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The July 10, 2008 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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In This Issue

Heard on the Net

Briefly Noted
Updates, Observations and Trends

Cable Show 2008
Time for tru2way

Cable Show 2008
Interactive TV--Has Its Time Finally Come?

Cable Show 2008
More Bandwidth Magic--Imagine Communications

SCTE Cable-Tec Expo
Technology Today, Lifestyle Tomorrow

Broadband Library -
Echoes From the New York Times

Your Voice -
Reader's Comments

Upcoming Conferences


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Duncan Bees has been named CTO of The Home Gateway Initiative (HGI). He succeeds Paolo Pastorino, who will return to his role at Telecom Italia. Bees was previously Technical Advisor at PMC-Sierra; prior to this appointment, he was the co-chair of the HGI QoS working group. ( www.homegatewayinitiative.org )

Scott Durchslag has been named COO at Skype. Scott was previously with the Mobile Devices Business at Motorola. ( www.skype.com )

Mark Laubach is now CTO and VP Engineering at Dimark Technologies, a supplier of TR-069 services for the embedded CPE market. ( www.dimark.com )

David Verklin has been selected as CEO of Canoe Ventures LLC, the new company formed by six major cable companies (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox, Charter and Bright House Networks) to sell targeted ads across their systems. Backing so far totals $150 million. Verklin is an advertising veteran and most recently headed the Aegis Group.


Company News

Acquisitions

Alcatel-Lucent is acquiring broadband service management software provider Motive in a deal valued at $67.8 million. ( www.alcatel-lucent.com ) ( www.motive.com )

Amino Technologies is acquiring Assethouse Technologies the on-demand entertainment services provider behind the BT Vision offering; the purchase price is just over $2.7 million in cash. Amino is also is hiring Andrew Burke, a former BT executive who led BT Vision's IPTV service, as its new CEO. ( www.aminocom.com ) ( www.assethouse.com )

Belden has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire WLAN equipment provider Trapeze Networks, for $133 million in cash. ( belden.com ) ( www.trapezenetworks.com )

Cisco announced plans to acquire Denmark-based DiviTech A/S, a provider of digital-service management systems for broadcasters, cable and IPTV operators. Financial terms were not disclosed. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.divitech.net )

Cogeco Cable has reached agreement to acquire all of the shares of Toronto Hydro Telecom Inc., the telecommunications subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corporation for $200 million. ( www.cogeco.com ) ( www.thtelecom.ca )

Cortina Systems, which makes networking chips, announced an agreement to acquire Storm Semiconductor to extend its product line into home networking products. ( www.cortina-systems.com ) ( www.stormsemi.com )

Enablence Technologies has completed the acquisition of Wave7 Optics. The aggregate price was US$10.5 million and 2,078,385 common shares of Enablence. Tom Tighe has been appointed as President of Enablence’s Networks Division (Wave7). ( www.enablence.com ) ( www.wave7optics.com )

Espial Group, a Canadian IPTV middleware vendor, is acquiring Kasenna for $6.5 million. Kasenna customers include Cavalier Telephone, CenturyTel, FastWeb, SaskTel, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Knology. ( www.espial.com )

Microsoft bought Navic Networks, a company that delivers targeted interactive ads across cable TV networks. Although the purchase price was not disclosed, Multichannel News pegged the price at $230 million. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.navic.tv ) ( www.multichannel.com )

Funding

Cartiza, a stealth mobile WiMAX equipment firm, has received an investment from Comcast Interactive. ( www.cartizanetworks.com ) ( www.civentures.com )

Clearspring Technologies, a widget creation and distribution company, has raised $18 million in Series C financing. ( www.clearspring.com )

Inuk Networks Ltd., a Welsh IPTV service provider, has raised $18.6 million (GBP9.5 million) in its second round of financing. ( www.inuknetworks.com )


Other News

BitTorrent and Orb Networks have entered into a partnership which bundles their respective software, allowing users to stream their music, movies, or other media to their PCs, phones, and other devices. ( www.bittorrent.com ) ( www.orbnetworks.com )

