Fall and Rise of Hybrids
Hybrid is hip. We have hybrid cars that can run on either gasoline or battery power. We have hybrid modems that can take cable or run wirelessly. We also have peekapoos and goldendoodles; but that‘s another story.
For cable operators hybrid has been around for quite a while in the form of the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) architecture. It could also be said that cable networks are a hybrid of HFC and satellite, because for many years video has arrived at headends via satellite feeds from the programmer.
Just as fiber streamlines the access plant in a FTTH scenario, so too could it start displacing satellites further upstream.
Pure NFL, no satellites
Level 3 Communications has begun to transmit some live programming directly from events via its fiber backbone, bypassing the satellite. And the company claims the video quality is better for not sending the bits thousands of miles into space and back.
”What’s getting cut out is the satellite company,“ said Mark Taylor, VP of media product and strategy at Level 3.
For major live events such as NFL games, cameramen send their feeds to a truck outside the stadium where it‘s produced into a single feed. Rather than send that edited video up to a satellite for national distribution, Level 3‘s fiber can connect right at the stadium. In Denver, the company originally connected its fiber to Invesco Field to deliver the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Level 3 has been transmitting Bronco’s games over this 1.5 Gbps connection as part of a test with CBS, the American Football Conference rights-holder. From Invesco Field, the uncompressed high definition (HD) video is delivered on Level 3‘s fiber-optic backbone to the CBS Broadcast Center in New York.
The original feed coming out of the production truck is the best quality, Taylor said. Each subsequent compression step degrades quality to a degree. Removing the satellite from the equation is the first step toward reducing the number of such degradations in the delivery chain.
Although robust and cost-effective fiber networks are likely to begin reducing the role of satellites in the service delivery platform, other combos are coming into their own, for example: IP/MPEG gateways.
Operators are losing some of their control over the end device for video viewing. It‘s no longer the set-top box or the highway, so to speak. Consumers are viewing video on a myriad of new devices, and operators are competing to provide the four ”anys” (any product, anywhere, anytime, on any device). Most of those new devices speak Internet Protocol (IP).
And younger people are the most comfortable with multiple devices and less inclined to watch their video on the TV set. For example, college students are accustomed to moving house a couple of times a year. They stay connected with their mobile phones, laptops and game consoles.
”I think offering content through a dual-personality gateway is the key to the puzzle,” said Chris Busch, VP broadband technology, Incognito Software. He envisions a platform that can receive broadcast assets on coax but simultaneously handle IP content. And the ultimate ”wonder box” would also have an embedded DOCSIS 3.0 modem.
While set-top makers are probably working on their versions of wonder boxes even now, it will be important for cable providers to have something similar to the TR 69 specification that telcos use, Busch said.
Technical Requirement 69 puts an intelligent device at the edge of the network that gives the customer the ability to set some of their own parameters, but also gives the provider the ability to provision requests from inside the home, he said.
The DSL Forum, now known as the Broadband Forum, created TR 69 for DSL providers, but now the specification applies to other broadband providers, as well.
”We have a lot of IP set-tops available today that support this already,” Busch said. ”DSL has been doing this for a few years, and vendors are already in place. Vendors that sell to both sides (IP and MPEG) are converging the functions together.”
Busch has encouraged engineers at CableLabs to collaborate with the Broadband Forum so that cable operators can start using TR 69 for their home gateways. It‘s not necessary to turn TR 69 into a cable-specific thing, he said. The work has already been done.
Collaboration between the two standards groups would be a CableLabs/Broadband Forum hybrid.