New Data Tool Offers Gains In Cable Bandwidth Efficiency

Stephane Bourque, president & CEO, Incognito Software

Stephane Bourque, president & CEO, Incognito Software

July 12, 2012 – As cable operators wrestle with the vagaries of regulatory change and surging usage of broadband bandwidth one bright spot in the struggle is a new means of tying usage flows to specific services that could facilitate whatever approaches they take to bandwidth management.
The new idea, posited by service provisioning platform supplier Incognito Software, provides operators a way to leverage the massive amounts of data generated through their CMTSs (cable modem termination systems) via IPDR (Internet Protocol Data Record) systems. By combining the per-subscriber information on all services collected through Incognito’s Service Activation Center (SAC) with per-service flow data aggregated through an IPDR system supplied by Applied Broadband, Incognito is providing operators a means of continuous insight into exact usage patterns across all services by each subscriber, says Stephane Bourque, president and CEO of Incognito Software.

“Our customers will be able to gain total control over subscribers, services and bandwidth, as well as fine tune product offerings based on actionable service intelligence from the network, thus keeping them one step ahead of subscriber demands,” Bourque says.

Service providers have been looking for more efficient ways to gather such intelligence without adding network hardware, he notes. Even when they implement means to leverage data already collected by their CMTSs, the problem has always been the easy and immediate reconciliation between subscriber knowledge and usage profiles, he says.

There are many ways operators can put the new platform to use, Bourque adds. “This level of visibility and control opens the door for new revenue opportunities such as targeted product add-ons, usage chargeback and speed trials,” he says.

Incognito has branded its IPDR network intelligence reporting component “Bandwidth Activity Reporter.” We’re working as an OEM with Applied Broadband where IPDR data-normalizing products are well developed,” says Incognito CTO Chris Busch. “They are the IPDR service supplier behind over 4,000 CMTSs deployed worldwide.”

The combination of SACS, a centralized service management solution that automates the integration of provisioning with other back-office processes to accelerate service activation, with Bandwidth Activity Reporter provides operators a ready means to get to a very granular level of subscriber usage without investing in still another layer of back-office software, Busch notes. “SAC allows us to make the normalized IPDR data subscriber aware,” he says.

How to manage bandwidth in ways acceptable to regulators and customers has become a huge issue in cable, as reflected in Comcast’s recently announced decision to take a new approach that goes beyond its current data-cap policy. The MSO’s current policies were cited by unnamed sources in recent press reports that the Justice Department is looking into whether service providers’ practices square with fair-use policies.

Cathy Avgiris, executive vice president and general manager for communications and data services at Comcast Cable, says the company is testing two different approaches that go beyond simple data caps by allowing users to pay for bandwidth when they go over the caps, at, say, “$10 per 50 GB.” Writing in a blog posted in May, Avgiris says whichever approach the company adopts following initial market trials, the current 250 GB per-user cap on monthly usage will be raised to 300 GB.

Comcast’ conclusion that “now is the time to begin to move to a new plan… was only reinforced when, in recent weeks, some of the conversation around our new product introductions focused on our data usage threshold, rather than on the exciting opportunities we are offering our customers,” she says. While the trials of the new approaches are underway, the company is temporarily suspending data caps in non-trial markets, she adds, although “we will continue to contact the very small number of excessive users about their usage.”

In one approach, “we’d start with a 300 GB usage allotment for our Internet Essentials, Economy, and Performance Tiers, and then we would have increasing data allotments for each successive tier of high speed data service (e.g., Blast and Extreme). The very few customers who use more data at each tier can buy additional gigabytes in increments/blocks,” she explains. “The second new approach will increase our data usage thresholds for all tiers to 300 GB per month and also offer additional gigabytes in increments/blocks.

As explained by Busch, Incognito’s new usage measurement system will allow operators to precisely track how each user is consuming broadband bandwidth for each service, thereby getting a clear idea of how new things like TV Everywhere streaming are impacting consumption. Operator personnel, including customer service reps, can quickly drill down on per-service usage for any given subscriber through the platform’s portal, which the operator can set up internally or on Incognito’s cloud-based portal.

By tracking such information service providers and their customer relations management systems can reach out to individual users before they hit caps to advise them on alternative tiers, Busch notes. And by knowing which and how many users are consistently underutilizing bandwidth, operators can do a better job of projecting total bandwidth needs within each service area as they plan new tiers and services.

“You can look at usage within each service category so you know how much is being consumed for on-demand video versus PacketCable voice,” Busch says. “We can recognize the difference between basic Internet usage and usage over operator-managed services.”

This last point is especially significant for new multiscreen service strategies where companies like Comcast with its Xfinity service are setting guaranteed levels of performance for authenticated subscribers who access premium content on connected devices. While MSOs assert that such services are not delivered over the open Internet, OTT providers are lobbying regulators to look at disparities between what’s allowed for subscribers accessing broadband-delivered premium content and the caps set for everyone else.

By carefully tracking how open Internet usage is impacting bandwidth availability on a per-user basis, operators may be able to implement management and tiering policies that avoid potential regulatory conflicts, Busch says. “You need to know how much bandwidth is being used against all the things you’re selling,” he notes.