CableLabs, the North American cable industry's non-profit research and development consortium, celebrated its twentieth anniversary in May. Dick Green has been President and CEO of CableLabs since August 1988. Its original R&D budget in 1989 was $2.5 million. ( www.cablelabs.com )

DesignArt, a System-on-a-Chip company focused on WiMAX and 4G, has integrated a complete base station design with high-speed wireless backhaul capability on a single silicon chip. These SoCs contain all needed control and network processors for designing WiMAX base station products with integrated in-band backhaul. ( www.designart.com )

Digeo announced that Charter Communications will deploy its new Moxi dual HD-tuner DVR in 3Q08. This second generation unit uses the Moxi Menu user interface and has CableCard multi-stream two-way support and remote Web scheduling abilities. ( www.digeo.com ) ( www.charter.com )

The DSL Forum has changed its name to The Broadband Forum. ( www.dslforum.org ) ( www.broadband-forum.org )

ICTV, a solution provider for bringing Web content and interactivity to the TV, announced it is changing its name to ActiveVideo Networks. ( www.ictv.com ) ( www.activevideo.com )

Intel announced that it will launch its Centrino 2 Mobile Platform (Montevina) in July. The platform offers an integrated Wi-Fi and WiMax wireless access option and is expected to be smaller, have faster performance and longer battery life than previous mobile models. It also offers native hardware support for high-definition entertainment from DVDs in the Blu-ray format. ( www.intel.com )

JumpTV and NeuLion, both online television pioneers, are planning to merge. This will create a single operation covering a range of sports, international and religious channels, delivered to PCs and through set top boxes to TVs. ( www.jumptv.com ) ( www.neulion.com )

Monster Cable has introduced a new cable-less solution for HDMI. The product consists of a set of two boxes which use ultra-wideband (UWB): a receiver that plugs into the back of a high-definition TV, and a transmitter that connects to a DVD player or other components of a home entertainment center. The UWB technology for their Digital Express HD boxes comes from Sigma Designs. ( www.monstercable.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com )

Netflix has partnered with Roku on a $99 set-top box which will stream movies and shows to TVs of customers with broadband connections. The device is Wi-Fi enabled and includes fast forward and rewind. [Long-time readers may recall we installed our first Roku box in the Las Vegas Showhouse for the 2004 CES.] ( www.netflix.com ) ( www.roku.com )

Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DOCOMO are establishing the Symbian Foundation to create an open mobile software platform. Other members will include AT&T, LG, Samsung, STMicro, TI and Vodafone. To enable the Foundation, Nokia is buying the 52 percent of Symbian it doesn't already own for $412 million. ( www.nokia.com ) ( www.sonyericsson.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.nttdocomo.com ) ( www.symbianfoundation.org ) ( www.symbian.com )

Sprint Nextel announced it will launch its first commercial XOHM WiMax service in Baltimore this September. ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.xohm.com )


Regions

Europe

Wimax Day reports that the European Commission has adopted a decision that will harmonize the 3400 MHz to 3800 MHz bands in Europe. The move, which allows spectrum in that range to be used for fixed, portable or mobile communications networks by January 2012, is expected to have a positive impact on WiMAX network operators in Europe, most of which use 3.5 GHz spectrum. Currently, most of the 3.5 GHz band licenses restrict usage to fixed or portable services only. ( www.wimaxday.net ) ( ec.europa.eu )


Standards

According to a recent press release from Kineto Wireless, the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has adopted an official architecture for 3G femtocell home base stations. The architecture, which was backed by Alcatel-Lucent, Kineto Wireless, Motorola and NEC, defines two new network elements, the femtocell and the femtocell gateway. Between these elements is the new Iu-h interface. Femtocell vendors must now modify their access point and network gateway equipment to comply with the new standard interface. ( www.kinetowireless.com ) ( www.3gpp.org )

The WiMAX Forum announced certification for Wave 2 products using MIMO in the 2.5 GHz band. Intel, Motorola, Samsung, Beceem, Sequans, Alvarion, Airspan, and Zyxel received approval for 2.5 GHz base stations. ( www.wimaxforum.org )

