Service Providers Archive


The Moment Has Arrived For Powerful Next-Gen UIs

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy, TiVo

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy, TiVo

TiVo, SeaChange and Other Vendors Respond to MVPDs’ Demand for Navigational Advantage

By Fred Dawson

September 19, 2016 – After watching next-generation UIs come and go over the past few years with little impact, a jaded observer might be inclined to dismiss the latest round of vendor displays at this month’s IBC Show in Amsterdam as another collective exercise in futility. But that would be a mistake, given how vital a compelling navigation experience has become to MVPDs in their battles to build viewership in the OTT-disrupted marketplace.

Moreover, in the latest iterations of UI templates on offer from TiVo, SeaChange and other vendors as well as the underlying support mechanisms for in-house UI development provided by a host of other entities, the navigational and rendering capabilities have reached unprecedented levels of functionality, often fueled by breakthroughs in the use of AI (artificial intelligence) with advanced analytics. Perhaps most important, while some solutions such as that of SeaChange are designed to work with legacy set-top boxes, the potential for widespread implementation of next-gen UIs has been solidified by the penetration of IP-capable STBs across the MVPD ecosystem.

Now the issue is no long whether there’s a real need or feasible way to implement these advanced interfaces. It’s which ones have what it takes to win over a gaggle of hard-to-please buyers.

SeaChange has entered the fray with a new UI it calls NitroX. “Our new generation NitroX products provide a ready-to-deploy multiscreen user experience that’s pre-integrated with SeaChange’s widely deployed Adrenalin multiscreen platform and Nucleus client software stack for rapid introduction of enhanced subscriber capabilities,” says Marek Kielczewski, SeaChange’s senior vice president of customer premises equipment software.

The UI functionalities have also been boosted through SeaChange’s recent acquisition of
DCC Labs, a Warsaw, Poland-based set-top and multiscreen device software developer and integrator, notes Tony Dolph, senior vice president of marketing at SeaChange. “This supports our intention to go farther into enabling personalized user experiences through a converged UI that can operate in virtually any device environment, from old set-top boxes to smartphones and 4K screens,” Dolph says.

Supporting multiple user profiles, NitroX’s presentation intelligence curates content options that are relevant to unique users and enables social discovery within an individual subscriber’s network, establishing a highly attractive and engaging cross-device experience, he adds. The UI lets subscribers move easily between devices, including maintaining individual bookmarks, favorites and recently-watched history, as well as providing access to catch-up and recorded TV from all devices.  Companion push-pull features between devices allow for new consumption modes, such as using one device for viewing, while simultaneously controlling the viewing experience on another.

Nobody is betting bigger on the central importance of advanced navigation than TiVo, which has leveraged its acquisitions of Rovi and Digitalsmiths to build a new UI from scratch, marking the first time it has done so in 20 years. “Our new UI is running on TiVo hardware, but it also runs on other service provider CPE with integrations on the backend,” says Paul Stathacopoulos, vice president of strategy at TiVo.

“The core of the Rovi acquisition is this is a company that’s phenomenally good at user designs and integrating pay TV with OTT,” Stathacopoulos says. “We’ve responded to the fact that our customers are all struggling with how to bring together multiple services in a consumer experience that’s contiguous across all device platforms.”

The urgency of that struggle is underscored by the results of a new TiVo-sponsored survey that queried 5,500 pay TV and OTT subscribers worldwide, including 2,500 in the U.S. and 500 each in the U.K., France, Germany, China, Japan and India. From an MVPD perspective, the most disturbing findings pertain to subscribers’ propensity to downgrade or cancel their subscriptions, especially in the U.S.

While, on average, 11 percent of all global respondents said they are extremely likely to downgrade and eight percent said they are extremely likely to cancel their pay-TV service in the next 6 months, the numbers for the U.S. were 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Mirroring results from other recent surveys, the TiVo study found that multiple points of access for OTT is now the norm with 58 percent of all respondents reporting they already pay for more than one subscription streaming video service and 45 percent reporting that they have more than one streaming media device in their home.

