Video Over Copper Gains Traction

Digital video compression - key to the success of telco TV services - is getting a big boost from Harmonic Inc. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based developer of broadband technology is offering both its MediaView MV50 encoder along with a new network adaptor based on the MediaNode MN20 multiplexer for this market. At the same time, Harmonic is teaming up with Innovatia, which serves both as the center for IP R&D and the telecom professional services arm of Aliant Inc.

Aliant - the Atlantic Canada-based telco consortium encompassing the provinces east of Quebec - has 3,000 customers watching its ADSL-based Vibevision service. Aliant is migrating to a Harmonic platform, replacing VDS5000 encoders provided by the now defunct Cisco-Pixstream. Other vendors in the Vibevision mix include Pace with its DSL4000, 3875 and 2875 set-top boxes, and Alcatel, with its 3dsl-based ATM switching fabric, modems and DSLAMs. The interactive TV component is fueled by iMagicTV network management software on a Sun server which handles everything from back office functionality to channel menu-ization and selection.

Accessing ADSL

Vibevision offers 111 channels along with 30 music and 32 local radio stations. The plan is to increase the video channel count to 153 by the end of the year, according to Kevin Hastings, chief architect for digital video broadcast services for Aliant Telecom in Saint John, NB, one of three cities where Vibevision is currently offered.

While much is said about the prospects for VDSL lately, ADSL remains an easy target for telcos large and small, not just in Europe, but in North America as well. A VDSL solution is championed by companies such as Next Level Communications which has recently inked a deal with the seventh largest telco in the U.S., Citizens Communications, a company that serves customers in 24 states.

"Thus far, we have seen the faster moving, smaller players side with ADSL," says Boston-based Yankee Group broadband industry analyst Ryan Jones who emphasizes that Qwest is still likely to continue as the premier telco TV service provider in the U.S. While the majority of the early movers selected ADSL because it was seen as readily available and a more economical solution, this perception may be slowly changing now with Next Level’s price reductions, according to Jones.

Harmonic is poised to propel video over copper in 6 Mbps loops into a dual channel mode with each of the two digital video channels to the home running at well under 2 Mbps, allowing ample room for high speed Internet services on the same loop.

"This is an extremely strategic move on our part. We now play in all the entertainment markets ranging from cable and satellite TV to telco," says Dr. Yaron Simler, president of the Convergent Systems Division at Harmonic. "We can recycle technology, and our customers benefit from this."

Home Defense

As cable companies continue to make slow but steady progress with respect to local phone services including VoIP and cable modems, telcos must face up to the fact that they must defend their territory, or else.

"Telcos are beginning to see a way to deliver two channels of high quality video to the home as part of a much broader bundle of services. This solution did not even exist two years ago," says Simler.

Aliant has been aggressively pursuing an integrated MPEG over IP over ATM solution. Among other things, the MV50 outputs 4:2:0 MPEG video at 0.5 to 15 Mbps and 4:2:2 at 1.5 to 50 Mbps. The IP encapsulation is handled by the MN20 which jets out an ATM-ready stream over an OC-3 pipe.

"We not only offer amazing video at a very low bit rate, but our front end connects directly to the home via the DSLAM without any intermediary piece. The emphasis here is on overall efficiency, and the ability to do more on existing infrastructure. VDSL is fine in densely populated metro areas, but it is also much more technically challenging while deployable in much shorter runs from the CO," Simler says.

"We view the ability to deliver two simultaneous high quality video channels to the home as a breakthrough," says Hastings. "We feed each broadcast channel as an IP multicast stream. Because the ADSL DSLAM serves as the customer gateway for both our Vibevision and high speed Internet services, the broadcast and Internet content is presented seamlessly to VibeVision customers."

"It is the same old sound bite. How long can the ILECs simply stand by as they watch their revenues erode?" asks Jones. "We are all watching to see if the telcos are going to finally embrace this."