From October 19th through 22nd, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) hosted Cable-Tec Expo 2010 in New Orleans. This event is the cable industry’s pre-eminent engineering show, and each year brings together decision makers, engineers, managers, field technicians and solutions providers in one setting.
The show itself is comprised of a number of events, including technical conferences and an exhibit hall, all generally focused on advancing cable technology to deliver tomorrow’s subscriber services. Even more-so than in years past, this iteration of the expo highlighted many sessions and vendors focusing on optimizing video and measuring subscriber quality.
Video is big, and is getting bigger – this is no surprise to anyone, and just last week we revealed to the world that Netflix alone accounts for more than 20% of peak period downstream Internet traffic in North America. Because of the growing demands that video puts on network resources (resolutions and bitrates are increasing, video has mass-market penetration, etc.), this growth comes with challenges that are being addressed by a number of companies.
Many companies are focusing on delivering the optimal experience for the smallest amount of bandwidth. Let’s say a video is encoded at 1 Mbps, but a subscriber’s Internet connection is downloading the video at 3 Mbps, with the excess being buffered. Suppose then, that the subscriber decides the video isn’t interesting and closes the viewing window. The extra 2 Mbps of content that was arriving in the background is wasted capacity, since it downloaded content that was never viewed. To address this inefficiency, one strategy is to use adaptive streaming where a stream is optimized to give enough capacity for the video to seamlessly arrive, but not so much that capacity is potentially wasted. The end result to the subscriber? No visual difference, and potentially a lower bill if the subscriber has a consumption-based billing plan (as is common in mobile networks).
Of course, providers are also very interested in ensuring their customers get the best possible quality, so many network operators are investing in solutions that provide quality metrics for sensitive applications like voice-over-IP and video. Once again, Cable-Tec is a great place for companies to highlight solutions in this space. Our own Network Analytics is an ideal product in this regard, since it allows service providers to monitor key performance indicators and project future trends. For example, the operations team can get advance notice if quality metrics are trending downwards and are projected to fall below acceptable levels.
Cable-Tec continues to be a very important show for the cable industry as a whole, and there is no doubt that subscribers are the primary beneficiaries of the innovations that result from industry peer show collaboration. Our best guess for next year’s show in Atlanta? Expect an even bigger focus on video and new subscriber services as network operators continue to leverage the capabilities of DOCSIS 3.0.