where does cable go from here?
But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.
Is it just about big pipes?
The average cable connection can theoretically dump 6Gb* into the connected house. That’s a lot of bandwidth. However, as it is utilized today, even with the benefits of switched digital QAM, it’s the STB-Headend relationship that limits cable’s utility in the new world of IP. Yes, I know about DOCSIS, but it’s more than that…
In a homogenous managed IP network, the time it takes to implement a new service, and have it provisioned by the customer, is about as long as it takes for the customer to download an application. Prime example, the iTunes App Store. Believe me, that same paradigm (or a derivative thereof) is coming to the home STB (or media appliance) with IPTV. Not so easy with cable…
Here is an infrastructure that is largely heterogeneous and leverages legacy technologies that are so interconnected and tangled, that developing new applications and having them deployed costs a lot of time and money and support. Cable will be ‘out-apped’, out-serviced, out-priced, out-maneuvered and very quickly out-dated.
What cable does well is manage video content better than the IPTV providers. Nonetheless, it is going to take a very brave cable operator to take plant and equipment and re-invest heavily to move to IPTV. Right now it doesn’t make economic sense. But they’d better be planning for it… change is inevitable. Ask the free to air broadcasters about cable and satellite. Ask the print media about the web, ask the record manufacturers about CDs, and then about MP3. I could go on… Now, that doesn’t mean cable will go away, it just means that there will not be as much money flowing through that business as once was.
A bit of good news… Many IPTV providers looked to their cable brethren for talent hire and have found themselves saddled with bad cable practices on their shiny new platform. A temporary setback I’m sure.
IPTV is inevitable. Technically it makes sense, economically it also starting to make sense. As the media utility becomes the norm, the appliances will just plug in… and they’ll plug in via IP. Already the networks are eagerly HULUing an over the top IPTV play. Oh, and did I mention that the consumer is quite likely using cable bandwidth to enjoy that experience! Capping that IP bandwidth (both economically and technically) is only a temporary tactic at delaying the inevitable.
Focus on your expertise – managing a video network, leveraging content and those big fat connections. Get with the program and forget about QAM and those stream filtering, RF tuning STBs. Move to IP and save yourselves. The Telcos are coming. They have deeper pockets, a green field infrastructure, an ability to roll out services faster than lightening, and an eagerness to learn about video – just as aggressively as cable demonstrated its eagerness to learn about VOIP.
Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.
*A common QAM level in CATV is 256 QAM, which amounts to about a 38 MBPS data rate per each channel. HFC systems are migrating toward 1,002 MHz upper frequency limit, so at 6 MHz per channel, there’s about 158 channels of capacity on these upgraded systems. Simply put, that’s 6 GBPS full spectrum that fits on a single wavelength using the radio-centric cable signaling method. While this capacity is no big secret, it is almost never presented this way in the HFC vs. FTTH forum because cable employs so many different radio formats over the typical system that it’s hard to make a direct comparison given the state of a cable system today, with its mix of analog channels, digital channels, cable modem channels, etc. (http://www.acicomms.com/hfc_vs_ftth_1.html)