The IEEE issued a notice that the 802.20 mobile wireless broadband has been approved. 802.20 has been nearly invisible since work on it was suspended in 2006. 802.20 is the mobile broadband standard that is specified to be capable of delivering download speeds of 1 Mb/s per user with full handoff to devices traveling at up to 250 kilometers per hour. The first working draft of the standard was approved back on Jan. 18, 2006. ( www.ieee.org )

The Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) announced development of Bluetooth over 802.11, in order to provide Bluetooth a boost in speed. The announcement led to speculation on the impact on the future ultrawideband (UWB) market. ( www.bluetooth.com/Bluetooth/SIG )

The Open IPTV Forum added eleven new members, to bring its total to 29, and reports that the first release of its specifications are close to completion. The group was established to solve IPTV market fragmentation by standardizing an IPTV framework, enabling a 'plug and play' experience for the end-user, and ensuring interoperability. ( www.openiptvforum.org )

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced a new certification program for voice-capable Wi-Fi devices in home and small office environments, called the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Voice-Personal program. In addition they announced that Broadcom, Cisco and Intel are among the companies that have received certification. ( www.wi-fi.org )


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on China surpassing US broadband numbers, the importance of femtocells, UK Digital TV penetration, Internet applications for your plants, and more.

UK digital TV penetration

A recently released Deloitte study forecasts that UK digital television penetration will reach 93% by the end of 2008, compared to 89% at the end of April 2008 and 87% at the end of 2007.

Internet Apps For Your Plants

Planting a garden? PlantSense recommends you get out your trowel, some fertilizer, and your Internet-connected sensors, with algorithms to help you figure out which plants will thrive in your garden spot. The company, which has just emerged from underground (pun intended), has received a $3.5 million Series A round. Their $60 sensor which is plunged into the soil gathers information such as soil quality, light and weather. They connect to the company's Web site via USB and take the user's zip code to calculate results. Sandy says: "That would be great, but now I need something to tell the deer and groundhogs to stay away from my healthy plants." ( www.plantsense.com )

DVR = Digital Video Retriever?

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers has characterized next generation DVRs as "digital video retrievers," since customers with a broadband connection can move Internet video to their TV sets. TiVo has been busy implementing a software downloading capability that enables cable operators to remotely and automatically upgrade their customer's set top boxes for DVR functions. The feature, first developed for Comcast, is termed "auto-flip". ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.comcast.com )

China Surpasses U.S. Broadband Numbers

Numbers from research firm Dittberner Associates indicate that China has topped the US in total number of broadband subscribers. China ended the first quarter of 2008 with 71,603,400 broadband subscribers, topping a total of 70,211,328 for the U.S. A year ago the U.S. had been on top. Given China's population, this had long been expected. ( www.dittberner.com )

Who Uses Mobile Phone Browsers?

Opera, which develops the Opera Web browser for multiple platforms, has published its latest State of the Mobile Web, May 2008 Report. Research results, which span ten countries, indicate that: male users of Opera Mini greatly outnumber females; the 18-27 year old demographic is where Web browsing on handsets using Opera Mini is most popular; active users are up more than 23% since March; and data traffic is up over 30% since March. Google was either first or second on the list of top sites used in 8 of the 10 countries. ( www.opera.com )

Femtocell Fanfare

Femtocells were in the spotlight again. Light Reading reported that Dave Williams, Comcast's senior VP of wireless and technology, revealed that in the cable companies deal with Clearwire, 5MHz of Clearwire's 2.5GHz spectrum holdings across the US would be set aside for WiMAX femtocells. Deploying WiMAX Femtocells in broadband customer homes could solve indoor access problems and offer cheaper access to seamless wireless services. ( www.lightreading.com ) ( www.comcast.com )

The importance of femtocells won't come as a surprise to readers of our reports. We first covered Picochip in our August 2004 issue almost four years ago, and wrote that "we see its approach as the wave of the future." A year ago in our July 2007 issue we declared femtocells to be "the word of the month". Now the big push will be to get the costs down.


Cable Show 2008: Time for tru2way

Tablet in New Orleans --> Click for larger pictureThe 2008 Cable Show was back in New Orleans and it was great to witness how much of the core city has rebounded from 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina. Many cable industry members came to the show a few days early, so they could participate in projects such as planting trees, donating books, painting schoolrooms, building playgrounds and raising money for the re-vitalization of New Orleans and especially for its children. You can see this in action at the Cable Show website.

