The 2003 Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tech Expo was in many ways like a pair of sensible shoes.
What it might have lacked in terms of snazzy style or excitement generated by new innovation it made up for in offering cable's technical corps ideas and products to help them get down the road to new services.
The estimated 10,000 engineers and technicians attending the Expo here last week saw plenty of video-on-demand, HDTV, business services, network-control systems and network-transport technologies.
Giving cable operators a way to monitor the flow of video-on-demand traffic across their metro networks was the focus of a new product unveiled by Harmonic Inc. The NMX Digital Service Manager tracks VOD traffic in real time as it flows across IP networks and onto quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels into customers' homes. That replaces the largely manual system most cablers use to ensure VOD streams are firing across their networks.
"The goal of the product is to extract the customer from having to worry about the physical implementation on that network," said Buddy Snow, Harmonic's vice president of marketing for the company's convergent systems division. "All of a sudden the operator doesn't have to do any of those things."
Other VOD products included Concurrent Communications Corp.'s new Intelligent Asset Management System, aimed at sorting out video-content storage. The system rates content based on its popularity, funneling more frequently viewed titles closer to customers at edge storage locations, while less popular fare is directed to central video libraries for storage.
"You can still get the view to the subscriber that there is a lot of content, but not tie up the servers at key points," said Bruce Bradley, Concurrent's vice president of product management. "It's just like the video store — the most popular movies are up in the front of the store and there are 12 copies of them, while the less popular videos are in the shadows in the back."
One new entrant at SCTE is Fujitsu Network Communications Inc., which is now making a play in the cable metro fiber-network market. Fujitsu, which already claims a 56% share of the North American synchronous optical network (SONET) equipment market, has modified its Flashwave 4500 multiport switch to include an eight-port DVB-ASI card. That will allow MPEG-2 video to flow across SONET metro rings connecting primary headends and digital-video hubs. The unit also sports 10 Base T, Gigabit Ethernet, DS3, OC3 and OC12 ports for voice and data connections.
What drew Fujitsu's attention was the fact that MSOs are expected to spend between $375 million and $500 million yearly on SONET, dense wavelength division multiplexing and proprietary fiber systems, used in their metro networks to ship around VOD, broadcast video and data.
"The cable industry is a very obvious move for us," said John Stewart, senior director of marketing and corporate communications. "At the same time, cable companies are looking for various levels of convergence."
Motorola Inc.'s Broadband Communications Sector brought several video and network related products to the SCTE show floor, including its new DCT-6000 series HDTV set-top with optional hard drive and its SmartStream Interactive Cable System.
The Smart Stream is a combination encryptor, modulator and upconverter that can funnel MPEG-2 streams from a VOD server to subscribers. The unit, which is a quarter of the rack size of its predecessor, can supply up to eight quadrature amplitude modulation channels. It also can operate solely as either an encryptor, modulator or uplink device or any combination of the three in VOD, high-definition or standard definition TV deployments.