The overarching theme at the opening session of Cable-Tec Expo was Internet protocol (IP) and what that means to cable.
“Can you imagine anyone today building a consumer gadget without an IP connection?" asked John Schanz, EVP of national engineering and technical operations with Comcast. "It (IP) is becoming as ubiquitous as water. If IP is like water, then we as cable operators need to be the well."
Schanz said layering IP on top of the existing network was well underway, and the next big layer on top of this robust core is CDN (content delivery networks), which he defined as an infrastructure layer that augments moving content to the edge.
"CDNs are a cost-effective way to enable lots of our layered services," said Schanz. "(It’s) the next move that will make our IP core all the more powerful."
Addressing a question possibly on the minds of SCTE engineers, Schanz said, "Let’s talk about the white elephant in the room – the fate of RF guys."
"Yes, where we’re headed is highly digital and software heavy, which is not to say it’s not RF," he said. "Bottom line, we’re at another major pivot point – it’s IP. We’re going at it big time."
After Schanz’ introductory comments, a panel of experts continued the discussion, again focusing heavily on IP.
Marwan Fawaz, CTO and EVP with Charter, said the finance people at the MSO teased him that he was always talking about simulcast – simulcasting analog and digital, simulcasting SD and HD, now talking about simulcasting MPEG and IP. "Are you ever going to stop simulcasting things?” they asked.
"Have you ever heard of simulcrypt?” he replied.
The panel discussed the drivers for moving to IP. Although the engineering community has focused on IP transport and how to make that happen, that’s a bit myopic, agreed the panelists.
"I don’t think it’s transport efficiency," said Dermot O’Carroll, SVP of engineering and network operations with Rogers Cable. "You’re doing video over IP because you want to deliver content to a multiplicity of devices that don’t speak RF."
"The consumer doesn’t really care how we transport within our network," said Pragash Pillai, VP of engineering and technology with Bresnan Communications. He said IP is important because it will allow consumers to navigate vast amounts of content, creating their own content libraries.
"The cable industry is relatively small," said Paul Liao, president and CEO of CableLabs. "The most important aspect is you can leverage the scale of the IP industry. The scale and ability to pull in the innovation from all these engineers from around the world is tremendous."
The group also discussed some technical issues related to IP.
"IPv6 is a key initiative," said Fawaz. "It is not trivial." He said the term "dual stack" will be heavily used in the next couple of years, referring to supporting both IPv4 and IPv6. "There are still challenges to have all our CPE in the field supporting dual stack," he said. "By end of 2011, we have to be ready"
With all the emphasis on IP networks and IP-enabled consumer devices, the panelists discussed whether tru2way would become irrelevant before it ever gets off the ground.
O’Carroll said Rogers is looking at its options. "We’re potentially looking at other solutions based on more Web-based technologies. Competitors are deploying IPTV; we need to compete with that."
"We have made a commitment that we will enable the majority of our networks to tru2way," said Fawaz. "It’s not an either/or for us. We will support tru2way and transition to an IP platform."
CableLabs, which has done a lot of work on tru2way, has an interest in seeing it deploy. But Liao said each MSO will have to evaluate its particular situation.
"It’s going to depend on the nature of what’s already deployed and what they would like to deploy next," he said. "Tru2way is a very flexible platform. You can add EBIF agents on top; you can add an IP agent on top. My guess is the benefits of tru2way are so substantial you’ll see a lot of deployment."