As we were making our plans to go to New Orleans for the show, we decided to start a few days earlier at the tru2way Developers Conference. Tru2way is a marketing and branding term for the software platform that will enable cable companies and other interactive TV service and application developers to "write (interactive applications) once, run anywhere (any CATV system that supports the specification)". It solves the problem of the incompatibility of different cable equipment moving from system to system and its interaction with consumer electronics equipment. Once it is widely deployed, it will create a national footprint for creators of interactive services to develop products that will work on cable systems in nearly every U.S. market.

The tru2way name superseded the earlier terminology "OpenCable Application Platform”, widely known as OCAP. This name change hasn't entirely permeated--during the conference, one moderator threatened a shock would be applied to the seat of each panelist who slipped and said "OCAP" rather than "tru2way".

Since the tru2way Developers Conference was promoted as being for "Java and iTV developers" and "iTV technology companies" we expected to learn what developers would like to know about developing innovative applications for this exciting new platform.

In the course of our careers we've both spent quite a bit of time as developers, so we went to the conference with our developer hats on.

We came away believing that many consumer homes will soon have tru2way-capable devices, and that tru2way has the potential to dramatically alter the TV experience. While we were disappointed that the cable industry wasn't ready to answer some key questions developers would have, we reluctantly recognized the need for the industry to take a "walk before you run" approach to this complex new platform.


Tru2way Platform Footprint

One of the first questions any developer would ask is the projected "footprint" for the platform: how many devices in how many homes will be able to run tru2way applications over time. While we didn't get any projections for the growth of the footprint, we did get some sense for the growth path.

Tru2way will be deployed in many different consumer devices, including

  • Digital cable set-top boxes and Digital video recorders (DVRs) provided by cable operators;
  • Digital cable set-top boxes and DVRs created by consumer electronics companies and sold at retail;
  • Digital TV sets with tru2way built in; and
  • PCs equipped with uni- and bi-directional cable receivers.

Many of the more-advanced set-top boxes and DVRs that cable operators have deployed in the past few years are "tru2way-capable" -- that is, when the cable plant is ready, the operator can upgrade these devices to tru2way by a software download. The vast majority of set-top boxes now in customer homes are not capable of running tru2way; operators will be reluctant to replace them before the end of their useful life. We were told that operators are now deploying mostly tru2way-capable devices. With consumers rushing out to buy digital TV sets, and many installing tru2way-capable HDTV set-top boxes, we'll see lot of them in the living room over time.

Of the US cable operators, Time Warner Cable appears to be furthest along--both in enabling its systems for tru2way and in deploying tru2way-capable set-top boxes. They support tru2way in about 40 percent of their footprint, and have deployed more than 1 million tru2way boxes so far. In the last session of the conference, one of the speakers said Comcast will have 95% of its households enabled for tru2way by the end of 2009, and we were told that Comcast is installing mostly tru2way-capable set top boxes. James Kelso of Cox said "tru2way is the flat-out basis for our future." Observing that Java underlies tru2way, he added "it's very gratifying to see Java in the phone, the TV, and the set-top."

After many years of fighting with the cable industry, the consumer electronics industry also appears to have embraced tru2way. Several of the major manufacturers have been working with the cable industry for some time; after the show, three of the largest--Panasonic, Sony and Samsung--announced they had signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with the cable industry for deployment of tru2way equipment.

Paul Liao,  Panasonic's CTO --> Click for larger picturePanasonic's CTO Paul Liao gave the opening keynote address at the tru2way conference. Under the heading "consumers have been waiting..." he traced the timeline of tru2way starting in 1997. He said this is a new technology that "needs lots of people to work together": the consumer electronics makers, the head-end makers (Motorola and Cisco), and the cable MSOs. He said he was very enthusiastic "We gotta make this happen."

Panasonic AnyPlay P-DVR --> Click for larger pictureLiao talked about and showed pictures of three tru2way devices Panasonic has been working on with Comcast: a cable set-top box with a DVR; 42" and 50" models of the Viera plasma TV; and the innovative AnyPlay portable DVR which operates as a set-top box when it's docked and as a portable player with a built-in hard drive and screen when undocked. These were all announced at CES in early January, and he promised they will be available on the market before the end of this year.

