Getting More Satellite Bang For Your Buck

Space is space. Whether you are trying to stuff clothes into a closet or programming onto a transponder, it always seems like you don't have enough room for everything. For all those extra pants and shirts you can't quite part with, there are services that will store them for a price. For content providers, there's Motorola Broadband and Scientific-Atlanta. Major players in the cable TV space, the companies have developed two different solutions with the same result: you get more bang for your satellite transponder buck.

According to Marty Stein, senior marketing director, Motorola Broadband Communications, his company's customers, i.e. content providers, had been looking for a way to squeeze more programming into their transponder spaces. That's when Motorola teamed up with N2 Broadband to create a joint solution to the spacing quandry. "This was customer-driven," said Stein. "Our customers were already working with N2 Broadband, because it had a solution for delivering this content from origination source to destination source and keeping track of what was sent. When they needed an efficient way of actually delivering the content over the satellite, they contacted us and asked us to work with N2 to try and make it more efficient than having to use a separate satellite carrier for their IP data."

What Motorola and N2 came up with is an integration of the latter's MediaPath digital asset management and delivery solution and Motorola's DigiCipher II uplink systems and DSR 4500X Integrated Receiver-Decoder (IRD) platform with built-in IP data port. It is targeted primarily at delivery of video-on-demand (VOD) and subscription-based video-on-demand (SVOD) services and allows the insertion of such data into the same stream of video programming that already exists on the satellite. In the past, N2 Broadband and Motorola customers either rented out space on a separate transponder or sent out a separate sidecar to carry another transport stream. Both methods are costly and inefficient: renting out space on a separate transponder is an added expense (especially if it's just for a separate data stream) and sending out a separate sidecar incurs the cost of setting up additional guards against adjacent carriers.

Scientific-Atlanta uses what it calls side-carrier technology to help its customers make the most efficient use of transponder space. The technique is implemented through the company's PowerVu line of content distribution products. Essentially, it "dual illuminates" an existing 36 MHz analog transponder with both an analog and digital carrier. The analog signal is limited to about 27 MHz with about 6-7 MHz of bandwidth for the digital carrier. "What we pioneered with side-carrier was possible because of the notion that your analog signal doesn't actually use the whole transponder. It sits in the middle and there's a bit of bandwidth on either side," said David Wheeler, senior director of Marketing, Media Networks for Scientific-Atlanta. "What we proved you could do was put up a small digital carrier in the same transponder, so you don't have to pay for any additional satellite capacity."

Most of Scientific-Atlanta's customers have used the side-carrier technique to deliver time-shifted programming, such as separate East coast/West coast primetime feeds without having to pay for space on another transponder. Users can also apply side-carrier technology to slowly migrate their C-band programming over to digital without losing analog customers. With the increasing footprint of digital on cable, more cable companies and program providers may realize the benefits of this particular application of the technologyÑit's already digital in a cable plant-friendly format. Although the Motorola/N2 Broadband solution is more tailored to added-value type programming such as VOD and the Scientific-Atlanta technology to getting digital and analog signals to share the same space, the end result is the same: for the same amount of money, you can pack more types of programming onto your transponder.

Sarah Stanfield is managing editor of DigitalTV.

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