Ironically, what seems like the utmost in simplicity to subscribers often is the result of a cable operator having conquered significant complexity. That’s the case with Rogers Cable’s decision to offer its customers digital versions of all its programming. The plan is ambitious, as in anything that will change what is presented to 2.3 million subscribers. Bandwidth isn’t the problem. The operator can easily simulcast analog and digital programming streams on its platform, most of which recently was upgraded to 860 MHz. Two phases The trickiest element of the transition is the introduction of location-specific programming into the digital bitstream. In general, there are two types of local programming Rogers has to worry about. There are entire channels—local weather, channel guides and community activities, for instance—and insertion of advertising and replacement programming for national networks. The operator decided on a two-phase approach. The first phase calls for local programming to be inserted at the 60-plus hubs in the analog domain and the output to be upconverted to digital for insertion into the digital bitstream, says Tony Faccia, Rogers’ vice president for network and capacity planning. The second phase will feature insertion or substitution—a Canadian version of an American program, for instance—without downshifting to analog. In phase two, insertions will made at the main headend in York Mills—a Toronto suburb—or at the local hub, depending on the nature of the programming. The two-phase project is rolling out at slightly different speeds to the Ontario and Atlantic Canada/New Brunswick elements of Rogers’ footprint. It’s not entirely clear when phase two will be done, but the Ontario systems—which serve the vast majority of Rogers’ subscribers—are slightly ahead of the rollout in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada. The entire project should be complete by the early part of next year. Rogers is using its Motorola SE-1010 digital encoders and TMX-2010 transport multiplexers for most of the project, though Faccia says that some gear from Scientific-Atlanta is being used in the Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick portion of the project. The multiplexers comply with new SCTE 30 and 35 video splicing standards. Software is in place to accommodate spots that don’t yet have the new cue tones. Be rational Toggling between analog and digital at each hub obviously isn’t the most efficient way to handle local changes to programming. The goal, Faccia says, is an end-to-end digital transmission path. "The point is that [now] the substitution, the ad insertion is in analog," Faccia says. "The plan is that once the technology is fully integrated to do all that in digital." When the analog step is eliminated, Rogers will be able to simplify operations and reduce the amount of hardware in the local hubs. Indeed, the insertion issue can be seen in the bigger context of making digital operations—and the coexistence of analog and digital operations—as efficient as possible. When that happens, a great deal of expense can be wrung out of various parts of the process. The digital-into-digital insertion is a part of that solution. Says Faccia: "We’ll be able to get rid of some of the analog gear that is currently in place, and we’ll be able to get some operational efficiencies because we’ll be able to have it done at a central location." —Carl Weinschenk For many, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) still is off in the future. But for Lightpath, the local exchange carrier (LEC) subsidiary of Cablevision Systems, that future is more than a decade old. The fourth largest LEC in the New York City metro area, Lightpath has a $60 million capital budget to spend this year on FTTx and backbone network upgrades. A chunk of that cash will extend the Lightpath FTTP network to roughly another 150 office buildings in metro NYC, where it already has 1,653 buildings wired. This is all pretty much business as usual for Lightpath executives, who chuckle at all the newcomers just discovering FTTx. "From Day One, we started this as fiber to the premises," Brian Fabiano, Lightpath’s senior vice president of network services, says. That means the company was "delivering fiber to the premises as early as 11 years ago," adds Kevin Curran, senior vice president of marketing. What Lightpath has built during those years is an intelligent optical network with a dense wavelength core powered by Nortel switches. On the telephony side, it’s got eight Class 5 switches. Its latest move on the broadband data side is a multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) overlay using Cisco switches. River crossing Building on a backbone enabled for a full 10 Gbps, Lightpath is planning an ambitious multi-stage Metro Ethernet rollout starting this year. Initial services will include dedicated private lines, optical transport and managed routers. Also about to go live is a new ring around the City. The showpiece is a fiber run across the Hudson River. Lightpath didn’t lay the cable. Instead it found a couple of dark strands in a bundle laid by a utility company. The utility had wanted fiber to carry power-line monitoring information. Because the cost of including a handful of extra fiber was trivial compared to the cost of laying the undersea power line in the first place, the utility did it "just in case." Sometime this fall, Lightpath is going to light just one of those strands of fiber, using a Nortel 1600 long-haul switch to pump a massive 72 waves of 10 Gbps each through the single fiber. That’s currently the maximum rated capacity of the Nortel 1600. As it happens, none of the fiber Lightpath is using was intended to carry voice and data. As cable insiders may appreciate, Cablevision originally put it in to deliver video. That means the cost of the fiber can be amortized across multiple purposes. It also means that the company can deliver voice and data at roughly 25 percent less than its larger competitors. "It allows us to be competitive," says Fabiano. —Adapted from Access Intelligence sister publication Fiber Optics Forecast, Stuart Zipper, editor

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