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Cox picks BigBand for first switched digital video deployment

Wed, 08/22/2007 - 8:38am
Mike Robuck

Cox Communications has joined the switched digital party by rolling out the technology with BigBand Networks in its Northern Virginia system.

Cox is now the third feather in BigBand’s switched digital video (SDV) hat after previous deployments with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision. Time Warner Cable plans on having SDV in place in over half of its divisions by the end of the year. Cablevision’s deployment earlier this year was the largest single roll-out of SDV to date by BigBand.

Comcast has been a little slower on the uptake with switched digital video, but it’s conducting trials in Denver and New Jersey, and last month it picked Arris’ edge QAM offering to deliver SDV, VOD and other services over a shared infrastructure.

BigBand’s deployment with Cox is notable for several reasons. While cable operators like the bandwidth savings of sending just the digital channels that are being watched in a neighborhood or service group, they have different approaches on how to use that reclaimed bandwidth. For Cox, one immediate payoff is adding more HD channels to its lineups.

“Certainly that is one of our key plays across the company, to get more HD on the air,” said James Kelso, Cox’s vice president of video engineering. “Cox intends to substantially expand our HD capacity.”

Kelso said Cox isn’t divulging the number of new HD channels in Northern Virginia for competitive reasons, but Cox President Pat Esser said earlier this year that the goal was to offer 50 additional HD channels by year’s end and then 100 HD channels two years from now.

Cox also used tools from BigBand to help it pick which channels to put into the SDV environment. Typically, niche content is switched, since it’s not always being viewed by subscribers in a certain node while network channels are sent to most homes.

“When you have a robust solution, you don’t have to be as careful about what you’re doing,” Kelso said. “If I have a switched digital video solution that doesn’t affect channel change speeds and is pretty robust, then the decision on what to switch isn’t as hard.”

Currently, Cox’s SDV is live with friendlies in Northern Virginia, where it services 246,000 video subscribers, with plans to go live to subscribers in the next 30 days.

Kelso said the roadmap includes rolling out SDV in two more systems by the end of the year.

“We’ll use switched digital video to strategically expand capacity, but the majority of our systems won’t need it for a couple of years, although that could change,” Kelso said.

BigBand’s John Connelly, executive VP of marketing, points to Cox’s plan of using SDV in both Motorola and Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes as proof that BigBand is committed to open systems.

“To the best of our knowledge, we’re the first vendor that has announced being able to deploy in both of those environments,” Connelly said. “From our perspective, this demonstrates our commitment to open systems. There’s a lot of talk about open systems, but at the end of the day the proof is in the pudding. We’re in the process of deploying in systems that support a wide range of set-top boxes and electronic program guides.”

Kelso said one of the reasons Cox chose BigBand was because of its commitment to open systems. While Cox is using BigBand’s edge QAMs in Northern Virginia, it hasn’t ruled out using QAMs and universal resource managers from other vendors in the future.

Cox will start looking at sharing resources between SDV and VOD via edge QAMs next year, according to Kelso.

“On the data front, it’s unclear how big a benefit that will be over time, but there’s always a benefit to knocking down walls between services,” Kelso said.

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