Bright House Uses Switched Digital to Expand HD Content

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Cable operator Bright House Networks has completed the switched-digital rollout in its Orlando, Fla., system and is now installing it in Tampa, Fla., and Indianapolis, with BigBand Networks providing the products and services for the upgrade.  

By using the bandwidth-saving technique, Bright House will be able to significantly increase its HD lineup and better compete against the telco video offerings available in various parts of its Florida footprint.

“There is a rush by cable operators to get more HD content as satellite and other providers are touting their large HD offerings,” said BigBand chief cable architect Doug Jones. “It is a very reliable and cost-effective way of adding programming and among operators HD programming is becoming the driver [for moving to switched digital].”

Cable operators have traditionally broadcast all available channels simultaneously to the home via their hybrid fiber-coaxial networks. Adding the bandwidth to launch additional channels requires an expensive plant upgrade.

With switched digital, an operator needs only to send out a channel when a specific group of viewers requests it, clearing up bandwidth to add more programming.

Time Warner Cable has been particularly aggressive in deploying BigBand’s switched digital products and in recent years, other operators have followed suit. Five of the six largest operators have deployed BigBand’s switched digital service to about 16 million homes, said Jones.

“We’ve announced working with everyone but Comcast,” he says.

Comcast is also aggressively deploying switched digital as part its efforts to expand HD programming, using Motorola technology.

BigBand has been working with Bright House on the switched-digital deployment since the beginning of the year, Jones says.

“They realized one of their goals was HD expansion,” Jones explains. “Bright House has a good partnership with Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable is one of our good customers.

“They were one of the pioneers in switched digital and their success with switched very clearly showed the benefits of switching and specifically how it allows you to add more HD programming.”

Currently the Bright House Central Florida division, which serves Orlando, offers 26 high-definition channels for free to digital customers. Additional channels are available in a six-channel “HD Pack,” which sells for $6 a month. Premium HD feeds are available to HBO and Showtime subscribers.

Bright House also offers about 100 hours of on-demand movies in HD, and has announced plans to add additional HD channels and on demand content by the end of this year.

The fact that HD channels sop up a lot of bandwidth makes plain the benefits of switched networks, Jones said.

“With standard-def channels you can generally get 10 per QAM but only two or three HD channels per QAM,” he noted.

Bright House used BigBand because of its experience in deploying its switched digital products — now in their fifth generation — as well as its ability to roll them out in less than 90 days, according to Jones.

“We’ve broken the dependency of linear programming [the network’s bandwidth]” he said. “Once operators get comfortable with having broken that dependency, then it’s off to the races. They can just find more ways to add digital QAMs and add more programming.”

At next year’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C., BigBand engineers will deliver papers showing how an enormous amount of programming can be packed onto a 750-Megahertz plant, said Jones.

“With 750Mhz, you can do 400 HD channels, 400 standard-def and have a 100 Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 product,” he said.

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