Content is not king — not when it comes to the nitty-gritty competition among cable operators, satellite, the telcos and Internet and wireless distributors. They’re all dealing in the same content, more or less. The race for telecommunications dominance is powered by technological innovation and, among cable operators, no MSO deserves CableFAX: The Magazine’s Top Ops Award for Tech Innovation more than — Bresnan Communications and its VP of strategic engineering, Pragash Pillai.

Bresnan, you say? Why not one of the top five MSOs? Well, the biggest cable operators are supposed to lead in tech innovation — they’ve got the most resources and biggest scale. For a much smaller MSO like Bresnan, which serves 320,000 subscribers in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah, technical advances are just as necessary in the fight against satellite and the telcos, but the margin for error is much, much slimmer. Bresnan’s strategy has been to be a smart, close follower of the leading MSOs. One of its smartest moves was hiring Pillai in 2006. His pedigree is impressive. He was VP of advanced engineering for Charter Communications, where he helped lead the deployment in Long Beach, Calif., of the first wide-scale digital simulcast in the U.S.

Among the advancements by the engineering team at Bresnan during the Pillai era: digital simulcast deployed to 30% of the company’s footprint; 37 linear HD channels launched, with 50 being the end-of-2008 goal; next-generation edgeQAM for the VOD platform deployed, thus adding storage capacity for HD VOD. Having received a waiver from the FCC to deploy the Motorola DCT700 all-digital set-top, Bresnan is upgrading the 625 MHz system in Gillette, Wyo., to all-digital, taking an old cable plant from the analog era into the digital realm of HD and VOD. In the Q&A below, Pillai talks about bandwidth management and the risks and rewards of big-time innovation for a small-scale MSO.

CableFAX: The Magazine: What makes Bresnan a good place for you to be as an engineer?

Pragash Pillai: We are able to manage our system centrally, which is a good thing. When we make enterprise software decisions, we have a group that discusses the needs of the company. As you know, in cable you have to focus on technology. It’s not an option. We do a lot of that. Everything we do at Bresnan has got to make sense for the customer and also for the business.

CFTM: Can you contrast Bresnan’s approach to engineering with a company of Charter’s size?

Pillai: I’ve always said within the company that we are not a bleeding-edge company, we are more a fast-forward company. We want to make sure that we don’t divert from the traditional, common cable infrastructure too much, so we can adapt to technology quickly. From an engineering standpoint we don’t want to do something that is out of the norm, that will prevent us from being fast and able to adapt to something.

CFTM: Beyond all-digital rollouts, what tops your priority list?

Pillai: We are looking at how we get from 50 high-definition channels to 100. One of the options that we’re looking at is expanding the simulcast lineup to include more of the expanded basic channels so you can recover more bandwidth. We can’t go out and just do something for the sake of doing it, or trialing something. You don’t want to end up putting all the channels on there that people don’t want and occupy all the bandwidth.

A smaller operator can’t make a lot of mistakes. You can’t take a chance on technology that you think is only going to have a 50% chance of success. Being a fast follower is actually not a bad thing for a smaller operator.

Fast Facts About Pragash Pillai

  • He received SCTE’s 2003 Young Engineer Award.

  • He is a graduate of the NAMIC-Executive Leadership Development Program.

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