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Top 5 Tech Articles You Might Have Missed: Week of September 19

This week, the tech world has been abuzz about some major company shifts. On Monday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings publicly announced that the company will split into two separate businesses. Netflix plans to maintain its streaming video business model while spinning off its DVD rental service under the new name, Qwikster. Hewlett-Packard also appointed Meg Whitman as the company’s new CEO; with HP’s recent announcement to spin-off its PC business, many are speculating about coming strategic changes under Whitman’s leadership. On Thursday, Facebook announced potential partnerships with Hollywood studios, Hulu and possibly Netflix in the near future. How do you think these new deals and executive changes will impact the tech world?

In other news, Motorola plans on testing the highly-anticipated CCAP next year which will smooth out the transition to IP. Check out Motorola’s Jeff Walker’s conversation with Jeff Baumgartner of Light Reading, below, and Walker’s related blog post from last week.  Lastly, watch a few of our video posts from the last few days featuring Motorola Mobility executives and industry thought leader Shelly Palmer.  All are discussing key trends and issues presented at our Users’ Conference in San Diego this week.    

1. Netflix Apologizes to Customers & Rebrands Its DVD Service (Sept. 19) – By Ben Parr, Mashable: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has announced that Netflix will be splitting its DVD and streaming video businesses and rebranding the DVD division to win back the trust of its customers.

2. Whitman at H.P.? The Idea Distresses the Tech World (Sept. 21) – By David Streitfeld, The New York Times: As speculation swirled Wednesday that Meg Whitman might be brought in to save the troubled Hewlett-Packard, the tech world rendered a verdict: You have got to be kidding.

3. Moto Takes Long View on Cable Access (Sept. 23) – By Jeff Baumgartner, Light Reading: Motorola Mobility Inc. much-anticipated Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) product is on course for demonstrations, testing and lab events sometime in 2012.

4. Facebook seeks exec to cut deals with Hollywood, Hulu and, maybe, Netflix (Sept. 8 ) – By Jim O’Neill, FierceOnlineVideo:  The social networking giant will announce a platform that allows users to share what TV shows and movies they’re watching. What isn’t clear is just how much further the company will go.

5. Videos from the Motorola Mobility’s Users’ Conference – By Motorola Mobility, MediaExperiences 2 Go blog: Dan Moloney on convergence, Shelly Palmer on the two types of consumers or Joe Cozzolino on maximizing bandwidth.

Cable Looks to Double Down on DOCSIS Data Channels in 2012

Author: Jeff Walker, Director, CMTS Product Marketing

The days of cable operators dedicating only one channel to DOCSIS data traffic are behind us. In 2011, a typical MSO is using four to six 6MHz channels for subscriber data connections. In 2012, Motorola predicts that range will double, with operators using eight to twelve channels for DOCSIS traffic alone.

The change is a direct result of growing consumer demand for Internet services. Downstream traffic is skyrocketing at a rate of roughly 50 percent a year, thanks in large part to streaming video on the web. Upstream traffic is only growing at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually, but that could, and probably will change drastically as consumers adopt new video chat features through social networking platforms.

MSOs are raising their numbers of DOCSIS channels to handle both the overall increase in broadband capacity needed, and consumer demands for greater speed. Downstream channel bonding is now in widespread use across the country, and while many operators are only bonding two or three channels at a time today, that number will continue to grow in response to increasing speed requirements. Upstream channel bonding is not far behind.

So what does all of this data traffic mean for cable video? Cable operators are still reallocating spectrum that was formerly used for analog video, but it’s not all going over to DOCSIS delivery. Far from it. MSOs are using roughly eight channels for narrowcast video-on-demand streaming today, and in 2012 we’re seeing indications that operators will use anywhere from eight to 16 channels for VOD. That’s due in part to growing VOD catalogs, and in part to new experiments with network-based DVR delivery. In short, there’s growth happening in every direction, and it’s all fueled by insatiable consumer demand for entertainment and communication across multiple platforms.

Unleashing The Upstream

According to the law of diminishing returns, adding more of a variable factor against a constant will, at some point, lead to a reduction in output.

It’s Economics 101 and also a good way to describe cable networks and the challenges that service providers face in delivering a higher quality of service using existing infrastructure.

It’s a challenge that we at Motorola have been focusing on for a long time, namely how to improve network performance without significantly impacting a service provider’s bottom line. Today, at the ANGA Cable expo in Cologne – we’re proud to announce a new upstream data transmission record for existing EuroDOCSIS® 3.0 networks.

The record of 288 Mbps for a 5-65MHz return path was set by transmitting across eleven return path channels of which four channels employed 256 QAM modulation, using the low-noise, high-dynamic range found within the Motorola RX48 return path receiver operating within a Motorola BSR 64000 Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS).

By increasing the available return path channels to eleven from the standard two or three – we’ve demonstrated how service providers can deliver richer residential and business services without having to significantly upgrade their network which is both costly and time consuming. Motorola is unleashing every last bit and byte of capacity out of the existing network.
Getting more out of what you’ve already got? Now that’s smart business.

