Tiny Upconverters Foresee VODs Mature Future

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Broadband Innovations Inc. believes good things come in small packages.

The package in this case is BBI's "CATV Upconverter," a device that consumes 66 percent of the power and is about one-half the size of upconverters that are on the market today, the company claimed.

Regarding size, BBI-which competes in the upconverter market with the likes of Wavecom and Motorola Broadband Communications Sector-said between 16 and 20 of its Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification-compliant upconverter modules can be placed in a single headend chassis.

That's important, BBI president and CEO Steve Stuut said, because cable operators are currently facing a space crunch in their headends as new equipment is added to enable advanced services such as high-speed data, telephony and video-on-demand.

Although cable-headend real estate is already at a premium, Stuut said, BBI's upconverters will also address requirements that the industry will be confronted with in about two to five years: a "mature" VOD market with penetration levels approaching 50 percent.

Upconverters currently deployed won't do the jobs they'll need to do tomorrow, Stuut noted. VOD requires each subscriber to occupy a unique space on the frequency spectrum, he said.

Unlike computer chips, which are governed by "Moore's Law," upconverter density doesn't double every 18 months, Stuut said.

"VOD companies are certainly doing all of the digital work," he added. "Cable operators are looking to them to do it all, but [VOD vendors] may not have the expertise to achieve the scale they'll need for the upconverter portion."

One company that is tapping BBI's upconverter expertise is Scientific-Atlanta Inc., which just invested $6.8 million in the company and signed a deal to license its technology.

"We did a rough analysis of what a mature VOD market looked like," said Dean Rockwell, director and general manager of S-A's headend-systems division, He said the number of channels that would be required for such a massive service is "staggering."

When S-A ran through the number of channels-both in terms of QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) and the upconverters that would do the frequency-division multiplexing-"We started to realize that if we used existing technology, the sheer size and power-consumption levels will become a very big issue very, very quickly," Rockwell added.

While BBI's equipment is small, its power-consumption levels are an even more important factor, Rockwell said.

Because they generate minimal heat, BBI's upconverter modules "can be packed together much more densely," he said. "It's nice that they're small, but if you had to leave four inches between each one, it defeats the purpose."

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