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More on Shaw’s network upgrades for Exo branding

Fri, 02/10/2012 - 2:43pm
Mike Robuck

After filing my story yesterday on Shaw Communications’ new Exo branding, Shaw CTO Dennis Steiger provided a few more details on the company’s engineering efforts that are behind Exo.

Similar to Comcast’s Xfinity effort, Shaw Exo is a new brand that pulls together all of the company’s various services offerings under one roof as the engineering projects coalesce to support the new services and features.

Dennis SteigerSteiger, who was promoted to CTO near the end of last month, said that Shaw has spent “hundreds of millions” of dollars creating an infrastructure that will support today’s need, as well as keep the company ahead of the curve for years to come.

The bulk of the infrastructure spending has been around fiber-to-the-premises, 100 Gbps backbone and metro networks, upgrades to 1 GHz HFC plant, aggressive node splitting to 250 homes in a service group, the move to all-digital delivery, and the use of advanced compression techniques (such as MPEG-4) and in-home gateway systems.

Steiger said the new network was unfolding in phases, and the first phase included the migration to all-digital in order to free-up bandwidth for interactive services such as VOD and Internet, best-in-class picture quality, and the launch of new high-definition (HD) channels.

Shaw is currently removing non-basic analog services by reclaiming up to 30 carriers for use with digital video broadcast, VOD and Internet.

“We will shortly have created the spectrum capacity to support high-speed Internet service to 250 Mbps and beyond,” Steiger said. “Additionally, this phase enables widespread availability of HD VOD services offering more than 1,200 HD titles and includes a growing library of 1080p content.”

With the additional bandwidth and the use of MPEG-4, Shaw Exo features high-definition signals in a higher, less-compressed bit rate for improved quality.

“The freed-up spectrum is also being used for the launch of additional HD broadcast services in both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4,” Steiger said. “Through this process, we have focused extensively on reducing compression of digital signals to 2:1 in a QAM carrier, giving us a huge picture quality advantage.”

The MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) codec saves bandwidth by providing up to a 50 percent bit rate reduction in compression over MPEG-2, which allows for the 2:1 bit rate compression instead of 3:1 or 4:1.

Shaw’s second phase, which it hasn’t started yet, will reclaim the 30 remaining basic analog services.

“Our plans beyond that involve converting the outside plant to a mid-split to increase upstream capacity,” Steiger said. “Clearly, these last two phases are some time away, but we have come to view our HFC and FTTP networks as having the potential of delivering 5 Gbps to a customer home or business. We are building our strategies around this new way of thinking.

“For the customer, much of these new network capabilities will be brought together using a gateway as a single device for high-speed Internet, phone and whole-home entertainment.”

Shaw, which primarily competes against Telus in Western Canada, will also be able to offer Wi-Fi services, which also fall under the Exo brand, to customers as it launches the service in various cities and communities over the coming year.

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