08.20.2007 11:02 AM
Cable faces bandwidth crisis

In light of escalating demand for high-definition television and other bandwidth-hungry services, cable television operators may run out of capacity on their networks, a new report predicts.

Several fixes are available to the cable operators and, according to the study by ABI Research in New York City, those solutions will collectively account for about $80 billion worldwide in new investment over the next five years.

“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,” said Stan Schatt, vice president and research director at ABI Research.

Some of the solutions cited in the study — including rate shaping and expanding spectrum beyond 750MHz — have already been undertaken by some cable operators, mostly in the United States. Other solutions expected to come into play between now and 2012, include spectrum upgrades coupled with node-splitting, switched digital video, PON overlay, MPEG-4 compression and home gateway bandwidth management solutions.

Each technology involves tradeoffs and balancing of cost versus benefit, and some are more applicable in certain circumstances than others, the study noted.

Ars Technica reported that cable providers now need close to 750MHz of spectrum to deliver services: about 676MHz for downstream applications like analog cable, digital cable, HD programming, video-on-demand, Internet data, and VoIP service. Upstream spectrum needs are much smaller, totaling about 54MHz.

That’s not enough for future growth, however. “Uploading bandwidth is going to have to increase,” Schatt told Ars Technica. “And the cable providers are going to get killed on bandwidth as HD programming becomes more commonplace.”

IPTV is the future, Schatt argued. ”Digital switching is key,” he said. “Ultimately, the cable companies will have to move to IPTV. They’ll be brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”

If cable providers are unwilling or unable to address the bandwidth crunch, their customers will begin to move to Verizon and AT&T, he suggested.

For more information on the ABI Research study, titled “Assessing CATV Bandwidth- Expansion Solutions,” visit www.abiresearch.com.

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