The opportunity MVPDs have to leverage advanced navigation as the key to keeping and adding subscribers was evident in some of the survey findings, including one metric that showed 37 percent of global viewers have stopped watching a show they previously enjoyed because it became too difficult to access the content. On average, survey respondents said they spend four hours daily watching or streaming video content and an additional 19 minutes per day searching for something to watch.

In the U.S. Millennials spend more than six hours per day watching content and another 32 minutes searching, the survey found. Across all countries surveyed, 53 percent of Millennials said they often get recommendations with their viewing. But Millennials and other age groups as well expect more, with 47 percent of all respondents agreeing that, for the amount they pay for video services, it should be easier to find what they watch.

The benefits of better discovery were also registered by the survey, which found that consumers across all age groups who were most satisfied with their search functions watch almost seven hours of content daily, which is 21 percent more than the average viewing time of respondents in the U.S. Viewing time, at 7.5 hours daily, was even higher among users most satisfied with their recommendation functions.

“Finding what you want to watch has become increasingly difficult with the growing number of video providers,” notes Margret Schmidt, chief design officer at TiVo. “This was the impetus for the design of the new TiVo UX.”

Conducting a demo of the new TiVo interface, Schmidt says the personalized experience “brings the content the viewer wants right up front faster through expanded discovery and predictions from their own cable subscription and the best online video sources. In short, we designed this UX so the viewer spends less time searching channel guides and opening apps and more time enjoying their favorite shows.”

As Schmidt notes, Rovi, with deep experience compiling metadata and designing EPGs for the MVPD and connected TV markets, and Digitalsmiths, a leading provider of analytics-supported recommendations and other content discovery functionalities, give TiVo a formidable arsenal to work with. TiVo, she adds, has also met another major requirement for the new MVPD UI by allowing every device to become a primary screen for video consumption.

Rovi’s portfolio of capabilities was built with the aid of a number of acquisitions of its own over the past few years, notably including  Veveo, which brought natural-language voice recognition to spoken-voice interfaces in Rovi customers’ products, and IntegralReach, supplier of a cloud-based predictive analytics platform that contributed to the Rovi Knowledge Graph, a repository of dynamic information on program titles, celebrity names, corporate brands, locations and other elements, including machine-generated metadata from 100,000 online sources as well as data manually compiled by Rovi editors.

As a result, TiVo’s new UX can tap contextual signals, such as current world news and trends, time, location and the consumer device, along with social media activity, to deliver cues that accurately anticipate a user’s interests relative to a specific time and place. With this deep understanding TiVo customers can convey semantic, highly relevant search results and recommendations to subscribers that accurately anticipate user intent and interests, as evidenced in what TiVo calls the “predictions” component of the UX.

“This is different from recommendations,” Schmidt says. “We look at a user’s actual viewing habits and predict the shows they most likely want to watch based on what’s available at that moment.”

The UX also populates user’s watch lists with information about episodes of programs they’re watching which they may have missed, letting them know where they might find those episodes either in their MVPD’s free VOD library or among OTT providers they have access to. “Unified discovery and seamless access to content removes some of these barriers for the consumer, improving engagement and resulting in real business benefits, including higher content consumption, increased subscriber retention and improved service value, especially for the Millennial generation,” Stathacopoulos says.


Tier 1 MSOs Tap Hosted Service To Offload STB Security Hassles

Doug Lowther, CEO, Irdeto

Doug Lowther, CEO, Irdeto

Operators Gain Flexibility in Choosing Next-Gen Products

By Fred Dawson

August 4, 2016 – In what amounts to lightning speed for an industry notoriously slow to adopt radical departures from the operational status quo, more than half the Tier 1 MSOs in North America have signed on to Irdeto’s set-top security management service to help expedite execution of next-gen set-top strategies.

The Irdeto Keys & Credentials service, which, as previously reported, went into operation with its first customers just two years ago, removes a big impediment to MSOs’ maneuverability, says Irdeto CEO Doug Lowther, “Keys & Credentials provides a very flexible security capability that’s used in the next-generation set-top boxes (STBs) of most of the large cable operators,” Lowther explains.

