Three small cable operators offered status reports on their respective spectrum management plans at the National Cable Television Cooperative’s annual Winter Educational Conference in Charlotte, NC, yesterday (Feb. 23.)
The three executives addressed three separate technologies. Massillon Cable President Bob Gessner discussed analog reclamation; Troy Cablevision Chief Engineer Ken Jordan, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH); and Buckeye Cablevision Director of Engineering James Brown, switched digital video (SDV.)
The largest of the three, Toledo, OH-based Buckeye, additionally announced yesterday that it had decided to use SDV equipment from BigBand Networks. (For more, click here.) Buckeye, which serves about 150,000 subscribers, had been evaluating SDV vendors for about 12 months, Brown said.
Why SDV? The technology is efficient, can be deployed relatively quickly, and aligns with the trend toward the delivery of personalized IP services to multiple types of consumer devices, Brown explained.
"It sets us up for that transition," he said.
Among gating issues that could slow the deployment, Brown mentioned the need for the A-28 version of TV Guide/Macrovision’s switched digital client, but said that Buckeye should be "all in" within three to four months.
Troy Cablevision passes 13,000 homes in South Alabama. Its service offering includes voice, 23 HD channels, and downstream data rates of 5 Mbps and 10 Mbps. But that isn’t enough.
"What we are seeing every day is increased competition," said Troy Chief Engineer Ken Jordan. Competitive pressures have included cash-back offers as high as $500.
Troy executives considered their options, and in the face of objections that FTTH was "much too expensive to build (and) required too many changes," nonetheless partnered with CommScope to test its BrightPath technology.
The hub-based FTTH test was designed to serve 28 homes per fiber output and 56 homes per return-path receiver within a 5-mile radius. Troy’s legacy services to some 6,600 basic (and 4,400 HSD, 2,200 voice, 1,500 digital) subs consumed about 700 MHz of a 20-year-old plant populated with more than 100 fiber-optic nodes.
The test proved cost claims and yielded 1 GHz of available spectrum, increased drop distances – meaning more potential customers – and other operational benefits, such as high reliability, zero non-responders and the elimination of noise and ingress.
"It’s clean," Jordan said.
Troy expanded the hub-based test and has now pulled fiber to 1,000 homes, with success measured in terms of 56 percent HSD and 71 percent voice penetration. Along the way, Troy faced a few challenges.
"Documentation is a must … and additional training is required," Jordan said.
Guided in part by FCC policy on removable security, Massillon Cable decided to reclaim spectrum occupied by analog video in late 2007. Massillon President Bob Gessner previewed its plan at last year’s WEC, where all-digital was a prominent theme. (For more, click here.)
One challenge that Massillon faced in the interim was delays in the delivery of customer premises equipment (CPE). Gessner said a supply-chain disruption in China caused by last summer’s Olympics impacted the shipping of power supply components.
"We did not make our deadline," he said.
All the same, Gessner said he was able to deliver 18,000 converters within a two-week period. Among his surprises: "Over-the-counter uptake of the boxes was much higher than we thought it would be."
Other takeaways to date include high levels of satisfaction with the remote and the "Quick Start Guide" designed by set-top and digital terminal adapter (DTA) partner Evolution Broadband. "It’s worlds better than what those (that) analog-only sets have on them – which is nothing," Gessner said.
Massillon’s current all-digital goal is July 31.
– Jonathan Tombes
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