BigBand Has Big Plans for Cable Ops

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As cable operators outfit their networks for advanced video, voice and data services and evolve into full-service providers, BigBand Networks Inc., a company that launched quietly in 1999, said it has created a patented multimedia platform that will fit the bill.

After compiling $30 million in funding from Redpoint Ventures, Evergreen Investments and Broadband Ventures Group Cedar Fund-a group affiliated with AT & T Broadband chairman Amos Hostetter's Pilot House Associates LLC-BigBand is finally ready to tell the broadband world, "We have arrived."

The problem-or opportunity-is that legacy cable networks are aptly designed for low-bit-rate applications such as voice and e-mail, but they aren't equipped to handle variable-bit-rate, high-quality content such as streaming video.

"All aspects of the network will change as it evolves into a broadband-multimedia network," BigBand CEO Amir Bassan-Eskenazi explained. "Content used to be about data or e-mail or browsing. Today it's about delivering enhanced digital video and audio and interactive gaming, all over the same network."

Network elements such as jitter and latency must be treated differently when cable operators are faced with handling multiple forms of media streaming through a network.

While an e-mail packet can be rerouted and delayed, more advanced applications such as entertainment-quality videos or multiplayer twitch games require variable bit rates that must not falter.

"The characteristics of the stream are much different than what is used for best-effort data," Bassan-Eskenazi said. "We are skeptical about legacy systems and their ability to adjust and evolve the same way the current platform is doing for data and voice. Once you're talking about visual content, then it's completely different."

To help cable operators meet that challenge, BigBand-with networking experts lured from the likes of Optibase Ltd., Lucent Technologies and 3Com Corp.-has crafted a fresh network infrastructure that can deliver high-quality content over a single cable, digital-subscriber-line, satellite or wireless platform.

BigBand is still quiet about details of the technology that will make it all happen.

Bassan-Eskenazi would only say that the company's "NativeMedia" technology will be a combination of software, hardware and firmware that sits on the edge of network, enabling service providers to distribute variable-bit rate, multimedia streams to myriad devices such as televisions, personal digital assistants, cellular phones and PCs.

"Our goal is to make quality broadband services available to any user with any communications device," he added.

BigBand chief technical officer and cofounder Ran Oz shed some light on the company's plans in June, when he presented a white paper at the Cable-Tec Expo in Las Vegas.

The paper outlined the use of a "Broadband Multimedia Router"-a new type of network component that serves as the foundation to a service-independent headend-management system for all digital services.

While the BMR would need certain Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification capabilities to support cable-modem services, the function of the technology, the paper disclosed, is the "open switching and routing of MPEG [Moving Picture Expert Group] transport packets of all types ... to any node or other grouping of subscribers."

The BMR would also enable operators to avoid distribution-system upgrades, which are typically required when a cabler wants to increase bandwidth capacity or split nodes.

When asked about the BMR, Bassan-Eskenazi would only say that the concept is part of a plan to introduce technology that helps cable operators to better manage their headends and boost bandwidth efficiency for advanced services.

BigBand said it would target the cable industry first.

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