SureWest Says It's Ready to Roll With ADSL

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One of the biggest challenges to the recent launch of video-over-asymmetrical digital subscriber line in the Sacramento, Calif. area, according to provider SureWest Communications Inc., was determining the right mix of vendors to support the new delivery mode.

SureWest is a new overbuilder competing with Comcast Corp. for area households, but it has a long history of delivering service over copper wire — it is one of the oldest independent telephone companies in the state. It launched its challenge as a triple-play service seller two years ago, when it acquired the bankrupt Western Integrated Networks LLC.

WIN had begun building a fiber-to-the-home system in Sacramento. SureWest now serves former WIN customers with telephone, high-speed data and video channels.

After an extensive alpha test of video over copper, the telco launched the service to 6,000 homes in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville.

SureWest vice president and chief technology officer Bill DeMuth said 20,000 homes may be able to access the ADSL product by the middle of the year.

"With ADSL, you've got limited bandwidth. Everything has to work just right. If just one vendor has a chip problem, it appears as tiling," he said.

DeMuth said the artifacts were similar to the rain fade experienced by direct-broadcast satellite customers.

SureWest created an open-architecture system with middleware from Minerva Networks, Irdeto Access encryption gear and Kasenna MediaBase servers for video-on-demand capabilities. BigBand Networks Inc. enables the IP encapsulation and rate management, and the encoders are from Harmonic Inc. SureWest works with Occam Networks for the DSL carriage.

SureWest went to the United Kingdom for set-tops, which were needed because all channels delivered via ADSL are digital. DeMuth said the consumer hardware from Amino Communications Ltd. is small — about the size of a personal digital assistant.

SureWest will secure systems with the use of smart cards. Such technology is in use in the DBS industry, and the encryption on earlier generations in that industry has been compromised by hackers. DeMuth said he believes SureWest has used enough algorithms to deter all but the most determined hacker.

The ADSL rollout enables SureWest to offer 260 channels of video, full video-on-demand, high-speed data and telephony services.

But because of bandwidth constraints, SureWest can't deliver high-definition television or personal video recorders. Vendors are trying to determine whether there is a solution for the former, and the set-top vendor may find a way to incorporate PVR functionality into future product generations.

Of the basic video product, DeMuth said: "We don't intend to get into a price war. We will excel at customer service."

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