Cable Operators

Ops Spec Out the Future

1/30/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Cable Television Laboratories Inc., the cable-industry research consortium, has released metadata specifications for video-on-demand 2.0 — a spec that would open the way for more sophisticated metadata applications in new VOD program categories and enable dynamic ad insertion.

At the same time, CableLabs continues to work on Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0, which would allow operators to offer high-speed Internet services of 100 Megabits per second or more.

The VOD specifications will allow MSOs to create any number of metadata applications for different content, including movies, commercials and TV-series episodes.

BUILDING ON 'FOUNDATION'

“We're redoing the foundation of how you deliver these assets,” said Yasser Syed, project manager of emerging digital video technologies in the advanced platforms and services department at CableLabs.

Until now, all metadata for programming content was subject to the initial 1.0 specification, built for movies. But cable has broadened its library of available VOD content to include TV-series installments, short-form music videos and long-form commercials.

The industry has also inched closer to placing dynamic ads within VOD content. That development has created a need for software with specific metadata fields for commercials, addressing such areas as spot length, campaign duration and number of insertions.

“You can move the application in a different direction,” Syed said. “You can enhance what you've got. For movies, you can add in folder pricing [and] playlists.”

The movie application was also upgraded, allowing content providers to add more information on chapters and genres, for example.

While cable makes improvements to VOD, the industry also has its eye on competitors who are upping the high-speed Internet ante.

The stakes are certainly rising. Overbuilder RCN Corp. has said it will increase its downstream speeds to 10 Mbps, while telco Verizon Communications Inc. is promising a 30 Mbps tier as part of its nationwide fiber buildout.

Cable's answer is the DOCSIS 3.0 specification work underway at CableLabs. DOCSIS 1.1 focused on quality of service, while its 2.0 iteration dealt with increasing upstream speeds.

But with DOCSIS 3.0, “the focus is on bandwidth,” said CableLabs senior vice president of broadband access Ralph Brown. “We have a lengthy candidate feature list.”

At the top: Opening up enough bandwidth to allow MSOs to offer broadband speeds that far surpass the competition. “We're working with the manufacturers to develop specifications, and whittling down the list of candidate features,” said Brown.

A key component in that is “channel bonding,” which would enable a cable modem to tune in a multiple number of 6-MHz channels and combine them, allowing operators to provide HSI speeds of 100 Mbps or more.

“We would probably do some minimum bonds, like bonding the lower end,” Brown said. “We would probably do at least four channels.”

The specification would not bond the top end, he added, so operators could open up as much bandwidth as they want.

“Cable has enormous total downstream bandwidth available,” Brown said — up to 6.3 Gigabits per node in the near term.

“DOCSIS can provide a clearly evolutionary path for downstream and upstream bandwidth growth, from 38 Megabits to 100 Megabits and beyond,” he said.

Other features up for inclusion in DOCSIS 3.0: higher-order modulation and different types of modulation. “There are a lot of features we're sifting through,” Brown said.

THIRD BIG REVISE

DOCSIS 3.0 would be the third significant revision of the original DOCSIS, the innovation that allowed the cable industry to be the top U.S. high-speed Internet access platform.

“DOCSIS 1.1's focus was to add [quality of service] guarantees with backward compatibility,” Brown said.

The fruits of that effort are coming to market as cable launches telephony via voice-over-Internet protocol. DOCSIS 1.1 also paves the way for video conferencing, gaming and improved security features.

“DOCSIS 2.0 looked at the upstream and provided more robust and broader reverse channels,” Brown said. “The emphasis was been on the return path.” MSOs are now shipping DOCSIS 2.0 modems and cable modem termination systems.

Now, it's DOCSIS 3.0's turn on the development stage. Once the specifications are completed, manufacturers can start building 3.0 modems and CMTSs for qualification review by CableLabs, paving the way for their commercial introduction, potentially in 2006.

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