Topical Index: Broadband Access to the Home: Cable
This page provides a topical index to material on this website covering
what's happening with cable broadband access
new technologies affecting cable operators
related business issues and strategies
Articles are listed ordered by date of the newsletter they appeared in—newest to oldest.
Cable's Capitol Return -- Cable Show 2009
One speaker referred to it as "the return of the victim to the crime scene" but this year's Cable Show was a welcome visitor to the US Capitol. After years of iTV on the horizon, its presence was ubiquitous -- this time with all the advantages of common software platforms.
Seeing is Believing -- Video Demos of Interactive TV (BBHR 4/14/2009): Visitors to the show saw many demonstrations of interactive TV. Some were based on tru2way, the forward-looking standardized approach for new cable boxes, which is also built into new TV sets from Panasonic and soon many others. Other demos were based on EBIF, a simpler standard designed to work on most existing cable boxes.
We used our camcorder to capture lots of these demos, so the applications could come alive for people not attending the show. In the sections below, we'll describe these demos in terms of what they make possible for the end user. We've separated those based on tru2way--requiring deployment of tru2way headend equipment and available only on new boxes-- from those based on EBIF--designed to operate on legacy digital boxes and likely to be in many consumer homes fairly soon.
Broadband Nation: "Main Street America" (BBHR 4/14/2009): The Broadband Nation exhibit was a great way to show Washington bigwigs the impact cable services have upon consumers at home and at work, as well as the benefits it can bring to healthcare and education. Despite some hokey names--like the "Dr. Al Better" office--we were impressed with the impact of innovative applications like GCI ConnectMD.
Tru2way and EBIF Provide Interactivity (BBHR 4/14/2009): The message from the Cable Show was clear. The industry has finally rallied around and is implementing common software platforms to allow linear TV to become interactive. We provide some background on the "what, why and when" of tru2way and EBIF, while reminding readers that the ultimate vote on acceptance will come from the consumer.
Tru2way Demos--Seeing is Believing (BBHR 4/14/2009): The only way to convey what is happening in a tru2way interactive application is to see it. We feature tru2way video demos from Panasonic, ADB, AMDOCS, NDS, Alticast, integra5, itaas, TAG Networks and Zodiac Interactive.
EBIF For the Masses (BBHR 4/14/2009): Although EBIF is designed to run on even low-end digital settops, the demonstrations showed how many interesting things can be achieved with this basic functionality. These video demos show ways to give viewers more choice and control in a Starz application, the many things that can be done with ad widgets from BIAP, and how ActiveVideo builds on EBIF capability to enhance social media and e-commerce with live Internet content.
CableLabs Plays Central Role (BBHR 4/14/2009): CableLabs has once again assumed a central role in coordinating industry participation to establish standards, this time for tru2way and EBIF. The organization has been active in evangelizing these technologies with interactive content providers. CableLabs' latest contributions are a source code reference implementation of tru2way, and an announcement with Canoe Ventures of the Advanced Advertising 1.0 specification.
In today's increasingly competitive video services market, tools are needed to isolate problems, anticipate them before the customer sees them, measure whether services are improving or deteriorating and then determine the "quality of experience" as perceived by the viewer. We describe a taxonomy for tools with examples, and suggest some questions operators should ask when selecting tools.
Tools in the Real World--A Visit with Comcast Southwest Florida (BBHR 12/4/2008)
On one of our trips to Sanibel, we visited with managers at the Fort Myers Comcast system, to get a sense for what tools they use to pinpoint problems and monitor the quality of their services. Their mind-set is changing from "Did I clear the trouble report?" to "Is the customer satisfied?" This requires not only the proper tools, but also different attitudes--and giving technicians the ability to call upon other resources if they can't solve the problem alone.
Our recent columns in Broadband Library discussed tru2way as an open application platform, and remote management of triple-play services.
Cable Show 2008
This year's Cable Show celebrated its return to a revitalized New Orleans. Interactive TV was a highlight both on the show floor and in a pre-show tru2way Developers' Conference. "EBIF" and "Canoe" were frequently-heard words which MSOs are counting on to give them a bigger share of the $70 billion US TV advertising pie. We also saw a new tool in cable's arsenal of ways to multiply the effectiveness of its spectrum.
Time for tru2way (BBHR 7/10/2008): We spent two days looking into tru2way. It's finally really happening, but will take some time for the footprint to grow.