Given that no matter how far operators go in the direction of moving set-top functions to the cloud, chip-level security will remain essential to their business models, the challenge has been to achieve the flexibility in handling security that will allow them to play the OEM field as they look for cost-effective ways to accommodate new requirements in a rapidly evolving pay TV marketplace. The Irdeto service lets cable companies “evolve their services at Internet speed without each time coming back to a company like Irdeto to make software changes,” Lowther notes. “That’s very powerful, and that’s why it’s been so widely adopted.”

Five of six Tier 1s in North America are now using Keys & Credentials, according to Paul Ragland, vice president of sales at Irdeto. The company also has picked up its first European Tier 1 MSO for the service, which, like the other customers, has chosen to remain anonymous.

“We’ve seen 100 percent growth for the service over the past 12 months,” Ragland says.
Irdeto has secured and keyed over 16 million next-generation STBs.since the service launched, he adds. The scope of the work includes 25 different set-top models and provisioning of more than 22 million updates to deployed STBs in the field.

In a nutshell, the service, utilizing facilities in the U.S. and The Netherlands, integrates with third party workflows for the production, delivery or updating of decryption keys and other security assets. The solution is fully integrated with the operator’s supply chain, and enabling agreements are already in place with all major chip and set-top box manufacturers, the company says.

The Irdeto pitch is that by entrusting the company to manage and provision all security keys within the STB on their behalf, cable operators not only remove a heavy burden of complexity and cost; they also have complete control and independence in choosing security solutions and in adding new services to deployed devices for the lifetime of the platform.

Customers’ reluctance to publicly acknowledge engagement with the service is par for the course in today’s highly competitive climate, where MSOs hesitate to identify the solutions they choose at the cutting edge of operations out of fear of losing advantage against competitors. But one Keys & Credentials customer executive, speaking on background, affirmed the importance of the move to his company’s STB agenda.

“We need to own the keys for the control of the video, and for the box to control what is delivered on the STB,” this executive says. “As we looked around we found that Irdeto had the unique ability to provide us with that key provisioning and grow the service.”

Looking at what lies ahead as the MSO looks for best-of-breed solutions, he adds, “Each SoC (system-on-a-chip) in our population of set tops will require the secure placement of a key package on that SoC. Irdeto already had working relationships with the key SoC providers, STB manufacturers and CAS (conditional access system) vendors that we anticipated working with. The detailed skills required for this level of security practices are better handled by a company that focuses precisely in this area of expertise.”

Hosted management solutions touching on various aspects of the increasingly complex security requirements of high-value video services have emerged across the supplier ecosystem over the past couple of years. For example, Nagra, in a recently published white paper, alludes to the need for and its progress toward developing a cloud-hosted consolidated security management platform.

Last year Verimatrix introduced the globally interconnected Verspective Intelligence Center, a hosted service designed to help operators monitor and control threat activity and to reduce operational expense through proactive management of system status and performance. As explained by Verimatrix president Steve Oetegenn, the service helps operators meet the rigorous next-gen content protection requirements set by Hollywood studios through MovieLabs, including tracking of pirates through use of the company’s VideoMark forensic watermarking system.

“The video services and delivery landscape has become incredibly complex, and concerns about piracy and password sharing is growing,” says Glenn Hower, research analyst for Parks Associates. “Flexible content security solutions that can adapt to nearly any delivery environment will be key to protecting content while allowing delivery through different networks, services and devices.”

Irdeto’s Keys & Credentials has obviously hit a sweet spot in the growing demand for hosted security solutions in the pay TV market. “I think the reason for the success of Keys & Credentials is essentially that we’ve come up with a way of providing a robust level of security without locking in the customer,” Lowther says.

“Irdeto agreed to a neutral position in the U.S. conditional access market that made CA vendors comfortable with our services in a sensitive ecosystem,” he continues. “So we’ve essentially broken that coupling that made it necessary to have the suppliers do all the software upgrades for new services.”

As operators look to providing ironclad security in the unmanaged device space where modes of introducing roots of trust at the SoC level are already in play, they are likely to expand their utilization of Irdeto’s services, Lowther notes. “It’s not about securing pipes anymore,” he says. “It’s about securing the content from glass to glass, end to end. You have to have a level of capability across all the different security systems out there.”

