Cable rolled out the big guns to show their support of OCAP during a press conference in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. During that press conference, executives from the largest MSOs outlined their plans for OCAP for the remainder of this year, and while other cable operators aren’t willing to talk about their OCAP trials just yet, Cox Communications is. Chris Bowick, Cox’s CTO, said his company hopes to have an OCAP trial in one of its Scientific Atlanta markets in December and then another trial a month later in a Motorola market. “Phase one for us is all around the consumer electronic industry on a retail TV initiative,” Bowick said. “We’re going to be working with Samsung, which has the only (CableLabs) certified TV. We’ve been doing a lot of work with those guys in the lab, but we wanted to go get a technical trial. I think Samsung will learn as much as we will.” Earlier in the year, Time Warner Cable announced a small field test in Gastonia, NC, using Samsung’s two-way TV set. Cox’s technical trials will involve about 30 friendlies in the S-A and Motorola markets. “The early technical trials will be done with manual provisioning,” Bowick said. “We haven’t integrated the back office with the provisioning and billing systems yet.” Cox’s Craig Smithpeters, manager, advanced technology and standards, said S-A’s 8300HD DVR will be used in the December’s OCAP trial. “We may also use the (S-A) 8300HDC, which is the same box but with a CableCard in it,” Smithpeters said. “The guide is being built by TV Guide, so that effort is going well. “With OCAP, you’re talking about so many different components: There’s a new version of the headend controllers required, there are new CableCard types, and there are new OCAP set-top boxes with middleware that is potentially not coming from the same set-top box vendor. There are so many new components coming in at the same time, and then you’re trying to build a new guide on top of that. Putting all of that together and managing all of the schedules is a huge challenge.” Like other cable operators, Cox plans on using the DOCSIS set-top gateway (DSG) in its Motorola headends for OCAP, although Bowick said Cox would eventually like to use DSG in its S-A headends as well, as opposed to using an object carousel all the time. For now, Smithpeters said, the S-A headends “were in pretty good shape without DSG or DOCSIS.” “On the Motorola side, we agree with Comcast that you just have to have DSG and DOCSIS to really make it work,” Smithpeters said. “We needed larger bandwidth for OCAP than we could really support on the legacy out-of-band Motorola system.” Smithpeters said using DSG didn’t necessarily rule out the use of object carousels, but with bandwidth at a premium, especially in the spectrum that has been allotted for video channels, putting a carousel into the in-band bandwidth is “often times challenging.” “Using DSG allows us to leverage that DOCSIS bandwidth that is already present in the system, so that is the approach we’re taking with the Motorola systems,” Smithpeters said. “We’re not using carousels at all; everything is loaded directly via a two-way response over DOCSIS. Really, it’s no different than how you would load a Web page. The location of the application is on a Web server, and the set-top box loads it directly over DOCSIS from that Web server. It’s very promising, and so far that approach has worked out well for us.” Bowick said there was no reason for starting the first trial with S-A over Motorola other than “human bandwidth.” Cox will broaden its field trials next year and add automated provisioning before moving to market trials. “My guess for a market trial is late next year and maybe first quarter of 2008,” Bowick said. On Ramp a hit with digital subs While OCAP is baking in the oven, Cox has served up its On Ramp service to customers in its Gulf Coast market for almost a year. Cox’s On Ramp solution features iTV applications such as weather, movies, reading and deleting email, bill paying, bill viewing, and caller ID, among others. On Ramp is a subset of Java application program interfaces (APIs), instead of a fuller version of OCAP, and runs on legacy set-top boxes. “It’s been a very good success,” Smithpeters said of On Ramp. “Initially, it was a very soft launch, and we sort of sat back to see how many people would find it and use it. It was amazing how many people were finding and using it before we really started marketing it. Over 70 percent of the users use it at least once a month. We’re getting a lot of requests from customers for new features.” The most popular application so far in the Gulf Coast market, which includes Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, has been the weather feature. Like any first launch in a system, the On Ramp deployment wasn’t without its own engineering challenges. “There were changes on the back end for provisioning,” Smithpeters said. “The solution is very distributed. We have components that support what’s deployed in Gulf Coast in our national data center, regional data centers and there locally. Deploying a system that is spread across your backbone is always challenging. “Just thoroughly integrating and testing everything is always our biggest challenge. It’s eradicating the last 5 percent of the potential issues that is the most challenging thing.” Cox hopes to have On Ramp pushed out to most of its S-A markets by the end of the first quarter next year, with the Motorola markets coming online later in the year. – Mike Robuck

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