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Imagine There’s More DTV

7/19/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Terry Cordova is trying to eliminate
some five dozen analog-TV channels
from Suddenlink Communications
lineups — without ruffling
subscribers’ feathers.

Cordova, the MSO’s senior vice
president and chief technology officer, is leading the charge on “Project
Imagine,” a capital-investment plan
through 2012 of about $350 million
beyond Suddenlink’s regular
spending.

Under the plan, Suddenlink is
moving to all-digital programming,
eliminating about 60 analog
feeds and handing out free digital
terminal adapters to customers.
The simple,
one-way
DTAs, manufactured
by China’s
Huawei, are
designed
to deliver
digital channels to analog TVs.

The result: Suddenlink will be
able to boost HD channel capacity
to as many as 200 in most areas
and expand video-on-demand and
digital phone service to 90% of subscribers.
On DOCSIS 3.0, Suddenlink
is actually ahead of schedule, with
the service currently available to
70% of the MSO’s 1.2 million video
subscribers. According to Cordova,
substantially all customers will be
able to order super-fast broadband
services by the end of 2011.

Cordova spoke last week with
Multichannel News technology editor
Todd Spangler.

MCN: Where are you on the DTA
project?

Terry Cordova:
We’re very much
square in the middle of our digital
conversion process in five of our
six regions. Our approach is very
similar to others. Initially, we’re
freeing up about 60 channels of expanded
basic, then leaving a 15- to
20-channel lifeline basic in analog
in place and we’re giving customers
however many DTAs they need.

We have deployed DTAs to 100,000
homes. You’ll get a household that
needs seven [DTAs], but most need
two or less. We wanted to be sure we
gave the customers something back
with DTAs, so those devices provide
a channel list, parental controls and
favorites — features they didn’t have
before on those TV sets.

MCN: Why not go 100% digital?

TC:
Those 60 or so channels will
provide the bandwidth to get to
maybe 100 HDs and adequate bandwidth
for DOCIS
3.0 and VOD. We
think that buys
us some time. Do
we think three to
five years out, we
will come back
to the lifeline basic? Perhaps. But
that gets to be an easier equation at
that point, as digital penetration increases.
It’s just not necessary right
now to eliminate lifeline [in analog].
We can avoid disrupting those
households.

MCN: Suddenlink plans to offer
TiVo DVRs later this year [see “Suddenlink
Turns to TiVo,” July 12, 2010,
page 3]. What are the big challenges
there?

TC:
We are planning on integrating
the TiVo device in both our Motorola
and Cisco controller platforms.
There are a number of activities related
to just getting ready from an
integration perspective — that’s
what we’ll be working on for the
next six months. It’s an example of
our interest in expanding the user
interface and providing our customers
with choice. That’s not to say
we won’t be looking at similar options
from other vendors.

MCN: Is maintaining multiple set-top
architectures going to be more
challenging?

TC:
Typically speaking, we have had
two control platforms: the Motorola
platform and the Cisco platform.
[TiVo] really gives us an opportunity
to bring in another option, another
interface we’re looking for. This is
not necessarily a Tru2way device,
where you can leverage more vendors,
but it certainly has a roadmap
to be a Tru2way device.

MCN: What does the future look
like for Tru2way?

TC:
Frankly, we think the future is
very bright for Tru2way. We’ll concentrate
our initial [interactive-TV]
platform on EBIF [CableLabs’ Enhanced
Binary Interchange Format
specification] for our [legacy]
MPEG-2 box footprint. That’s really
to support interactive advertising,
request for information capability
and audience measurement. But
conceptually, we think Tru2way is
the right approach.

MCN: What’s your timing on EBIF?

TC:
For us, EBIF is probably a little
bit farther down on the priority list
… I think we’ll start implementation
later this year and be well into
next year for wider rollout.

MCN: Suddenlink offers a 107-Mbps
Internet service in some markets,
billed as the fastest in the U.S. Is
that overkill today?

TC:
I can’t say it’s been overkill. Initially,
when we deployed 50 and 107
Mbps, it was about differentiation,
for sure, giving customers in those
markets the opportunity to subscribe
to faster speeds. What I am
confident about is that customers
are increasingly engaged in bandwidth-
intensive activities … like
watching HD video over the Internet.
It’s about the number of Internet
connected devices in the home.
We think that will accelerate the
need for faster connections.

MCN: Won’t higher speeds make
bandwidth management more
challenging?

TC:
That’s just something we do as
cable operators. We think about
utilization every single day. That
drives node segmentation. That
drives augmentation of our circuits
and connectivity to our backbone.
Certainly our customers are
finding that there’s a lot out there
on the Internet and they’re happy
with our 3.0 and standard Internet
products.


MCN: What is the biggest single
technology challenge for Suddenlink
right now?

TC:
I think it’s more that [all] MSOs,
the [Society for Cable Telecommunications
Engineers] and CableLabs
keep driving forward on a standard
approach to software and architecture
wherever we can on things
coming down the pike, including IP
video delivery to the home, media
gateways, whole-home DVR, EBIF
and possibly even the user interface.
The benefits of standardization
are significant, as we’ve seen
with DOCSIS.

 

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