Short list: D3 readiness, available/planned IP bandwidth, inhome CPE.

Now that online video viewing is trending into the consumer mainstream and beyond early adopters of streaming media services and devices, it’s time to figure out how to assess the readiness of the cable plant for delivering IP video.

Kip ComptonCable television is an exceptional mix of broadband network reach and content aggregation. As the industry turns up the heat on its transition to delivering more video services over IP, it is well positioned to succeed.

For starters, cable, as an industry, already knows how to serve video to the mass market. It already built relationships with content providers and is innately able to bundle an online video service with the existing cable TV experience. Neither factor can be said of the over-the-top video competitors.

If the workload in the years to come is to be as IP-heavy as it appears – particularly with video following voice into the IP domain – then the question is how to make no-regrets moves, technologically, and how to start engineering the pieces that matter in the transition, while not getting stranded on decisions made too soon or too late.

One defensible short list of network assessments would include DOCSIS 3.0 readiness, available and planned IP bandwidth, and in-home CPE (consumer premises equipment).

Upgrading the broadband infrastructure for DOCSIS 3.0 is the first no-regrets assessment in the shift to IP video. Any long-term architectural plan includes lots of variables, but some elements are foundational. The ability to shift more digital channels into the IP domain, through the use of DOCSIS 3.0-based channel bonding, is foundational.

Bandwidth is another area of focus when assessing the cable plant’s readiness for IP video. If online video as a percentage of overall Internet traffic continues to rise at today’s rates, it may be time to reexamine the underperforming parts of the bandwidth portfolio – because more bandwidth will need to be generated for bonded IP channels using DOCSIS 3.0.

Any transition methodology for video over IP should likely also include an assessment of bandwidth expansion and preservation methods applied over the last few years. Building up to 1 GHz, switching video and reclaiming analog spectrum, the three primary bandwidth optimization methods in use today, often yield different implications when contemplating a widening of available IP bandwidth.

Analog reclamation and bandwidth expansion to 1 GHz yield the most digital bandwidth, respectively (depending on the amount of analog spectrum reclaimed); increasing IP bandwidth from classic (MPEG) digital channels would increase the switching pool.

The direction of the in-home CPE strategy also matters in the transition to IP video. Putting aside the panoply of choices in transitional gateways and hybrid settop boxes, a reasonable and foundational assessment for in-home CPE would at least include IP-based home networking protocols, like MoCA and DLNA.

In cable, the last big thing to move to IP was voice. At the time, skeptics worried about overhead-related inefficiencies – voice over IP takes twice as many bits as circuitswitched, they said. Which was true, at the packet level.

But there’s a difference between global and local technology optimization. At some point, the developments happening globally and at scale – in the case of voice over IP, the migration to soft switches and a common infrastructure – outweighed the initial packet-level inefficiencies.

The same kind of trajectory is entirely plausible for video over IP. Why: The number of consumer-purchased, video-capable IP end points, seeking to attach to video content over a reliable broadband connection, is at the onset of becoming mainstream.

Developing and building a competitive network to serve those end points is the focal point of the work ahead. Getting started includes an assessment of available IP bandwidth, DOCSIS 3.0 readiness and CPE direction. After that … the dozens of other directional decisions that will be required!


Next month, Stuart McGeechan, Vice President and General Manager of Professional Services at NDS, will write about next-generation TV and calculating the true cost of change.