Consumers’ appetite for video is astounding. Studies indicate over-the-top video now accounts for about 80% of downstream data, and growth in broadband consumption is directly tied to services like Netflix. Data usage and service-tier levels are more than 10 times higher than a decade ago. Because of these changes, many operators are migrating to a managed internet protocol (IP) video service to remain competitive.
IP video provides operators with a way to address consumers’ growing bandwidth demands by reducing quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) spectrum as customers switch from legacy video to IP video services. However, this transition period requires operators to carry additional capacity to simultaneously support both video types, which could force an extensive plant overhaul. Operators must also manage concurrent increasing bandwidth demands for broadband data during this multiyear IP-video transition.
Leveraging the Cloud
One technology that easily enables increased network capacity and speed is switched digital video (SDV), which requires no changes to the outside plant. In the past, SDV had high initial costs (especially for smaller systems) due to its hardware-centric approach. It also suffered from complicated installation and limited spectrum gains. But these past barriers have been removed, and cloud-based SDV is now the perfect option for cable operators that need more spectrum fast with minimal new investments. This is ideal for the IP video migration that creates a bandwidth bubble during the transition.
Like IP video, cloud-based SDV reduces video spectrum requirements by selectively delivering only the channels customers want to view at a given time, so unused content doesn’t take up space on the network. This frees spectrum that can now be used to increase network data capacity.
That’s a smart strategy, since studies have shown as little as 10% of TV programs get 90% of views. By using bandwidth more efficiently and optimizing channel lineups, new cloud-based SDV can potentially save more than 400 Megahertz of spectrum. There will even be enough left over for multi-Gigabit services in the downstream, as well as 204 MHz available upstream for 1 Gigabit-per-second symmetric service.
In its early days, SDV had a high initial cost that prevented use by small or mid-tier operators. But the new cloud-based SDV technology is a cost-effective option for providers, who can take advantage of a financial model where they pay only per tuner and per edge QAM channel. A recent case study showed an operator using cloud-based SDV could double IP data bandwidth capacity at a price of just $15 per subscriber, far less than what’s needed for a plant upgrade. Small-to-midsized cable operators thus have a lower barrier to entry and share a level playing field with larger companies. They can leverage a technology that wasn’t previously available to them.
Cloud-based SDV technology is primarily a software installation in the headend and set-top box. Providers can complete SDV updates without touching the outside plant. The Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) box enables EQAMs to be software configured for SDV and then merged into radio frequency outputs with no hardware changes needed in the headend. A CCAP also typically has a much smaller service group size than older cable-modem termination systems, important for amplifying SDV spectrum gains. Cloud-based SDV is installed within weeks, making it an ideal stepping stone to technologies like IP video or to expand consumers’ Gigabit broadband capacity.
Reconfiguring Made Easy
Cable providers can maximize their SDV spectrum savings by varying the mix of broadcast and switched content. Older SDV systems used conservative parameters for limited gains, but with newer CCAP and cloud-based SDV, providers have more freedom to reconfigure systems and reclaim 400 MHz or more of broadcast video spectrum. They need a solution to handle both increased demands from the IP video transition and customer data usage.
Operators that want to migrate their systems to IP video must be able to simulcast both legacy QAM and IP video content during the transition, increasing spectrum requirements. Meanwhile, overall data usage continues to increase, so providers must beef up their network capacity.
Cloud-based SDV is the perfect option for operators and customers because it easily and quickly expands bandwidth capacity without altering the outside plant or adding hardware. It also utilizes a fair pricing model and gives smaller providers more chances to save spectrum, ensuring a smooth transition to IP video that delivers a competitive advantage in the rapidly changing cable landscape.
John Ulm is engineering fellow at CommScope.