Interactive TV--Has Its Time Finally Come? (BBHR 7/10/2008): History is littered with the names of companies that tried and failed to make interactive TV a money-maker. But past failures don't mean an idea is wrong; it could just be bad timing. With the Internet setting new standards for both targeting and measurability, cable is looking to bring those same attributes to interactive advertising on the TV. And it thinks it has the right plan.
More Bandwidth Magic--Imagine Communications (BBHR 7/10/2008): Cable is doing with their spectrum the same thing college students used to do with telephone booths: seeing how much they can squeeze inside. In the past, we've detailed many of the methods for multiplying spectrum effectiveness, but were pleased to learn about a new one at the cable show. With a roster of people who've succeeded in the past, Imagine appears to have a clever new approach to the problem.
At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, we heard Comcast's COO talk about the need for status monitoring "to see problems before our customers do." We don't think we've ever heard a top cable exec use those words before.
When a topic is covered in the New York Times, some see it as a validation of the idea. With that in mind, we were amused to note several recent Times articles which echoed our "Two Sides to Every Story" column in Broadband Library.
The latest incarnation of Clearwire brings together a critical mass of players -- including the major cable operators -- to roll out a national WiMAX network. We have been following Clearwire since Version 1.0 more than five years ago.
Diagnosing Broadband Problems--How Do Consumers Cope? (BBHR 4/8/2008)
During the past three months, Dave has spent a lot of time coping with one broadband problem after another, including local networking and broadband access issues. Now that he has finally resolved most of them, we've been thinking about how consumers can possibly cope as they run into similar issues.
The last few years have seen a remarkable change in the involvement of the cable industry with consumer electronics companies. 2008 was noteworthy as the first time a cable CEO delivered a CES keynote. The messages from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts focused on this convergence and what it will mean for consumers and CE manufacturers. The messages were simple: more openness and more choice.
With the video entertainment world in flux, many industries are vying to play a role in the delivery of consumer entertainment experiences. The delivery of online video content to the TV screen can take many routes and all could be seen at this year's CES.
Cable operators have competition coming from all sides. At the Las Vegas Cable Show, we learned how cable operators are dealing with the competition, and where mobile services fit into their priority queue.
Using Cable's Magic Tricks -- "It's All About Competition" (BBHR 6/4/2007)
We've written several times about "Cable's Magic Tricks"--a variety of technologies that cable operators could use to expand the capacity of the installed cable plant. Now increasing competition from telcos and satellite is forcing operators to start putting those tricks to good use.
Cable operators are confronting huge changes. Some of the most visible challenges are in their traditional video services business. MSOs are responding to the changes by striking new deals with partners and suppliers; re-thinking who their competitors are and how to compete; trying to digest which technologies that didn't matter much before are now critical and which business models will be successful. We examine some of what we saw and heard at this year's NCTA Show in the context of the bigger changes in the video industry.
Raising the Bar: Sprint and Cable Ops Make A Big Deal (BBHR 11/7/2005)
Now it's time for the quadruple play. Many big players are focused on integrating mobile into the bundle. An announcement about how cable operators would obtain the spectrum, mobile services and integration with their video and data businesses has ended the suspense about how they would add mobility. The recently unveiled joint venture between Sprint Nextel, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Advance/Newhouse aims to do more than just glue wireless voice onto cable's current bundle.
Cable's Bandwidth Smorgasbord: More Speed and More Capacity (BBHR 7/13/2005)
With competitors trumpeting claims of super-high-speed broadband, cable companies are preparing to deploy new technologies to match or beat the claims. These can increase plant capacity both to meet tomorrow's growth needs and to increase peak speeds to satisfy their most demanding customers. But technology is only part of the equation; while the engineers do their work, there’s a big marketing job ahead.
TV on your mobile phone? Video greeting cards? These and more were subjects of conversation at NCTA 2005, the cable industry's annual show, where the new nirvana was services delivered to the customer wherever they are, on whatever device is with them. The show floor and session topics acknowledged that the triple play is becoming yesterday's story. Tomorrow's customers have grown up in an increasingly digital world so their expectations are very different than those of their parents.
The 2004 NCTA Show demonstrated cable operators' interesting problem. Their rebuilt plants are capable of providing a multiplicity of services and the technologies that have been "coming soon" are finally ready for prime time. Now the big question is what share of resources should go to each of these opportunities? We highlight a few of the newer opportunities, including VoIP, multi-room DVRs and PacketCable Multimedia-based services like videotelephony.
