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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 22, 2013

Cable Spotlight Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Broadband, broadband and more broadband: this week’s crop of news certainly sets off flares around that particular line of business, with notable developments and opinion around cable Wi-Fi broadband extensions, the use of TV white spaces, and the bolstering of better broadband for businesses with device certifications for DOCSIS-ePON integration finally getting underway. But let’s not forget that the cable business is a prismatic one: Apple (News - Alert) made some news this week on the business model front with more moves to embrace the traditional cable ecosystem rather than disrupt it. And, when it comes to video technology, a new metadata approach has turned up from an unlikely source: a government contractor.

Cable companies have been deploying public Wi-Fi hotspots for years in an effort to extend their home broadband footprints to users on the go: it’s a competitive block-and-tackle move vis a vis AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon, who leverage their wireless arms to provide the quad play. As the cable sector continues to lose basic video subs, broadband has burned brighter and brighter on the balance sheets, responsible for making up the shortfall and contributing a significant, and high-margin, portion of MSO’s revenue. Last week, all eyes were on the NCTA (News - Alert) annual conference, The Cable Show 2013, where Wi-Fi grabbed all of the attention as the preferred network architecture for cable operators enabling mobile broadband. This week, guest columnist Will Yan, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Incognito Software, argues that Wi-Fi could go further, becoming be a viable technology to not just complement, but eventually replace, cellular connectivity for everything from cloud-based apps, machine-to-machine communication and enterprise services. Read his take on Wi-Fi vs. 3G/4G here.

Speaking of non-traditional wireless, the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group (SWSPG) has unveiled its second wave of TV white spaces (TVWS) commercial pilot deployments in that country. TVWS open up a new set of frequency bands that offer attractive propagation attributes, such as the ability to travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles such as trees, hills and buildings than technologies using higher frequencies, including conventional Wi-Fi. It can also enable Wi-Fi devices locally however, for an effective overlay approach to campus-based mobile broadband. Critics of using TVWS—signals that are typically freed up from the transition from analog to digital television—say that the potential for frequency interference with either neighboring TV signals or ad hoc networks at stadiums and other public venues is a true concern. While database services have cropped up to address that issue, commercial trials will be critical to proving out the technical viability of TVWS. In the latest trial, Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Development Corporation, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Eurokars Group are all combining TVWS with Wi-Fi to test out new commercial opportunities—and potentially lead the way for cable operators to gain yet another path to incorporating wireless connectivity into their portfolios.

Broadband has many upsides in the cable world, not the least of which is business services. Taking a stab at that, CableLabs has qualified the first devices to implement version 1.0 of the DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE) specifications, which means that cable firms can integrate fiber-based access network technology for business applications and have a range of interoperable devices to support that. More than 20 vendors came together to get their devices certified. And when so many equipment suppliers dedicate themselves to interoperability, it bolsters the rate of innovation within the industry, according to Glenn Russell, vice president of business services at CableLabs.

“Their commitment to interoperability will significantly expand the options for cable operators, as well as the service options for their customers,” he noted. CableLabs has been active lately: the company was in the news last month for announcing that Tom Lookabaugh will join the organization as the new executive vice president of R&D.

On the programming front, Apple made the unusual move of further embracing the traditional cable TV ecosystem, with the addition of two TV Everywhere applications for Apple TV.  HBO GO and WatchESPN are now available to customers that carry a compatible pay-TV subscription. The announcement follows news earlier in the year that Apple would make Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable’s TV Everywhere app available on the platform. The move to get chummy with cable MSOs is not entirely unexpected; last fall it was reported that Apple was in talks with cable, satellite and IPTV operators to create a set-top that would replace their existing models in the home. Apple would provide all the functions that, say, a Motorola/ARRIS unit would for a pay-TV operators, like content security, decoding, subscription management and so on, but it would also provide middleware and an Apple-based user experience across the program guide, video on demand (VOD) portal and DVR functionalities. It’s a proposition that likely had too much downside for cable MSOs and their brethren, who aim to increase their brand presence with consumers, not lessen it. Perhaps becoming a TV Everywhere distributor signals Apple’s willingness to cede some ground on that front.

The Apple announcement makes even more sense when one considers that global digital television (DTV) households are expected to exceed 1 billion by the end of 2014. According to the Strategy Analytics Service Provider Strategies (SPS) service report, Global Digital Television Forecast, the market will have a six-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.7 percent for the DTV market overall. Out of that, digital cable will remain the dominant platform, and despite the ongoing, quarterly, high-profile losses in North America of digital cable subscribers from top MSOs including Comcast, overall sub counts will continue to increase, the firm said.

Finally this week, our own Rich Steeves talked with Ian Broennle of SAIC (News - Alert), which is best known as a government contractor. But it also has acquired Aptech, a machine translation and speech recognition company, and is using that to start up a new line of business targeted to the media and TV industry: offering captions and metadata services for programming, be it broadcast or online.  SAIC can, in a variety of languages and dialects, extend a video stream’s reach and engagement, monitoring it for SEO purposes and creating searchable metadata. Steeves discusses the technology here.

Have a great weekend!

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