Predicting the Upstream

Cable’s upstream bandwidth capacity has gotten a lot of attention recently, and with good reason. There’s no imminent crisis for the industry, but even in the residential market, cable operators have to start planning now for demand increases over the next decade. On that point, Motorola Senior Manager of Systems Engineering Dean Stoneback recently presented a paper modeling out likely demand growth through 2020 and illustrating the supporting architecture required.

The graph above shows different network configurations and plots varying demand growth rates across a number of years. The bottom line in purple maps to a cable plant using the spectrum between 5 MHz and 42 MHz for upstream traffic with 250 households passed per node. At the lowest projected levels of 30% growth per year, the network runs into trouble right at about the decade mark. At the highest projected levels of 60% growth per year, that window of acceptable performance drops in half to about five years.

There are a lot of assumptions that go into the graph above that are difficult to detail in a blog post. (Not to mention highly technical for this forum.) However, for context, we can assume that in 2010 we are starting with peak upstream throughput per user of 5 Mbps, a 50% penetration level, 2% concurrency, and an initial node size of 500 homes passed. (See the Motorola bandwidth calculator for details on how these variables impact required capacity.) Over time, peak upstream demand is assumed to grow both because of higher-bandwidth applications and because of higher concurrency levels. To counter that, it’s assumed operators will continue to decrease node sizes in the coming years, bringing service group numbers down from 500 homes passed down to 250 or 125.

Whatever growth rate actually occurs in the next decade, it’s interesting to note that it took four to five years from development to deployment in the rollout of DOCSIS 3.0. That means cable operators need to start planning now for upgrades to address upstream capacity – even if the consumer use case takes several more years to prove itself out.

What Ever Happened to CMTS Silver?

When DOCSIS 3.0 certifications and qualifications kicked into full gear a couple years back, one of the big tests for CMTS companies was how they got rated in the CableLabs tiered qualification system. There were bronze, silver, and gold levels, and the key to achieving silver was to prove upstream channel bonding capabilities. Fast forward to today, and the grading system is virtually forgotten. Upstream channel bonding? The early deployments don’t amount to much. Turns out it wasn’t enough just to prove you could do it in a lab. The real-world environment has shown you have to have the right platform underneath the technology to bring any kind of value to the upstream equation.

Here’s where we are now. The original upstream channel bonding trials failed because the solutions used were based on ten-year-old DOCSIS 2.0 silicon technology. Only with a high-density CMTS card does channel bonding actually work. And for practical purposes, it’s got to come as part of an integrated CMTS architecture rather than a modular one. As one Motorolan put it to me yesterday, the BSR 64000 RX48 is the only integrated CMTS blade available that is capable of future proofing the HFC network for the next decade. It’s got the density required, and it’s ready for the hockey stick pattern of upstream demand that we’re likely to see in the next one to two years.

So what ever happened to the silver-level CMTS? It no longer matters. The real upstream channel bonding action is ahead in 2011.

Considerations for Your DOCSIS Return Path

Managing upstream bandwidth is a critical issue for cable operators today, yet it still carries quite a bit of confusion. Now that DOCSIS 3.0 is widely deployed, there are questions about whether analog return paths are sufficient for upstream traffic, or whether operators should be migrating to digital returns. Not surprisingly, the situation is a nuanced one. Certainly digital returns can create greater operational simplicity, and they have the potential to provide higher performance. However, performance rarely measures higher in actual deployments, and quite often, going digital doesn’t make economic sense. Worse, it’s quite possible that digital returns will have to be replaced at some point in the future when upstream spectrum is extended up to 85 MHz.

There are several considerations for operators looking at their DOCSIS return paths:

  1. Quality – Run an NPR (noise-to-power ratio) test to determine actual performance levels. (Instead of relying exclusively on BER tests)
  2. Ongoing OpEx – At what point will you recoup capital costs from increases in operational efficiency?
  3. Interoperability – If you’re adding new return path equipment, how flexible and open is it for interoperating with equipment from other vendors?
  4. Future-Proof – Will your return path equipment support frequencies up to 85 MHz?
  5. Other Upstream Solutions – Have you implemented other solutions for improving upstream bandwidth such as S-CDMA?

Often the primary obstacle to adding more channels and upgrading to higher modulations is an operator’s existing return path quality and alignment. Before DOCSIS 3.0 was widely deployed, these variables were less significant and could often go unnoticed. Now that the problems are more obvious, MSOs are looking for solutions. Migrating to a digital return path is a great move in some cases, but laser technology improvements have made analog returns an equally viable solution. Whether an operator chooses to go digital or not should depend on a careful examination of several factors.

New CableLabs Certifications

Here’s some Motorola modem news to round out the week. CableLabs just awarded certifications to two Motorola modems in Certification Wave 76. The Motorola SBV6240 digital voice modem received DOCSIS 3.0 and PacketCable 1.5 certification, and the SBV5222 voice modem came away with PacketCable 2.0 certification. This follows on the heels of last month’s D3 certification for the SB6121.

Speaking of modems, you might see the ad below in a Best Buy circular near you in the next week. Motorola’s D3 modems continue to be hot sellers on retail shelves.