ONE OF THE STRONGER UNDERCURRENTS AT THIS WEEK’S CABLE SHOW
will be those two awkward letters, “IP,” shadowing every
move of the core business: video.
From the places where video gushes into cable headends,
to the gadgets and screens hanging off the ends of the plant,
make way. Internet Protocol, or IP, is somewhere very nearby.
Let’s start with the places where video gushes in to the
headend. From geosynchronous orbit, into the IRD (integrated
receiver/decoder) of the satellite dish, right? Yes, but
in the new lingo, video content comes from an off-lane of
a fiber backbone, called a Content Delivery Network. CDN.
Then, there’s the stuff hanging off the ends of the plant.
Televisions, telephones, and computers, right? Video, voice,
Yes, but it’s that data passageway, constructed in the late
1990s, that’s at the helm of IP. It was conceived as a way to
blast data at high speeds into a cable modem connected to
a computer. We call it broadband.
Broadband begat the Baby Huey that is — well — IP. And
the Baby Huey that is IP is thirsty. Screen upon screen has
Wi-Fi or Ethernet spigots, and wants a connection. (Wi-Fi and
Ethernet are the wireless and wired ambassadors of IP, respectively.)
iPads, smart phones, netbooks, laptops, e-readers
— they live when connected to IP.
In the middle, everything else. Tons of it. The navigational
system. The hooks into billing systems and core video controllers.
“Conditional access,” which in the IP world cedes to
digital rights management, or “DRM.” Where to make room
for “transcoding,” of incoming video, into the many different
resolutions and formats that are thirsting for it on the receive
Architecture. Also big. Going to video over IP means sending
video through the CMTS (cable modem termination system),
instead of through the digital video side of the house.
In familial terms, it’s the uncle giving the family jewels to the
nephew. In technical terms, it’s a big deal.
Gateways, that’s something we’ll be hearing a lot about,
with IP ascending. Video gateways, home networking gateways,
data gateways. Is it a cable modem tricked out for
video, or a digital set-top, tricked out for IP? (Magic 8-ball
says: Ask again later.)
Why all this IP hullaballoo? Chief among the reasons to
belly up to IP is its speed, in making new stuff and getting it
out there. Open up the interfaces, slide a Web-based magic
carpet onto the front end, test it, get it out there — weeks.
There’s also the matter of money. Especially the huge
piles of cash directed at developing and honing the stuff of
IP. Tonnage of it, compared to traditional digital video.
When it comes to IP, it’s probably best to just go with the
flow — which is yet another example of the linguistic difficulties
of “IP.” (Just like “it seems like IP everywhere.” Say it out
loud and you’ll see what we mean.)