Chips Down on Personal TV


Will cable operators someday deliver all video on-demand, all the time, and do away with broadcast video?

If every single household in a neighborhood were to receive its own, personalized video stream, cable networks would not only need more spectrum reallocated for those services — they'd also need a bunch of new quadrature amplitude modulation devices.

BroadLogic Network Technologies this week is expected to introduce the TeraQAM BL85000, a chip designed to quadruple the density over existing QAM solutions for less than 50% of the cost.

The chip isn't available in a commercial QAM device yet, but the technology is supposed to lay the foundation for operators to increase their ability to serve narrowcast and unicast services less expensively.

“If you're really going to get any time, any content, you are going to need a dramatically greater number of QAMs to deliver that,” said Danial Faizullabhoy, BroadLogic's CEO.

And doing that cost-effectively will require less expensive components — the TeraQAM provides less than $100 per QAM channel, compared with existing QAM devices on the market at roughly $200 per channel.

The chip also reduces operating expenses, the company claimed, by reducing power consumption by 75% compared with existing QAM solutions. TeraQAM uses about 0.2 watts per channel, versus about 1 watt for conventional QAMs.

“TeraQAM can create a disruption in the economics,” Faizullabhoy said. “In a very narrowcast environment, close to unicast, we can do it for less than 80% of the cost to deploy QAMs today.”

BroadLogic, whose other product family is focused on digital-to-analog video processing, boasts brand-name cable investors, including Cisco Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, along with venture-capital firms Rho Ventures and Levensohn Venture Partners.

The company would not disclose which QAM manufacturers it is working with on the chip. But Faizullabhoy pointed out that just a “small group” of companies is in the digital cable QAM market. He said he expects partners to announce their product plans within nine to 12 months.

QAM-device vendors include Motorola, Cisco, Harmonic, Arris, BigBand Networks and Vecima Networks.

More than a year ago, Harmonic outlined the concept of a “HectoQAM,” which would deliver the equivalent of 100 QAMs over a single port. Like BroadLogic's high-density chip, the HectoQAM would be designed to pave the way for a universe of unicast services. Harmonic at the time said such a product would be available in 2010 or 2011.

The BroadLogic TeraQAM chip is 1.4 inches by 1.4 inches, so four of them would fit on a single rack-unit blade. Each provides up to 32 QAMs per port, which is four times currently shipping eight-channel QAM devices.

That means TeraQAM could provide up to 128 QAMs on one board — able to handle more than 768 Megahertz of spectrum, said vice president of marketing Al Johnson.

QAM system equipment manufacturers today use field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), from vendors including Altera and Xilinx. But according to BroadLogic, the special-purpose TeraQAM provides far more cost efficiencies.

“We have packed 60 million transistors into a small piece of silicon,” Faizullabhoy said. “This will really deliver on the needs of the industry, not only today but going into the future.”

The BL85000 is sampling to early-access customers this month, and is scheduled for production quantities by the end of the year in 16- and 32-channel versions. The 16-channel version is priced at $500 for quantities of 1,000 units.

The company said the TeraQAM BL85000 chip is compliant with International Telecommunication Union standards for QAMs, including ITU-T J.83 Annexes A, B and C.

BroadLogic is based in San Jose, Calif., with a development facility located in Beijing, China.