Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Triple Play on CATV

Lt. Col. (Retd.) K.K. Sharma
Existing cable TV networks are a great asset to the nation providing a last mile broadband connectivity to 80 million households. The co-axial based last mile has the largest bandwidth carrying capability; more than 4 Gbps, next only to fiber optic cables. None of the other technologies like DSL, WiMax or Satellite can provide this capability.
Cable Operators have laid miles of fiber optic cables in their trunk lines feeding signals to their co-axial last mile networks. These fiber optic cables need to be extended closest to the homes to achieve FTTH in the future; which is the ultimate broadband connectivity available so far. As operators are expert in laying cables, collecting revenue and servicing the customers, these fine skills can be exploited by any Telco, MSO, ISP WiMax and HITS operator or the like to provide last mile connectivity and service. They can look after the backhaul arrangement, be it IPTV, VOIP, Internet or CATV
Two-way connectivity: This is perceived as the biggest drawback of our cable TV networks. In reality it is not so much of a road block because some new technologies and innovations can overcome this easily at a minimal cost. For example, return path can be achieved on existing networks using IP technology. It was definitely a problem in the pure co-ax networks of the earlier days but not so in HFC networks where we take the fiber as close to the home as possible. Technologies like Ethernet over cable, PON or Amplified PON can easily provide triple play on the existing Cable networks with minor modifications.
Customer End Equipment: Another hurdle in the way is the customer end equipment. Customers are not ready to buy a set-top-box which makes their connectivity to a broadband pipe a costly affair as well as requires some technical skill to handle. Now we have technologies like EPON or EOC that enable the customer to use the equipment that he already owns; it may be a TV set or a PC, using passive splitters that do not consume any power too.
Digitalisation of Cable TV Networks: The above mentioned techniques can also make the existing networks digital. We don’t need to establish digital headends at each and every cable operator’s control room. Even now there are about 6000 headends amongst about 60000 cable operators. HITS can reach every where but even that may not suffice to cover the whole nation as the investment on HITS equipment for a small network may not be viable. 
All digital headends provide both RF and IP outputs: Thus the headends can provide either Cable TV or IPTV feed to lastmile cable operators. We need to extend these feeds to the whole nation including the rural areas through the existing fiber optic networks of the organizations like Telcos, Railtel, GAIL, Power Grid etc networks. This will bring consolidation and economy of scale and will enable the existing last mile operators to survive and also provide employment to millions of people in their own villages. Leasing of such fiber optic cables for backhaul could be provided using funds like the USOF. 
Empowerment through Regulations: This is the most important issue because enabling regulations can bring the changes automatically, giving more opportunities to the entrepreneurs or business houses to invest in growth oriented projects. The delays in introducing regulations cause disappointment and the business atmosphere becomes dull. CAS is a very good example of how an essential technology can be stopped being implemented and growth process delayed. If it were introduced in 2003 when the law was enacted, we would have had at least 50% of the nation having digital cable TV in the last five years.
Considering a fierce competition from the DTH companies and the IPTV giants, MSOs and cable operators must gear up with new technologies and multiple services to retain their subscribers. They should carefully analyze the type of technology that will suit their network depending upon its size. They have to decide now if they wish to consolidate their networks themselves or want some one else to do after acquisition or JV. The Ball is in their court.


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