Indeed, says the MSO executive quoted earlier, such requirements are very much on his company’s mind. “As we move to unmanaged devices, we will face similar needs, which we’re excited to explore with Irdeto,” he says.


Outlook Improves for Resolving Subscriber Home Wi-Fi Issues

Metin IsmailTaşkın, CTO, AirTies

Metin IsmailTaşkın, CTO, AirTies

NSPs Are Hopeful New Solution Can Impact Customer Satisfaction Levels

By Fred Dawson

July 13, 2016 – A new approach to sorting out causes for subscriber complaints relating to problems with Wi-Fi connectivity is gaining traction among leading service providers as a potential linchpin in their efforts to improve customer satisfaction.

The new Wi-Fi performance monitoring system introduced by AirTies at the recent INTX show in Boston is one of several new solutions vying for attention as remedies to a persistent and growing problem that is only going to get worse as wireless connectivity pervades the residential landscape.  Based on findings of a worldwide survey conducted by ARRIS last year, 63 percent of consumers have had issues with Wi-Fi at home. More anecdotally, service providers routinely report that more than half the calls to their customer service centers are Wi-Fi related.

“Broadband operators are at an important crossroad when it comes to ensuring the quality of the in-home experience,” says AirTies CEO Philippe Alcaras. “For many operators, the top customer care calls are Wi-Fi related. Yet operators are in the difficult position of having almost no visibility into the true network conditions throughout a subscriber’s home, particularly on unmanaged devices.”

Wi-Fi problems and associated hassles customers encounter dealing with call centers make it hard for network service providers to move the needle on customer satisfaction metrics, which have long ranked at the bottom in multi-industry surveys. For example, in the latest update to the multi-industry American Customer Satisfaction Index consumer surveys conducted under the auspices of the University of Michigan, the American Society for Quality and CFI Group, the ISP and subscription TV sectors rank lowest on a 100-point scale across 41 industries with ratings of 64 and 65, respectively, barely higher than the 63.9 points scored by the federal government.

As previously reported, AirTies, building on successes with Tier 1 service providers across Europe, recently opened offices in the U.S. in anticipation that the market is ready for a residential mesh-configured Wi-Fi networking solution capable of supporting multiple simultaneous sessions throughout the home involving everything from smartphones to big-screen TVs. With a growing list of customers in North America, AirTies is finding a welcoming response to its new Remote View monitoring platform, which is designed specifically for maintaining a high quality of experience on mesh-architected Wi-Fi networks.

“People who are testing or already into deployment of the AirTies mesh platform are now incorporating the Remote View monitoring system into their plans,” says a source close to the company, noting that in some cases the ability to achieve better visibility into the home Wi-Fi infrastructure is the primary spur to interest in the AirTies mesh solution. The ten or so trial participants include major Tier 1 operators who have not yet been announced as AirTies customers, this person adds.

Other vendors are tackling the Wi-Fi quality control issue, some focusing on out-of-home as well as in-home infrastructure. For example, Ericsson is rolling out an extension of its QoS monitoring and analytics suite designed specifically for keeping tabs on Wi-Fi performance in the home. Nokia (formerly Alcatel-Lucent) has long provided comprehensive monitoring of network elements, including in-home devices attached to the network via TR-069 and related protocols, as part of its Motive suite of quality assurance solutions.

But the QoS monitoring problem posed by traditional residential Wi-Fi systems is that access points (APs) lack the native intelligence required for performance monitoring, making it impossible to get a direct read from the APs as to what is going on. Consequently, performance monitoring solutions tied to traditional AP architectures must rely on information gathered from the primary gateway router, which is fine as long as the router-based AP is the only AP in the home.

Now, however, with multiple APs required to support expanded use of Wi-Fi networking to accommodate distribution of high-quality video to every room even in smaller households, AirTies is banking on the industry’s switch to mesh-based systems, which require intelligence at every AP to enable best-path selection for maximizing overall performance. This enables use of a more sophisticated monitoring system that can directly view every interaction between every device and every AP.