On the show floor, Samsung showed us the tru2way-capable set-top boxes and TV sets they expect to ship before yearend.

Related Platforms

Bill Sheppard, Sun Microsystems Chief Digital Media Officer, pointed out to us that tru2way is neither a new nor unique platform. Rather, it is closely related to other interactive TV platforms based on the same underlying standard, known as DVB-GEM (Globally Executable MHP). GEM was developed as a common interoperable core middleware platform by a collaboration between the European DVB Project and CableLabs. DVB's Multimedia Home Platform (MHP), the Blu-ray Disk player, and tru2way are all based on the same underlying GEM specs.

According to the DVB Project Office, there are currently more than 22 million GEM-compatible devices deployed globally, including 13 million Blu-ray Disk players and 8.5 million MHP receivers. (These do not include the installed base of tru2way-capable set top boxes, so these numbers will grow fast when tru2way is turned on by the cable operators.)

Application developers can gain experience on one of the GEM platforms and apply it to the others. Many code elements can be directly reused. For example, interactive applications written to accompany Blu-ray Disk movies should be able to run on tru2way set-top boxes and TV sets when the same movie is accessed through an on-demand service.


Outstanding Questions

We came away from the tru2way conference feeling that the cable industry needs to answer some critical questions if it wants to attract innovative developers. These include

  • How many homes and how many TV sets will be able to play my tru2way application--and in what timeframe?
  • What is the nature of a deal between a developer and the cable industry? Can I cut a deal with the entire industry, or do I have to negotiate a "carriage agreement" with each MSO individually?
  • How can I ensure that my application will run on all different platforms and all different implementations of tru2way middleware? Will I have to do this with each operator, or will there be an industry-wide certification process?
  • Can I use real-time video streams as part of my application? Can I use the metadata in the streams?

In talking with many of the players at and after the show, we understood that the cable operators have a lot of work to do just deploying the infrastructure required to support tru2way system-by-system. This is probably an order of magnitude more complex than what they have typically done to support their set-top boxes, and some elements--like the consumer electronics equipment--are not fully under their control.

So we understand that the operators will have to walk before they can run. Their first priority is to deploy the infrastructure and make sure it is working properly. Then they can deploy some of their own applications--especially the "guide"--and make sure they work properly before next deploying applications bound to video channels. Only then can they start considering the added complexity of third-party applications.

This will take some time--perhaps several years. But tru2way finally appears to be rolling out. After writing about it for ten years, we're looking forward to start playing with it.


A Common Interactive Platform for Cable and Telephone Set Top Boxes?

Dick Green, CableLabs CEO --> Click for larger pictureAlthough the discussion thus far has focused on tru2way and the cable industry, Dick Green, CEO of CableLabs, had a message at NXTcomm about its potential use by the telephone industry. Green said that telcos could also use tru2way, since it is not exclusive to cable but is available to any multichannel provider that chooses to implement it on their network and in devices. "Our purpose in developing this technology was to provide a universal interface for interactive services that could be used by anyone."

This isn't as much of a stretch as it might sound. DVB has developed MHP-IPTV and GEM-IPTV specifications which share the GEM code base with tru2way. A presentation on the MHP website describes the relationships between OCAP (the old name for tru2way), MHP, GEM and GEM-IPTV.

We look forward to seeing whether telephone companies will choose to follow the cable operators down the GEM path.

( 2008.thecableshow.com ) ( www.timewarnercable.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.coxcommunications.com ) ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.sony.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.sun.com ) ( www.dvb.org ) ( www.mhp.org ) ( www.cablelabs.com )


Cable Show 2008: Interactive TV--Has Its Time Finally Come?

Various observers and companies have believed that the time was right for interactive TV applications going back to the 1970's, when services like Ceefax and Qube first emerged. Dave, who was part of the founding group of Prodigy, one of the early US ventures, is philosophical about these cycles. "A good idea at the wrong time is not a bad idea. It's just that its time has not yet come."

