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Cable ops in US shift strategies to meet IPTV threat; report

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MUMBAI: As telcos are gearing up to deploy competitive pay television offerings, a new report from market research division of Light Reading, Heavy Reading indicates that cable companies in US are revamping their video programming offerings.

The cable ops are primarily doing it to fend off growing competition from IPTV services being launched by incumbent phone companies, adding more interactive services to their existing MPEG/QAM broadcast networks.

The report suggests that the cable Next-Gen Video Plans and the Future of IP delves deeply into the next-generation video plans of North American multiple system operators (MSOs) as they prepare for the coming assault from telco IPTV and continue to defend against the competitive threat of direct-broadcast satellite providers.

The report further analyzes the evolution of cable video from both a technology perspective and a business perspective, focusing not just on how MSOs are changing their networks, but also on how they are changing their business models with respect to video on demand (VOD) and the growing trend toward non- linear programming in general.

"MSOs have no near-term plans to swap out their existing infrastructure to adopt end-to-end IP, nor is this type of move immediately necessary," notes Heavy Reading and author of the report senior analyst Sterling Perrin. "In the near term, the MSOs plan to mimic the interesting features of IPTV using their existing MPEG/QAM networks."

Perrin adds, however, that switched digital video (SDV) could be a precursor to an MSO move to an end-to-end IP network -- once SDV proves to be able to deliver quality equal to that offered now by conventional cable networks. "Cable end-to-end IPTV would require the final -- large -- step of replacing currently installed cable set-top boxes with IP STBs," he says. "The rest of the network is moving to IP already."

Cable Next-Gen Video Plans and the Future of IP delivers a complete analysis of the Next Generation Network Architecture (NGNA) initiative from CableLabs, the cable industry's research consortium, including how and when NGNA is likely to be deployed by leading MSOs. The report provides details covering product and market strategies of more than a dozen technology suppliers, including Ciena, Cisco Systems (and its Scientific-Atlanta subsidiary), Fujitsu, Motorola, and Nortel Networks.

The methodology adopted has been exclusive one-on-one interviews with key executives from leading North American cable MSOs provide rich insight into this emerging market sector. Cable MSOs interviewed for the report include Comcast, Cox Communications, Rogers Cable, and Time Warner Cable.

Other key findings of the report include:

MSOs will leverage IP technology (and vendors) to expand their reach beyond the TV and set-top box as they branch into new areas, including delivery of content to mobile devices and to PCs. IP is well entrenched in MSO aggregation and core networks, but non-TV video service will likely be the first beachhead of IP in the access network -- where preserving traffic in an IP form and building on the enormous industry support for IP (meaning lower costs) makes sense.

MSOs are facing a spectrum crunch as they look to next-generation services to compete with both satellite and the telcos, but the situation is not dire. Cable executives interviewed for this report insist they have plenty of unused capacity in their networks. The efforts and innovation of the next three to five years will center on how best to tap that unused capacity.

Deployment of SDV, when it does happen, will not necessarily boost sales of optical transport equipment. SDV is really about doing more with the same - - i.e., boosting the number of video channels available to subscribers without adding any new capacity to the network. The migration will likely be similar to that for VOD, which by its switched nature has allowed MSOs to ratchet up programming choices without having to dedicate much additional bandwidth (if any) to it.

Cable Next-Gen Video Plans and the Future of IP costs $3,795 and is published in PDF format. The price includes an enterprise license covering all of the employees at the purchaser's company.

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