Cable operators, no matter their size, are seeking to answer the insatiable demand for increased internet speeds and greater capacity through the expansion of their DOCSIS capabilities. For example, most operators are pursuing DOCSIS 3.1 (and, in particular, the new Full Duplex capabilities) somewhere on their roadmaps. Driving the current need are OTT, Netflix and 4K, among others. Future requirements include the Internet of Things (IoT). Yet operators continue to dedicate 75 to 85 percent of their existing bandwidth to video services, while video services contribute less than 30 percent of their gross margin. The problem is a constant tug-of-war for RF bandwidth between video (more HD, addition of 4K, etc.) and DOCSIS expansion (more 3.0, 3.1, Full Duplex, etc.).

So, what options do operators have available to address the problem?

One option being considered by operators is overbuilding existing plant with fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). However, this will be both an expensive choice as well as one slow to deploy. Ultimately, it probably will be chosen by less than 1 percent of systems. Most have already gone through a very long and costly DTA rollout, reclaiming analog spectrum and converting it to digital. And while that whole exercise initially served a purpose, its spectrum benefits were short-lived and then that bandwidth filled up again. In most cases, none of that bandwidth is still left to convert to DOCSIS since many HDs were added to keep up with satellite and other competition. And what is left faces additional needs for 4K and even more HDs.

Another option is converting MPEG-2 to MPEG-4. If some HDs can be converted to MPEG-4, the 75 percent to 85 percent amount of spectrum can be reduced to, say, 45 percent-60 percent, opening up additional bandwidth for DOCSIS expansion. Recently, a large MSO informed customers in one of its Midwest mega-systems that those customers will need to upgrade to newer boxes that support MPEG-4. The problem with this approach is its significant cost due to the requirement of a massive forklift change-out of set-top boxes because a majority of legacy set-top boxes in use are not MPEG-4 capable.

Still another option is upgrading the HFC plant to 1 GHz (or greater) to open up new spectrum for DOCSIS expansion. However, this is also a costly, time-consuming and customer-disruptive endeavor. On average, operators estimate the cost of this option at around $25,000 per node and taking many years, typically, to accomplish. Further, like the MPEG-4 conversion option, the bandwidth that is created is finite and temporary because it, too, becomes the victim to the constant tug-of-war between video (more HD, addition of 4K, etc.) and DOCSIS.

We’ve found that the fourth and most practical option is deploying switched IP video (SIPV). And of all these options, switched IP video answers the need in a very eloquent and low-cost way. It provides all of the benefits of switched digital video (SDV), a well-established video switching technology, but eliminates the significant challenges associated with it and is considerably less costly. For example, if the large MSO previously referenced were to deploy switched IP video instead, the Midwest mega-system would save not only tens of millions of dollars but would experience significant customer goodwill instead of causing disruption and aggravation of a forklift set-top replacement.

SIPV and SDV Comparison

Three key differences exist between switched IP video and switched digital video. First, switched IP video can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of switched digital video. Second, switched IP video is created by back-office utilities that allow the entire unlimited HD/4K line-up to be switched, instead of only the long-tail switching performed by switched digital video. And third, switched digital video is extremely technologically and operationally complicated while switched IP video is not. With switched IP video, those complications have been eliminated allowing switched IP video to scale from the largest operators with multiple millions of customers down to those small systems with a couple of thousands of customers.

SIPV delivers tremendous bandwidth efficiency by making programs available within a network service group only in response to subscriber channel requests. In addition, using only 12-24 QAMs or fewer, SIPV delivers an unlimited video channel offering of SD, HD, and UHD/4K programming.

SIPV was derived from proven, widely deployed SDV technology. It follows that both of these technology solutions have many important similarities and differences that stem from the very different use cases for which they are intended, as summarized below.

It is also important to note that, like SDV, SIPV leverages multicast, so it does not “blow up” like unicast internet streaming does when everyone tunes in to watch the Super Bowl, for example.

Other features include:

  • SIPV consumes none of an operator’s valuable DOCSIS bandwidth.
  • SIPV deploys in as little as 90 days, not many months or even years like SDV.
  • SIPV delivers powerful viewership analytics, so when a programmer is not negotiating fairly, operators have real-time knowledge from their own systems to make the best business decisions.
  • SIPV’s only requirements relative to set-top-box compatibility are two-way functionality and an embedded SDV software client. Consequently, SIPV works with virtually all deployed legacy set-top boxes as well as the newest boxes and gateways being deployed today.
  • SIPV facilitates the introduction of new UHD/4K channels. The UHD/4K channels are simply added to SIPV’s unlimited channel lineup (even as a 4K simulcast of an existing MPEG-2/4 line-up) and 4K-capable STBs are then target-deployed only to subs wanting the premium 4K services. As a result, the deployment of 4K/HDR becomes success-based and affordable, not requiring the typical forklifting of legacy set-tops, and without consuming any DOCSIS bandwidth.

The “secret sauce”? SIPV’s powerful back-office utilities are primarily responsible for the important differences between SIPV and SDV. For example, these utilities manage and monitor the QAM bandwidth utilization in (even) thousands of service groups simultaneously so that operators receive alerts when aggregate bandwidth in a particular service group starts to peak above 80 percent during certain times of the day. Proactive and simultaneous service group monitoring and alerts delivered in real-time allow the operator to plan ahead to split specific service groups, thereby managing the growth and evolution of the video network, ensuring that all video services are available at all times to all subscribers in every corner of the network.

Joseph Nucara is CEO and co-founder of Adara Technologies. He was formerly VP, worldwide marketing for the Broadband Networks division of Philips Electronics, and ran Augat Canada Inc. in Toronto. He holds an Executive M.B.A. degree from Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario and is a Professional Engineer with a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo.