A start-up has hit the cable market with a system it says can better mix the voice, video and data traffic on cable's optical rainbow — and save operators a bundle in transport costs.
Optinel Systems Inc. is among a recent wave of companies offering bandwidth-optimizing technology to soup up cable systems. In contrast to competitors, who focus on the coaxial link from the customer to the headend, the Elkridge, Md.-based company is aiming for the metro fiber systems that link headends and hubs.
In that zone, cable networks must increasingly juggle multiple data protocols, ranging from old-fashioned Radio Frequency (RF) analog video, to Internet-protocol and Ethernet data protocols, to synchronous optical-network transmission (SONET) for voice and quadrature-amplitude modulation (QAM) for digital video.
To manage that herd, some cabler operators have decided to dedicate one light wavelength — or color — to each protocol. Others have opted to convert them all into digital baseband format, but that requires translating signals at one end and then restoring them to the native format at their destination.
Enter Optinel, which claims it has a system that can mix and transmit all types of traffic in its original form.
"One of the advantages that we have is you can actually put all of those services onto a single color, and they still remain distinct, with their own guaranteed capacity and unique format. But you are carrying it all on that one single wavelength," said cofounder and chief scientist Irl Duling. "It also helps with the scalability, because now you can fill out the capacity of every transmitter you have."
While Optinel guards information on exactly how its technology works, the system consists of a centralized distribution unit at a regional headend, network-interface units at the headends and an amplifier unit set between them.
The distribution-unit chassis holds up to 14 electronic line cards, and each card governs one transport protocol.
"You plug that in there, and that card is part of the aggregation system," Duling said. "There is one connection then that goes from those cards onto the transmitter."
Optinel aims its technology at three areas: multiple data transport into smaller headends; headend consolidation, to ship around digital and analog broadcast video; and high-bandwidth services, such as video-on-demand systems, in which efficiency is crucial.
The company's chassis can handle up to 180 gigabits per second of traffic, equivalent to 45,000 simultaneous video streams or 288 OC-12 data links.
The system also can boost optical transmission distance for a digital QAM signals from the standard 75 to 100 kilometers up to 300 km, "and we don't see that as a limit, by any means," Duling said.
"We are actually in field trials right now where we are shipping those over 200 (km)," added Optinel cofounder, chief technical officer and president Sandeep Vohra.
Vohra said Optinel doesn't throw out a fixed cost quote. Prices depend on the type of traffic a cabler wants to flow and how large its system is, he said.
For a typical video-headend consolidation, "we are better by a factor of four to eight, compared to competing solutions that have been around for a while," he said. "When it comes to VOD, depending on the number of streams that you are transporting and how many you are dropping off, we could be as low as $18 a stream up to $40 a stream, for example."
Optinel's system is still in the trial stage. It has three tests in the works — one now underway in the Northeast corridor, another set to start in July and a third set for August. Vohra believes the technology will find traction.
"We transport all of the necessary traffic in its native format, which therefore facilitates a true all-optical network for the cable industry, thereby reducing costs dramatically," Vohra said. "To our knowledge, no one is at the moment doing that."