Recent news has been full of items directly relating to the renewed push for interactive TV and the advertising which will support much of it. For example:

  • Hiring David Verklin as CEO of the cable industry's recently-announced Canoe Ventures (see below for more on Canoe).
  • Microsoft's purchase of Navic Networks, a creator of advanced advertising solutions
  • Binding agreements on tru2way technology deployment between major consumer electronics (Panasonic, Samsung, Sony) and information technology companies and the six top U.S. MSOs (see the preceding article on tru2way).
  • Comcast Media Center's launch of HITS Advanced Interactive Services ("AxIS"), a centralized platform designed to support advanced interactive application developers and facilitate their launch on cable systems serving small to mid-size markets.

Interactive Advertising and eTV

$70 billion is the number to keep in mind. ScreenPlays says that's the size of today's US TV advertising pie. Of that amount, they peg cable as currently having a $5 billion slice. From our discussion (above) of tru2way, it is clear that waiting for widely deployed tru2way devices is a slow path to grabbing more of those advertising dollars.

Ford ETV Application --> Click for larger pictureSince tru2way will take time to be widely deployed, eTV (enhanced tv) is the path MSOs are taking to enable viewers to interact with a program or ad.

eTV is enabled by something called EBIF (Enhanced tv Binary Interchange Format). EBIF is a thin client, downloaded into a set-top box, which interprets eTV signaling and binary commands that are sent via an in-band stream. It is the means of providing interactive applications on basic set-top boxes. Since EBIF can work on most of today's installed set-top base, while tru2way requires new set-tops, EBIF forms a stepping stone toward tru2way.

EBIF initially focuses on “bound” applications, which means that eTV interactivity triggers pop up with the program being viewed (e.g. audience polling for contestants). There can also be "unbound" applications, which are independent of any channel--e.g., the Electronic Program Guide (EPG).

When an incoming eTV trigger is detected by the client software, it decodes and displays the clickable thing--a "widget"--on the TV screen. A widget is a "custom mini-application for small self-contained tasks overlaid on top of TVs so they don't interrupt the program being watched." Widgets are already familiar in connection with the Internet, where they are files that define a small, single-purpose software application on the PC. Verizon FIOS currently has TV widgets for weather and traffic. Other TV widgets can include personalized news and sports scores.

The use of EBIF will be a critical component for a newly-formed company called Canoe Ventures. Formerly known as Project Canoe, the company has been jointly formed by six major cable operators (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox, Charter and Bright House Networks) to create and use a single national advertising platform for selling targeted ads across their systems. The goal is to bring cable advertising the same level of measurability and addressability as the Internet. The ads would come from a central point, which would also handle billing, ad avails and other back office functions.

To enable Canoe, MSOs will have to get EBIF clients into legacy set-top boxes, an effort that will take work but represents a big payoff.

( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.navic.tv ) ( www.comcastmediacenter.com )


Cable Show 2008: More Bandwidth Magic--Imagine Communications

The rabbits keep getting pulled out of the magician's hat. Well, it's not rabbits, it's bandwidth--and once again, a start-up company offers MSOs another way to multiply the effectiveness of their spectrum.

To increase the plant's carrying capacity, operators can already choose between a wide variety of technologies, including

  • reducing the number of homes on each node ("spatial reuse");
  • reducing the number of channels allocated to analog services ("analog reclamation") including completely eliminating analog ("all digital");
  • using statistical multiplexing to avoid broadcasting channels when nobody is watching ("switched digital video");
  • upgrading the plant to 860 MHz or higher ("spectrum expansion");
  • overlaying the existing bandwidth with additional spectrum ("spectrum overlay");
  • changing video encoding from MPEG2 to MPEG4 AVC ("advanced video compression");
  • bonding channels to increase the maximum data rate for high-speed data services ("DOCSIS 3.0"); and
  • using higher-order QAM ("advanced modulation ").

We've written about these techniques many times--"For More Information" at the end of this article provides pointers to our earlier articles. Many of these techniques are now well along in implementation, including SDV (Switched Digital Video), analog reclamation, and DOCSIS 3.0.

At this year's show, we talked with a new entrant offering a clever approach to video processing and statistical multiplexing.