“AirTies’ Remote View collects data from every gateway, set-top box and AP that is connected to our technology,” says AirTies CTO Metin Ismail Taşkın. “All the data is uploaded to the cloud for analysis.” In the trials, operators are relying on the Remote View analytics engine running on AirTies’ servers, Taşkın adds, but in commercial deployments the analytics software will run on servers in customers’ datacenters or public clouds they are affiliated with.

While the Remote View platform only works with multiple APs on mesh Wi-Fi networks, it can be integrated with other vendors’ products for multiple AP monitoring in their mesh systems or for monitoring on gateways and set-tops with built-in APs that may serve as the only AP in the home or be linked to linearly connected APs, which would not be part of the AirTies monitoring system. “We’ve already integrated Remote View with the CPE used in the Sky Q service,” he notes.

Sky Q, the multiscreen service offered by Sky in the U.K., Germany, Austria and Italy, is deployed with AirTies’ support for the firm’s new Hybrid Mesh service, which incorporates Sky’s Powerline home networks into the holistically managed AirTies mesh environment to enable optimal use of any combination of wired and Wi-Fi hops to route packets. Now Remote View is incorporated to ensure comprehensive monitoring and data gathering from all points of interconnection in Sky Q homes, Taşkın says.

Other announced customers for AirTies’ mesh home networking technology include Vodafone, Singtel, Swisscom and Midco. Customers can deploy the Hybrid Mesh platform with Ethernet and MoCA as well as Powerline. To enable use of Remote View on third-party devices AirTies relies on its operator customers to instigate the integration, Taşkın notes.”If the gateway meets our specifications, we put software on the device and integrate with the device software from whoever makes the gateway,” he says.

The Remote View system consists of multiple software applications initially designed to support field technicians and network engineering teams’ ability to optimize and troubleshoot subscribers’ home Wi-Fi networks, he explains, noting additional applications will be announced in the months ahead. The system enables operators to identify Wi-Fi installation issues, determine if coverage problems exist and whether additional APs are required in a home.

And it helps operators address other key issues that have been hard to deal with, Taşkın adds. For example, through a dashboard that provides real-time and historical data on active Wi-Fi connections, traffic and throughput, operators can examine connection rates of wireless APs and third-party devices; the distribution of 802.11g, 802.11n or 802.11ac clients; the speed capability and distribution of client brands (i.e. phone or tablet models) in use within the home; band connection durations of all clients, and air-time consumption of each device.

One of the most common causes of customer complains occurs when dual-band devices equipped to connect to either 5GHz or 2.4GHz spectrum tiers, fail to choose the higher level and therefore end up registering lower bandwidth speeds than customers expect. Enabling a customer service rep to immediately identify poor client steering in the dual-band environment as the problem can be critical to maintaining customer satisfaction, Taşkın notes.

Another area of performance monitoring that is vital to satisfactory customer care has emerged with the prevalence of so-called “neighborhood hotspots,” which are dual-use hot spots positioned in the home with partitioning of available bandwidth to support public access outside the home. While such partitioning works and provides the bandwidth promised to the home subscriber, problems can occur when an outside user is accessing the hotspot from the fringes of the coverage area, resulting in a disproportionate allocation of signal power to reach the distant device and depriving the AP of enough power to adequately serve in-home devices.

“There’s a real danger with neighborhood hotspots in this regard resulting from how TDMA (time division multiple access) signaling works,” Taşkın says. Because TDMA assigns time slots to each device, a ‘bad apple’ device connecting outside will take up more time on the TDMA link as the system waits for the device to keep trying until it works on an assigned timeslot, forcing devices in the home to wait for timeslots.

“You can do better with multiple APs in the home operating on our mesh architecture, but you’ll still need to know what’s going on with devices outside the home,” he says. “Remote View can also aggregate data to allow you to look at how your Wi-Fi installations are performing across a whole neighborhood or larger residential groupings.”

Since all data is provided by AirTies’ intelligent in-home network of APs, there is no need to download any client-side software on subscribers’ personal devices, Taşkın notes. The system only provides data and analysis of in-home network connections, and does not monitor browser-level data about site visits. By default, the software requires subscribers to grant permission to enable monitoring capabilities within their homes.


