise related to programming, products in advertisements, sports programming or packages, or the ability to vote during a program.
And integrate this function into that fancy new kind of user interface Brian Roberts showed off at The Cable Show, and you just might have some happier, more triggerhappy customers. – TP
41: CCAP: A map for cable’s IP future
Much to the vendors’ relief, Comcast-backed CMAP (Converged Multiservice Access Platform) and Time Warner Cable-backed CESAR (Converged Edge Services Access Router) joined forces last year to create the cable industry’s Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) specifications.
CCAP is laying the foundation for an all-IP future for cable operators by combining edge QAMs and CMTSs into one device for increased density and capacity. The CCAP devices will also save on room in headends and be more energy-efficient.
CCAP products were being shown behind closed doors at last year’s Expo, with some of the devices expected to be available for deployment this year. – MR
42: CableLabs, NCTA, SCTE come together
Last year, CableLabs, NCTA and SCTE seemed to be in lockstep in regard to industry-wide issues and initiatives. No doubt the collaboration on items such as green initiatives, a renewed focus on engineering and future technologies, and show schedules were driven largely by the cable operators themselves, but in the end, it all seemed to work.
The NCTA was able to replace Kyle McSlarrow with former FCC Chairman Michael Powell as its new CEO and president, but CableLabs’ CEO and President Paul Liao opted not to renew his contract, which ends in December of this year. – MR
43: Multi-room DVR takes root
Multi-room DVR deployments have almost reached the point of table stakes for video service providers. Bright House started offering its “Whole Home DVR” service in January, following a soft launch, while BendBroadband and Shaw provisioned their multi-room DVR services with Arris’ gateway.
Last month, Suddenlink announced its TiVo Premiere service was able to stop playing a recorded show in one room and resume in another, thanks to “software enhancements.” – MR
44: Lean, mean and green
Cable headends are some of the biggest energy-suckers on the grid, a key reason the big MSOs have made energy management a major priority.
Standards, specifications and best practices for reducing energy are all required, which is why the SCTE has been tapped by the MSOs to figure out how to squeeze kilowatts out of networks.
Equipment vendors and their silicon suppliers, meanwhile, are working with the Energy Star program to develop products that don’t draw as much juice when not in active use. The folks on the telecom side are engaged in similar pursuits. Green saves. – BRS
45: Apps. Oops.
The apps model for delivering functionality has become a fundamental element of mobile device usage. Some MVPDs and programmers have already dived into the market with apps for controlling TVs and accessing video content.
The apps model is becoming a paradigm for the way people interact with electronics of all sorts, and it will migrate to TVs. The issue is who gets them there.
MVPDs are thoroughly familiar with the concept – apps on TV used to be called widgets (and still are by a tenacious few). The difference is that apps get rolled out and updated at a pace that cannot be matched by widgets based on EBIF or tru2way.
To get the apps model on TV, the industry will either have to find a way to greatly accelerate EBIF/tru2way development or find some alternative vehicle – maybe some sort of user interface based on HTML5. Not doing so runs the risk that some rival (the nontraditional competitors?) will. – BRS
46: Controversial early-release VOD
It’s been talked about and has spawned negotiations for years. Who likes it? Service providers, Hollywood studios, consumers. Who hates it? Theaters, the theaters’ vendors, Hollywood directors.
Earlier this year, the cable industry and 10 Hollywood studios backed a $10 million national marketing campaign to tout the collapsing of the VOD window. But the movement suffered a blow in October when, following staunch opposition from theaters, Universal Pictures abandoned its plan to make the movie “Tower Heist” available via VOD just three weeks after it opened in theaters.
While big-time movies going to VOD early is still controversial, the premium VOD market is booming for indie films and is seemingly controversy-free. – TP
47: Everybody’s doing the executive shuffle
Last year, Charter lost Neil Smit to Comcast, but this year, Charter gained Tom Rutledge from Cablevision and Jay Rolls from Cox. Rutledge will replace CEO Mike Lovett, while in August Rolls replaced Marwan Fawaz as CTO. Cox, meanwhile, went for someone with wireless and IT experience when it hired former Clearwire executive Kevin Hart in April as its new CTO.
Speaking of Clearwire, three of its top executives, including CEO Bill Morrow, left in March amid a major shakeup at the mobile WiMAX operator. Mike Sievert, chief commercial officer, and CIO Kevin Hart also left the company.
And over at Canoe Ventures, Kathy Timko was promoted to the CEO position after David Verklin left the company in June. – TP
48: Hurricane Irene
Service providers have dealt with natural disasters before, so what made this particular hurricane worth a spot on this list? Irene traced an unusually long path, crossing a lot of areas that don’t see many storms that big.
The services MVPDs deliver might not technically be lifeline, but, unofficially, they sure are. MVPDs in the affected areas, including quite a few with little experience with hurricanes, acquitted themselves well, maintaining signals or getting severed service back up again quickly. The response to Irene was a singular testament to the industry’s preparedness, dedication and skill. – BRS
49: EBIF/tru2way: Yup, we’re still here
In terms of earth-shattering headlines, it seemed like a quiet year in 2011 for CableLabs’ EBIF and tru2way specs. Sure, Comcast has EBIF enabled in more than 19 million boxes, while Canoe Ventures’ EBIF-based request for information platform is in front of 22 million homes, most of which are Comcast’s, but it’s not like the year was marked by an explosion of EBIF-related rollouts.
Cable operator execs continued to pledge their allegiance to tru2way, but perhaps the most notable development last year on that front was a CableLabs tru2way home networking interop that attracted seven cable operators and 10 vendors. – MR
50: White spaces – again
Previous efforts to use so-called white spaces – unused broadcast TV channel spectrum – for broadband services seemed to lose steam last year. In December, Congress added a rider to the already controversial payroll tax/oil pipeline legislation that would have given the FCC the right to auction off broadcast spectrum. The proposal was to take the white space spectrum, which is unlicensed, and turn it into licensed spectrum, which would have pretty much killed off the notion of white spaces. That rider was eventually removed, but advocates vowed to bring it back next session.
The real estate is simply too valuable. Also in mid-December, a new alliance of advocates formed to promote the service, rallying around a freshly minted transmission standard (IEEE 802.22) that would deliver a theoretical 29 Mbps per channel over several tens of miles. – BRS