Imagine Communications

Jamie Howard --> Click for larger pictureFor an early-stage company, the staff of Imagine Communications has lots of experience with cable bandwidth. At the show, we met with President and CEO Jamie Howard, whom we've known for some time in his earlier roles. Jamie, who joined Imagine last September, was COO of BigBand Networks, the pioneer of switched digital video (which we first wrote about six years ago). Imagine's co-founders Doron Segev and Ron Gutman were senior members of BigBand's R&D team in Israel--where Imagine's R&D is also headquartered.

Imagine's products incorporate several techniques to get higher video compression without losing quality: separating video processing and multiplexing; coding video with interchangeable compressed elements (ICE); moving statistical multiplexing to the edge of the network; using variable bit rate (VBR) in all multiplexes; and using a video quality measurement algorithm to maintain consistent perceived quality.

Imagine's key idea is to separate the video processing from the statistical multiplexing. They do this by creating multiple versions of video frames in the video processor. The same video content is created with several different compression levels--these are the interchangeable compressed elements. This takes a lot of processing power, but is done just once for each stream in the headend.

The VBR-based ICE statistical multiplexers (StatMuxes) are placed at the network edge, along with QAM devices, just before distribution to fiber nodes. The edge StatMuxes assemble the multiplexed stream by selecting the optimal compressed element for each stream according to the amount of bandwidth available at each point in time. Since several versions of each video frame--each with different compression levels--are already available, this requires comparatively simple processing.

This approach is more bandwidth efficient than traditional techniques, which either create the VBR muxes as part of video processing, or use constant bit rate (CBR) multiplexing to assign fixed bandwidth to each video stream.

Imagine's video quality subsystem incorporates a video quality measurement algorithm claimed to "accurately emulate the human visual perception system". This is used to optimize the compression of each frame, by assessing its video quality to assure that lower bit rate coding will not impact perceived video quality.

Imagine packages these technologies into several product solutions. The Broadcast System uses standard definition and high definition broadcast processors to create ICE video streams, and ICE multiplexers to create multiplexes at the edge. Imagine claims operators can get 50% more video streams in each QAM--15 SD streams or 3 HD streams, instead of 10 or 2--without loss of perceived video quality.

These same techniques can be applied to SDV and VOD. Imagine's architecture permits the use of VBR rather than CBR for the multiplexed streams, with substantial gains in bandwidth efficiency.

Imagine Architecture --> Click for larger picture

In a white paper VBR/StatMux for Digital Broadcast, VOD and SDV, Imagine argues that their solutions are the most cost-effective way for operators to gain additional capacity for HD broadcast and on-demand services. The paper claims other approaches require more capital expense and time, replacement of existing set-top boxes, and more disruption to consumers.

Given the background of Imagine's key players, these claims seem credible. We're waiting to see how operators respond. No trials have been announced, but we'd be surprised if major operators aren't already kicking the tires to find out.


For More Information

We've been writing about "cable's magic tricks" for nearly seven years:

( www.imaginecommunications.com ) ( www.bigbandnet.com )


SCTE Cable-Tec Expo: Technology Today, Lifestyle Tomorrow

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo may be a technology show for engineers, but the technologies it showcases have changed the way we view and interact with our world. This hit home as I was reading a recent essay in Time Magazine titled "The Meaning of Summer Camp". The author--a mother writing about sending her daughter off to camp--observed that "today a wilderness is any place without bandwidth". That's hardly a definition you would have heard ten years ago!

There was a lot of talk about bandwidth at the 2008 Expo: the expected impacts of the transition to digital, the growth of HD programming, how to manage the increasing deluge of network traffic, and lots more. Since bandwidth has been a much-discussed topic in these newsletters (including our article above from the Cable Show in New Orleans), we chose to focus on plant reliability at SCTE Expo. Reliability of the cable network and the services offered on it has been a passion of ours over the years.

Our timing proved to be prescient. Senior cable industry executives usually fill their speeches with cheerleading about new services, increasing bandwidth and all the great things the executives see cable as doing. In a refreshing departure in the opening panel discussion, Steve Burke, Comcast's COO, said that current cable system reliability is "not acceptable".