Reaching 10 Gig over Coax: Is It Really the Way to Go?

Robert Howald, VP, network architecture, Comcast

Robert Howald, VP, network architecture, Comcast

Nokia Breakthrough Maps with CableLabs’ FDX Initiative

By Fred Dawson

With Nokia Bell Labs’ recent demonstration that full duplex 10 gigabit-per-second DOCSIS 3.1 service is technically feasible the onus is on cable operators to let vendors know whether commercialization of the capability is worth their while.

Or, put another way, the question is whether MSOs want to continue relying on coaxial cable in scenarios where a service supporting bi-directional throughput at 10 Gbps makes sense, given that such a service can only be delivered over coax links with no in-line amplifiers, which is to say, with implementation of Fiber Deep architecture. In light of advancements associated with passive optical networking (PON) technology and the long-term commitment to coax entailed in pursuing Fiber Deep strategies, the question represents a key crossroad in cable network migration strategies.

Nokia, like other vendors, is looking for clarity on the issue before it invests in next steps to productize the apparatus it’s been using in tests at Bell Labs facilities.“We’re looking forward to going beyond the research prototype phase,” says Jay Fausch, who heads Nokia’s cable segment marketing team. “But it’s a big decision in terms of investment and resources.”

Nokia’s achievement, unveiled at the INTX Show in May, comes amid an accelerating push to gigabit broadband here and abroad as cable operators using DOCSIS 3.1 and PON technologies battle competitors like Google, AT&T and Verizon that are pushing fiber to the premises and others that are using the recently standardized DSL technology to reach gigabit speeds. Gigabit broadband is now available in dozens of cities and towns across the country, with many more to be added before the year is out.

At the cutting edge of these efforts, some providers are beginning to test asymmetric 10 Gbps access technologies. Verizon, for example, which currently offers FiOS connections commercially at up to 500 Mbps, last year field tested NG (Next-Generation)-PON2 technology using Cisco and PT Inovação equipment to support a 10 Gbps downstream/2.5 Gbps upstream connection to residential and business customers in Framingham, Mass. In Germany, cable operator Unitymedia says it is preparing to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 in 2018 with an asymmetric service that tops out at 10 Gbps downstream.

Comcast, which this year is launching DOCSIS 3.1 supporting 1 Gbps downstream/35 Mbps upstream service in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami at a monthly no-contract price of $139.95, has also introduced an all-fiber service, Gigabit Pro, that supports symmetrical throughput at 2 Gbps. Gigabit Pro is available to about 18 million households that are in close enough proximity to HFC nodes to enable fiber extensions to premises at a monthly price of $300, plus $1,000 in installation and activation fees, exclusive of promotional offers that cut costs by about 50 percent.

Comcast’s commercial services unit also offers multi-gigabit Ethernet service over fiber at up to 10 Gbps, Other MSOs are offering gigabit Ethernet commercial services, and some have announced plans to introduce DOCSIS 3.1 at up to 1 Gbps in 2017 and beyond. But, when it comes to DOCSIS 3.1 over HFC plant, no one has announced any plans for a full-duplex 10 Gbps service, although Comcast has given the Nokia initiative a hearty thumbs up.

“While it is still early in the development of full duplex, Nokia’s XG Cable proof of concept shows that multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds over HFC, as targeted in the CableLabs FDX (Full Duplex) initiative, are achievable,” says Dr. Robert Howald, Comcast Cable’s vice president of network architecture. “As we continue our DOCSIS 3.1 deployments this year, this development further illustrates the power and flexibility of the DOCSIS 3.1 as a tool to deliver next-generation broadband performance.”

As described by Keith Chow, project lead for XG technology at Nokia, the Bell Labs test was only able to hit 10-gig FDX over a point-to-point coaxial link measuring 100 meters. In a typical node-based HFC array with no in-line amplifiers beyond the node, his team achieved FDX at 7.5 Gbps over 200 meters.

“We expect with farther refinements we’ll be able to do full duplex at 10 Gbps at up to 200 meters,” Chow says. Based on single-home density averages in North America, this would translate to serving anywhere from 128 to 256 households, he notes.

