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The EBIF Footprint

Canoe marked an important commercial milestone last week with the launch of the first interactive TV ads in Comcast and Time Warner Cable markets. Although details are scarce, we do know that the potential footprint for these ads is pretty wide. As of last month, the public tally of EBIF set-tops from Motorola in Comcast systems alone was at 20 million.

So what kinds of interactive ads will users see on their EBIF set-tops? Early ads will focus on requests for more information, with Multichannel News reporting that there are plans for a campaign offering a free sample of chewing gum to respondents. Meanwhile, the EBIF spec got an update earlier this year ensuring other types of interactivity will start appearing in cable homes in the future including TV widgets, time-shifted applications, and addressability. It will be interesting to watch what pops up on the EBIF roadmap for the second half of 2010.

The NCTA and Tuning Adapters

We’re likely to hear more about tuning adapters in the coming months as cable operators ramp up their switched digital video rollouts. And there’s more proof today that those ramp-ups are far more than rumor. According to comments by the NCTA, five of the largest US cable companies are already deploying tuning adapters, meaning they’ve also already implemented SDV in their networks. And Jeff Baumgartner reiterates that Comcast has aggressive SDV plans for this year and 2011.

Cable’s resurgent interest in SDV is causing some controversy among providers of retail set-tops that use CableCARDs. The pool of subscribers with these retail CableCARD devices, however, is still relatively small. In contrast the additional bandwidth that operators stand to gain from SDV is significant, particularly in light of HD and upcoming 3D demands. It’s a trade-off cable companies are willing to make.

CableCARD, FireWire, and FCC Mandates

Regulatory oversight is a very important check in our government system of checks and balances. However, that doesn’t mean it always works. Two cable industry milestones in the last week illustrate this point vividly.

First, the NCTA reported that the largest US cablecos have now deployed more than 21 million set-tops with embedded CableCARDs. (via Light Reading Cable) Despite that fact, the FCC’s CableCARD mandate is widely considered a failure, and the agency is actively looking for potential alternatives. There is plenty of debate over why the CableCARD hasn’t been successful, but the biggest reason may be that it was just too hard to deploy the technology quickly enough to keep up with other advances in the market.

Example #2: Last week the FCC withdrew another mandate requiring cable operators to include a FireWire connector, or 1394 port, on all set-tops. The reason? Nobody uses FireWire. Industry veteran Leslie Ellis explains it very succinctly in a post over at Multichannel News. After pouring $400 million into 1394 deployments, cable operators have clear evidence that HDMI is the connector people really want.

Ask any cable engineer how many subscribers requested 1394, since the mandate. I did, back in March, of the CTO of a cable company with about 5 million subscribers. His answer? Five. (Five. Out of 5 million. In five years.)

There is a natural conclusion to be reached from these examples. Any further FCC mandates in the cable industry – think home gateway device – should be handed down with caution. The best intentions don’t always produce the best results.

Video in the Home Pushes Up Storage Needs

Parks Associates reported an interesting stat today on home video storage. According to a post on the firm’s blog, US broadband households will use almost one terabyte of storage for video at home by 2014. Sounds like a good argument for bigger DVR hard drives.

Verizon and Motorola Bring 1 Gbps Speeds to the Home

Verizon has announced today a successful test of its 10 Gigabit-per-second XG-PON system, which resulted in symmetrical residential broadband speeds of nearly 1 Gbps. The test used Motorola PON technology, including existing AXS2200 OLTs with both new chassis cards and new ONTs supporting 10GPON.

Here’s more from the press release.

At the customer’s home, the optical network terminal (ONT) received the 10/2.5 Gbps feed and used two data communication ports to simultaneously provide transmission speeds of close to 1Gpbs to each of two PCs inside the home. Combined, the two ports delivered approximately 1.85Gbps in aggregate bandwidth in each direction.

The press release goes on to illustrate the practical use of these speeds by saying that it would take someone “less than three minutes to download a  20 gigabyte, Blu-ray movie over a 1Gbps link… and a business customer using this service could backup data on an online server every night in just a few minutes, as opposed to hours.”

Motorola has a long history of supplying BPON and GPON technology to Verizon for its fiber-to-the-home services. For context, check out this post from 2007, which includes a timeline of Verizon/Motorola PON activities around the telecom company’s FiOS deployments. I’ve also posted another timeline below detailing Motorola’s ONT advances going back to 2001. Click to enlarge.

Please note: this post has been edited for accuracy since it originally appeared.

New Motorola Gateway at Best Buy

The Motorola SBG6580 snagged DOCSIS 3.0 certification last December, and a Mark of Excellence award in March. It’s also been a topic on user forums since January of this year. Now the cable modem gateway is available in retail, exclusively from Best Buy.

If you have cable Internet service, you have a choice of either leasing a modem from your cable company, or buying one outright from the store. The SBG6580 comes with several premium features including DOCSIS 3.0 compatibility (works with higher-speed D3 services), an 802.11N wireless access point, and a Gigabit Ethernet 4-port switch with an advanced firewall. The gateway, also known as the SURFboard eXtreme Wireless Cable Modem, also offers plug-and-play installation with Wi-Fi Pairing button for easy set-up. MSRP is $149.99.

3D Hastens MPEG-4

The added demands of 3D programming were bound to hasten the transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, and now Engadget HD is reporting that Comcast will rely solely on MPEG-4 to deliver 3D signals starting in August. At the moment, Comcast transmits ESPN’s 3D broadcasts in both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, but later this summer the MSO will drop the MPEG-2 stream and ask any 3D subscribers not using an MPEG-4 set-top to make the upgrade.

Meanwhile, Motorola encoder shipments suggest that more MPEG-4 broadcasts are on the way. In Q4 of 2009, shipments of MPEG-4 encoders outpaced shipments of the MPEG-2 variety. The MPEG-4 advantage means more content delivered and less bandwidth needed. It also means that DVRs can hold more video per gigabyte of space. Combined with growing hard drives sizes, this is a promising development for DVR households.

One final note – for those operators not ready to drop MPEG-2 just yet, it is possible to continue delivering frame-compatible 3D to older set-tops. Motorola set-top software even makes it possible to address challenges like closed captioning and program guide support, which otherwise can cause problems in frame-compatible transmissions.