The final Western Cable Show reflected the consolidation and maturing of the cable industry. It's great that many of the services which started as a vision are now realities, but like all adults it was easy to be nostalgic about the childhood and adolescent days now past. The very successful CableNet will live on in a new setting at the National Cable Show.
"Broadband Britain": Telewest - Getting the Most From Their Assets (BBHR 9/23/2003)
Tremendous changes have taken place in the UK broadband scene during the three years since our last extended visit. Although "Broadband Britain" is still more a goal than a reality, the progress is undeniable. We share a few impressions of the changes, plus what we heard in meetings with three distinctly different broadband service providers.
Celeria: Wireless Access To Cable Networks: A Guest Article by Inés Vidal Castiñeira (BBHR 8/21/2003)
During our recent visit to Spain, we heard about Euskaltel’s Celeria Project. We invited Inés Vidal Castiñeira to share with you the Technology Department’s approach to providing triple-play services to low population density areas. Although Euskaltel already had a fiber ring infrastructure from which they reached end users with HFC and twisted pair, this approach was not cost effective for serving small municipalities. Instead, they developed a wireless approach to deliver digital video, cable modem and voice services to these customers.
Energy Management - "Broadband Without Internet": A Guest Article by Mark Francisco (BBHR 5/14/2003)
Mark Francisco of Comcast writes about Comcast's ongoing trial of energy management services in collaboration with the electrical utility. This is an example of a “Broadband without Internet” application which requires a persistent broadband connection but does not require high speed or other features associated with the Internet.
An All-Digital, All-IP Future? -- Read the Fortune Cookie (BBHR 4/16/2003)
The editors at Communications Technology Magazine did a great job of summarizing our article in the April, 2003 issue. The cover shows a fortune cookie with the prediction: "You will advance triumphantly by re-examining some long-held assumptions about network infrastructure". Our article addresses the question of what could be achieved with the current cable infrastructure if MSOs rethink the way they deliver services. Other countries are also dealing with digital transition timing.
North American cable operators have long wanted to break the grip of their two principal vendors, who control the "conditional access" systems used to encrypt premium services. Sony's new Passage system offers them a way out -- and the potential for a competitive set-top box market.
We spoke on "All-digital Networks" in a session titled "They're Just Over the Horizon: Emerging Technologies, Friend or Foe?" Our speech talked about the emergence of all-digital networks and suggested that cable operators should start thinking about a future without analog television.
Competing Digital TV Transport Paradigms: A Guest Article by John R. Pickens, PhD (BBHR 11/24/2002)
The battle over evolution of TV transport (aka transmission) technology is just beginning. This guest article describes what is changing in end-to-end distribution of TV to the home and within the home, with a prognosis for the ultimate success of IP in transporting video services.
More Solutions for Expanding Cable Bandwidth - Part 2 (BBHR 7/31/2002)
Our previous issue (below) discussed six companies focused on expanding the digital carrying capacity of existing cable plants. We continue with a report on Advent and analyze the likely sequence for cable operators to spend money on these solutions.
Since our article in the December report (see below), we've talked with three more companies focused on expanding the digital carrying capacity of existing cable plants. We conclude that cable operators have a good chance of avoiding massive rebuilds for years to come even as their new services attract more users. We report on six companies: BigBand Networks, Narad Networks, Pulse~LINK, Rainmaker Technologies, Terayon, and Xtend Networks.
"Advanced" digital set-top boxes have promised much and delivered precious little in North America. "Moore's Law" makes it difficult for such a box to have much payback. Two companies - ICTV and Ucentric Systems - offer radically different solutions for cable operators: ICTV puts most of the functionality at the cable headend, while Ucentric puts more in the home to create consumer value.
CableLabs has come a long way in its short life. It has the leading role in specifying and certifying the technologies for delivering advanced services over cable in North America, and plays an increasing role beyond the Americas and far beyond TV and entertainment services. It's now leading an ITU effort for global end-to-end IP multimedia communications. We report on our visit with CableLabs and our telephone interview with its CEO.
While we were at the Western Cable show, we looked at several developing technologies designed to expand the digital carrying capacity of existing cable plants and came away thinking that cable operators may be able to get enough extra capacity to phase in a lot more digital services over their existing cables.
Tracking an industry over a long period helps us understand how seemingly isolated events form coherent trends. In preparation for the Western Cable Show, we put together some recent announcements to give our readers a clearer picture of their context and the trends we see from them.
"How Much Life is Left in Cable?" Pacific Broadband Networks Answers (BBHR 1/2/2001)