Burke said the biggest challenges to Comcast's business are not on the IP side, but come from traditional video. With video on demand and HD video both key parts of the customer value proposition, he noted that current 2% or 3% error rates need to be significantly reduced. Cable must have a "laser focus on reliability". He noted that Comcast has to "spend millions on status monitoring to see problems before our customers do." Reliability has to be improved to "take away the root cause" of customer complaints.

This was the first time we can recall a cable executive saying the words "status monitoring" in an executive panel at a major cable event. Cable's technical folks have long wanted to address these issues, but found it hard to justify to the bean counters.

Inspired by Burke's comment, we met at the show with several companies offering monitoring systems, and are following up with phone calls and on-site visits. We'll report on cable monitoring in the next issue.

( www.scte.org ) ( expo.scte.org ) ( www.comcast.com )


Broadband Library -- Echoes From the New York Times

Broadband Library Summer 2008 cover --> Click for larger pictureWhen a topic is covered in the New York Times, it is seen (in some circles) to be a validation of the idea. With that in mind, we were amused to note several recent articles in the Times which echoed our earlier statements in Broadband Library--a quarterly publication of the Society of Cable Television Engineers (SCTE) where we write a regular column called "Two Sides to Every Story".

On June 14 the Times ran an article titled Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast with the lead "The onslaught of cellphone calls and e-mail and instant messages is fracturing attention spans and hurting productivity." In the Summer 2008 issue of Broadband Library, Sandy observed that "What we hoped would simplify and speed communications has instead taken over more of our time and attention".

The very next day the Times featured an article titled Charging by the Byte to Curb Internet Traffic noting that Time Warner Cable had started a trial of “Internet metering”. The idea is simple: people who use the network more heavily should pay more, the way they do for water, electricity, or, in many cases, cellphone minutes. Dave had written about the inevitability of some such plan in the Spring 2008 issue of Broadband Library. He noted that customers are doing exactly what the "unlimited use" plans encouraged, and that "MSOs are paying the price" and need to find some way to rein in run-away costs.

You can catch up on more of our past columns by visiting our Broadband Library page. ( www.broadbandlibrary.com )


Your Voice -- Reader's Comments

We received several emails about our May article on ITU G.hn and HomeGrid, and another offering readers a new publication called CABA SmartBrief.

Chano Gomez, VP Marketing of Spanish powerline networking company DS2, wrote: "I just wanted to let you know that the analysis of G.HN and HomeGrid Forum in your newsletter is very, very good. Most people who have written about this story did miss the most important points. Congratulations for that! The really important thing here is the fact that you have companies that come from the 3 original powerline factions working together to create a single-PHY/single-MAC standard: UPA (DS2), HD-PLC (Panasonic) and HomePlug (Intel, TI). This has never happened in the past." ( www.ds2.es )

Ron Zimmer, President & CEO of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), wrote to let us know that "We have just launched a new publication called CABA SmartBrief and would like to feature some of your great articles in future issues." He also noted that our readers are welcome to sign up for the newsletter. ( www.caba.org )


Upcoming Conferences

IPTV World Forum North America

IPTV is on course to become a credible Pay TV platform in North America, with Verizon FIOS TV and AT&T reporting continuing growth. IPTV World Forum – North America will be held on July 22-23, 2008 at the McCormick Place Convention Centre, Chicago, IL. It will address the question of where North American IPTV providers are going to find their subscribers and what services must they provide (and evolve) in order to differentiate themselves in the crowded Pay TV marketplace. Confirmed speakers will be representing Verizon, AT&T, SureWest, TiVo, Portugal Telecom and many others. ( www.iptv-northamerica.com )

2008 FTTH Conference & Expo: Linking Communities at the Speed of Light

Join us in Nashville, TN, September 21-25 to examine how fiber to the home will be the catalyst for connecting communities at home and across the globe. Opening keynote speaker is Don Tapscott, best-selling author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. There are many track sessions, more than 160 exhibitors, a Fiber-Powered Pavilion and Home Networking Zone, and pre- and post-conference workshops.

On September 21, Sandy and Dave will present a half-day pre-conference workshop: Home Networking: What Should You Know and Why Should You Care? This is an update of the well-received workshop we presented at the 2007 conference and is even more relevant today. ( www.ftthconference.com )


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