Cable ops running low on bandwidth

Escalating demand for bandwidth-hungry services such as HDTV and online gaming is leading to a lack of capacity in cable operators’ networks, according to analysts.

Industry analyst ABI Research reckons that the collective attempts to solve this dilemma will account for some $80bn in investment worldwide over the next five years.

Some of the potential solutions already on the table include traffic shaping, which prioritises some applications and slows other, less latency dependent ones; and expanding the available spectrum beyond 750MHz. At present cable operators uses about 750MHz of spectrum, most of which is consumed in the downlink. But with more HD channels on the cards, they may need to invest in hardware capable of cracking the available spectrum up into the GHz and beyond range.

A number of other solutions will also come into play during the 2007-2012 forecast period, said ABI, including spectrum upgrades coupled with node-splitting, switched digital video, PON overlay, MPEG-4 compression, and home gateway bandwidth management solutions.

“Cable TV operators trying to satisfy the increasing bandwidth demands of HDTV customers feel very much like the thrifty grocer who tried to cram ten pounds of potatoes into a five-pound bag,” said ABI vice president and research director Stan Schatt. “The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a ‘dirty little industry secret’ that no one talks about.”

And it’s not just the cable ops facing up to the bandwidth crunch, the problem has been discussed slightly more openly in the DSL world.

Earlier this week, a number of UK ISPs raised concerns over the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer service, which allows viewers to watch TV shows over the internet. The internet providers are worried that delivering the service will put too much strain on their networks if it proves popular amongst the masses.

Not only could this seriously degrade the performance of the iPlayer service itself but it could also affect the internet speeds experienced by everyone else at peak times.

Network specialist Ciena warned that the underlying infrastructure will be the pivotal factor behind the successful delivery of any internet-based service. Ciena beleives that a flexible network is essential if operators are to make a go of multimedia applications such as iPlayer, IPTV and video conferencing. One way of doing this would be to migrate traditional TDM-based networks to Ethernet and IP architectures, where networks can more aptly carry any service from voice to broadcast.

Francois Locoh-Donou, vice president and general manager, EMEA at Ciena said, “By failing to adopt flexible network architectures, operators risk compromising their ability to meet customer needs which, at worst, will result in higher customer churn and a reduction in revenue. With a flexible architecture, network providers and enterprises avoid exceeding network capacity and encountering performance issues, enabling them to fully embrace convergence and deliver the technologies of tomorrow.”

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