Title: Cable Solutions Marketing Manager, Cisco Systems

Broadband Background: Brown leads the marketing team responsible for Cisco’s end-to-end voice, video, and data solutions. His principal areas of expertise include "The Connected Life" and leveraging IP Next Generation Network architecture to deliver converged services to set-tops, PCs, and mobile devices. Brown came to Cisco from BigBand Networks. Prior to that, he served at Extreme Networks.

Your recent CT article on channel bonding says Canadian cable op Videotron is offering different tiers of high-speed Internet service, much like different tiers of video service. How are these working out?

Offering a variety of high-speed Internet service tiers allows cable operators to segment the market and better meet the needs of their subscribers. The lower speed tiers can be used to target the most price-conscious consumers who might be considering a lower speed, lower priced DSL service. Similarly, very high-speed service tiers – such as those using DOCSIS 3.0 downstream channel bonding – will be well-suited for gamers, heavy downloaders, business customers, and others who demand the highest level of performance. Others may want something in between. These different service tiers really allow cable operators to offer a variety of choices for varying consumers’ needs.

The article also mentions Internet speed bottlenecks that are beyond the cable operator’s control. How big a problem are these, and what are some ways around them?

The biggest challenge here is really bottlenecks in the consumer’s home. For example, people who connect 10baseT network interface cards or even 802.11a/b/g wireless with hopes of getting real-world speeds of 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps are going to be disappointed.

The key here is customer education and clearly laying out equipment minimum requirements to get the most out of a high-speed service. An informed customer will know what to expect and can then decide whether or not to upgrade existing gear to match the new turbo-charged Internet access being offered. Such openness in information and choices results in higher satisfaction and fewer service calls.

There can also sometimes be bottlenecks in the Internet itself that can cause packet drops or delays that can impact certain applications (such as Internet video streaming). I would look at this as an opportunity for cable operators since they can offer new IP services over their own private network with quality guarantees that the standard Internet services cannot match.

There’s been talk of a "bandwidth crunch" for cable, both within the industry and outside. What’s your take on that?

Cable operators have a lot of tools in their toolbox to help them with bandwidth expansion and bandwidth optimization – including switched digital video, MPEG-4, 1 GHz bandwidth expansions, and node splits, to name a few. These tools can pay huge dividends in terms of bandwidth savings.

Using 256-QAM, an 860 MHz plant has more than 5 Gbps of capacity, which is more than enough for the services cable operators are implementing. One of the short-term challenges is that analog channels – which are inherently very bandwidth inefficient compared to digital – use up a lot of space on the RF spectrum. As digital penetration increases, cable operators will gradually look to reclaim that analog spectrum by reducing the number of analog channels.

Despite any short-term bandwidth challenges, cable operators are finding ways to deploy DOCSIS 3.0 services. Worldwide, there are now more than 600,000 subscribers running DOCSIS 3.0 downstream channel bonding, with services as fast as 160 Mbps. Cable operators recognize the value of high-speed services and the other revenue generating services that DOCSIS 3.0 enables.

When using higher orders of modulation, preventive maintenance takes on a whole new significance, right? Any particular recommendations there?

For higher orders of modulation, the short answer is to make sure the plant meets or exceeds FCC or equivalent cable technical rules and is DOCSIS compliant. The entire answer is very long, and what specific steps must be taken vary significantly depending on the system. Operators can start by cleaning up ingress and leakage, as well as performing sweep tests to determine the frequency response across the entire spectrum. Depending on what they find, they may need to adjust or replace amplifiers or other plant equipment. Communications Technology Senior Technology Editor Ron Hranac has written extensively on the topic in various articles; I recommend these articles for those who want more information on the topic.

The good news is that cable operators have already made the move to downstream 256-QAM and upstream 16-QAM in most cases, and a lot of the work to clean up the plant is already done. Furthermore, DOCSIS 3.0 modulation is exactly the same as DOCSIS 2.0 – so migrating to DOCSIS 3.0 is very straightforward from a plant perspective.

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