S-A Works Data Into VOD-Based Platform


Scientific-Atlanta Inc. is rolling out a new Prisma Internet-protocol multiservice system that will let cable operators use their video-on-demand transport technology for high-speed data services targeted to small and medium-sized businesses, with nominal upgrades.

Time Warner Cable in Charlotte, N.C., is one of the first systems to deploy the technology.

"They took the VOD platform and added to it," said S-A director of digital transport Bob Collmus. The MSO used Gigabit Ethernet technology to offer data services to businesses.

Basically, Time Warner is using the Prisma platform to implement a multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS)/resilient packet ring (RPR) architecture that will allow an operator to sell data and even voice services to commercial accounts.

"This network translates into a greatly advanced broadband experience for all businesses that rely on the Internet and data transport every day in the Charlotte market," said Time Warner director of commercial sales and service Fritz Ferrell in a statement. "It also allows current Road Runner business class subscribers to take advantage of a much more robust data communications network."

Added S-A vice president and general manager of emerging business Paul Connolly: "Adding LAN/data capabilities and backbone transport to an installed Prisma IP system does not require adding another layer of equipment and complexity."

Deployments drive interest

Part of the renewed interest in commercial services is driven by VOD deployments. Initial VOD deployments used applications service interface card outputs from services.

But as storage and streaming needs grew, operators began using Gigabit Ethernet transport, which created a much bigger pipe that operators could fill not only with VOD traffic, but data for business.

What's more, the peak time for business usage — weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — tends to be the least busy period for VOD use, and vice versa.

Resilient packet ring is a next-generation fiber-optic transmission standard being developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers that would bring packet-switching technology to older fiber-ring systems.

Focusing on the media access control layer, RPR allows network operators to use a variety of schemes — point-to-point, point-to-multipoint or multipoint-to-multipoint — to transmit different types of data, ranging from time-sensitive video and voice to Internet information.

RPR also can support older circuit traffic along with IP data, and it can layer in MPLS, a next-generation routing technology that offers data to be assigned priorities for transmission and assigns bandwidth limits, among other things.

S-A has developed its RPR technology with partner Luminous Networks, betting that most cable systems will want to head in the direction of networks that carry traffic for multiple services, rather than maintaining separate systems for voice, video and data.

Unified system

The Charlotte rollout is a big step toward this unified multiple service scheme for S-A, as cable operators try to create a more flexible way to mix voice, video and data traffic while using the total bandwidth of the network more efficiently.

"It basically says we are betting on the future success of operators," Connolly said.

Until now, when offering business services cablers have typically proffered either a lower-end cable modem or connections at much higher bandwidth levels, such as OC-12. The BroadLAN system being developed by S-A would allow operators to essentially create a mid-level business offering using the last-mile coax plant.

S-A's BroadLAN architecture can do this by carving out a channel in the low, relatively unused part of the cable-plant spectrum — typically between 5 and 15 Kilohertz — to transmit Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, voice-over-IP or older constant-bitrate voice traffic at a higher throughput than is offered by a typical cable-modem connection.

Not only does this open the network up for business services, but cable companies also would not have to make major network upgrades to support such traffic, Connolly said.

On the customer side, a low-cost device that borrows much of its electronics from S-A's existing Explorer line of set-top boxes gathers the voice, video and data. At the headend, a simplified cable-modem termination system unit with Layer 1 switching functions could route the constant bitrate traffic.

BroadLAN is expected to make its debut in the second quarter 2004.

S-A is also offering mapping software to help MSOs prioritize commercial customers. The software incorporates Dun and Bradstreet data to show "where the businesses are and what services they are buying," Connolly said.

"We can look at customers by node," he said, allowing them "to find the hot spots. The key is sorting the data."