Hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks may be endlessly flexible, and cable operators may have any number of options for increasing and managing bandwidth, but most networks are operating at capacity now. Something has to give, according to the panelists at the Cable-Tec Expo session called Building the Sustainable, Competitive Network held today.
Reclaiming analog spectrum, switching to MPEG-4, running fiber closer to the home, moving to switched digital video, and using DOCSIS bypass are among the techniques available.
"That's the beauty of the flexibility of HFC technology – there's no one answer," said John Schanz, EVP, national engineering & technical operations, Comcast Cable. Analog spectrum reclamation, HD, targeted advertising, digital grooming are other arrows in the quiver, Schanz noted.
Meanwhile, Charter plans to eventually move all of its systems to switched digital video (SDV), said Marwan Fawaz, CTO of Charter Communications. Operators can also expand their plants to 1 GHz of bandwidth - and beyond, he said.
Panel moderator Leslie Ellis noted the recent blizzard of announcements about passive optical network (PON) technology for cable operators, and asked about plans to adopt the technology.
Jim Ludington, SVP, Advanced Technology Group, Time Warner Cable, pointed out that operators can string fiber closer to homes, or all the way to homes, and the network will still be HFC.
The conversation turned to competing with PON, which AT&T and Verizon are using.
"On average, in a serving area of 300 homes, the majority of those homes are within 1,500 feet of fiber," Fawaz said. "So who has the most fiber? Cable.
"AT&T wants to eventually get to within 1,500 feet," Fawaz continued. "We're already there."
It's all about monitoring your network and knowing precisely where your usage is, said Robert Cruickshank, VP of worldwide OSS strategy/product management, C-Cor, which sponsored the panel. "The trick is making sure you know where you have a hot spot. "With edge QAMs, with DOCSIS bypass, you can get bandwidth exactly where you want it," he said.
In short, MSOs will definitely be able to compete by extending HFC networks. Operators will continue to deploy whatever is required to address any situation, and can do so on a success-based business model.