Enabling 10 Gbps FDX over DOCSIS 3.1 starts with utilization of the full 1.2 GHz of spectrum available over coax at these distances for both downstream and upstream signals. Along with elimination of in-line amplifiers this requires use of the time division duplex (TDD) techniques used in Wi-Fi and DSL communications to break up the signals for assignment into time slots dedicated to either the downstream or upstream path. But “the physics is difficult,” Chow says, noting there are significant “echo cancellation and vectoring issues.”

One challenge has to do with the echo or near-end cross-talk between the upstream and downstream signals generated at the cable modem or the CMTS (cable modem termination system). “If the echo is louder than the channel, the receiver gets nothing,” Chow says. “In the DSL world we know how to estimate cross talk based on the noise level in comparison to the loss budget on the link. We remove the echo with digital processing at the receiver.”

Another major issue is “interference from neighboring modems sharing the same splitter or tap,” he adds. “It’s a similar echo problem, but very difficult to cancel because any given modem doesn’t know when its neighbors are transmitting. So we have to solve the problem with intelligence at the node.”

Based on knowledge of the topology of the cable plant and the interference patterns created by various combinations of activity among neighboring modems, Nokia runs algorithms that optimize modem transmission sequences in real time to prevent interference, he explains. Presently, Bell Labs is using outsized components to support these processes in Fiber Deep HFC configurations that conform to CableLabs specifications, but Nokia is confident it can attain these performance parameters with its software running on commercially viable components.

So far, MSOs’ interest in FDX over DOCSIS 3.1 has been sufficient to prompt CableLabs’ exploration of solutions along the lines pursued by Nokia, which means Nokia’s XG-Cable should easily integrate with the CableLabs FDX recommendations once they are worked out. In a recent blog, Belal Hamzeh, CableLabs’ vice president for wireless R&D, and Dan Rice, senior vice president of R&D, said CableLabs has independently verified the viability of using a combination of passive HFC and the self-interference cancellation and intelligent scheduling of DOCSIS 3.1 technology to achieve FDX. “These developments are expected to yield DOCSIS 3.1 network performance of up to 10 Gbps symmetrical on 1 GHz HFC networks, with the potential for even higher performance by utilizing spectrum that is currently available for future expansion above 1 GHz,” they said.

“Our design and analysis shows that the existing Physical and MAC (media access control) layer protocols in DOCSIS 3.1 technology can largely support this new symmetric service,” they added. “The evolution to a DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex network is an incremental evolution of DOCSIS 3.1 technology and will support both backward compatibility and coexistence with previous generations of DOCSIS network deployments.”

CableLabs is working with a team consisting of engineers from member operators and vendors to help mature the technology. If all signs remain positive, Hamzen and Rice wrote, “the project will transition from an innovation effort into an R&D project, open to all interested participants.”

That’s good news in light of the an in-depth comparison between HFC and all-fiber approaches to meeting emerging bandwidth challenges made by Phil Miguelez, Comcast’s executive director of network architecture, in a paper presented at the INTX show. While migration to Fiber Deep architecture, a prerequisite to enabling 10 Gbps FDX over DOCSIS 3.1, is fraught with challenges, Miguelez made clear that it appears to be cable’s best option over other HFC and fiber migration paths as operators weigh responses to the market pressures emerging in the years ahead.

While Miguelez made only passing mention of 10 Gig FDX, he left no doubt as to where Comcast stands on the need to find a way to ever higher speeds beyond 1 Gbps. “The market landscape is now filled with large and small competitors offering gigabit speed service and threatening to overtake the HFC cable space,” he said. “While it’s true that the only immediate application for gigabit data rates today is the speed test, history has shown that new applications seem to always appear once the network BW (bandwidth) is available to support them.”

On the legacy pay TV side, demand for ever more channels targeting ethnic and special interest communities in densely populated areas has squeezed the space available for broadband bandwidth expansion, he noted. The expansion of service areas with wider spacing of amplifiers in rural areas has had a similar effect. Meanwhile, with growing consumption of video over broadband, per-home device counts are multiplying rapidly, greatly adding to the pressure for more broadband bandwidth.

“A few years ago the network assumption was 3 to 5 devices on average and 5 to 7 devices in a high end user home,” Miguelez wrote. “Today those numbers have jumped to an average of 5 to 7 connected devices per home and 10 to 12 for a high end subscriber.”

Moreover, he added, “Another pending driver is the Internet of Things (IoT). The number of Internet connected devices is exploding.”

No one is suggesting there’s an immediate demand for 10 Gig FDX, but cable operators need a path to get there, especially in light of the relative ease with which telcos currently relying on GPON (Gigabit PON) infrastructure will be able to move to 10 Gig speeds when the need arises. “The cost of 10 Gb optics while higher than today’s 2.5 Gb un-cooled optics are quickly decreasing based on growing volumes in North America and China,” Miguelez noted.

“The Telco market is beginning to feel the pressure from emerging 10G EPON competitors,” he continued. “FSAN (Full Service Access Network), the ITU standards organization that defined the GPON protocols, has recently initiated a new XGS PON spec that is compatible with 10G EPON optics. Before long current GPON competitors will be raising the bar with 10 Gb service offerings.”

DOCSIS 3.1 deployed on Fiber Deep architecture expands coax spectrum to 1.2 GHz, enabling operators to provide “the same DS (downstream) data capacity as 10 Gb PON,” Miguelez said. But, he added, “Fiber Deep architecture is not without challenges.

“Node + 0 (no in-line amplifiers) increases the complexity due to the changes that need to be made to the actual HFC plant configuration. Fiber Deep relies on new technology developments in order to be a successful and practical architecture.”

One major consideration is the number of nodes that must be added. “Depending on the homes passed density of the target system the number of new nodes required can range from10:1 to as high as 16:1 compared to the existing N+X cascade design,” he said. There “are very few Hubs with the space, power, and HVAC (high voltage alternating current) capability to accommodate the growth in equipment associated with this significant increase in nodes.”

While, under current technological conditions, the expanded Fiber Deep node count would incur prohibitive costs tied to obtaining real estate and paying for construction of new hubs, Miguelez expressed confidence that new distributed access architecture (DAA) solutions now under evaluation will cut hub density by disaggregating and distributing network elements and some CCAP (Cable Converged Access Platform) management functions to the nodes. “These solutions could be available in the market starting the second half of 2017,” he noted, adding, “Other development efforts such as all IP transport and SDN/NFV (software defined network/network function virtualization) will further reduce the current equipment density in the Hub and could allow the eventual consolidation of secondary Hubs into a master headend.”

And while the shift to 1.2 GHz of spectrum over coax enabled by Fiber Deep “requires modifications to every aspect of the network,” including distribution taps and passive components, the housing used with the current generation of 1 GHz taps is compatible with the 1.2 GHz faceplates, allowing installers to change out faceplates without changing the housing. “The ability to change the faceplate instead of cutting out and replacing the entire tap housing amounts to a considerable construction cost savings,” he said.

In addition, the new faceplates are equipped with better surge resistance, which adds a cost-saving element to the change out. “Every major tap manufacturer has followed this same guideline and plans to obsolete and replace the current 1 GHz devices with 1.2 GHz standard product later this year,” he added.

Another major technical advance facilitating Fiber Deep is the emergence of hybrid gain blocks supporting node output gains and linear extension of “tilt,” a measure of frequency-related loss variations on the coax and passives that increases with the expansion to 1.2 GHz. “[A]fter a year and a half of development effort two major device suppliers succeeded in creating qualified hybrid gain blocks that are now commercially available,” Miguelez said. “This accomplishment was only possible as a result of working in close partnership with multiple node design teams to solve technical hurdles related to power consumption and thermal capacity limitations of the node housing and cable plant powering.”

It appears another big problem, powering multiple new nodes without adding power sources, has been solved as well. “There are many degrees of freedom when designing and implementing access network architecture changes,” Miguelez said. “Changing the power grid is not one of them….Therefore, for everything except new greenfield construction, any new equipment deployments must safely fit within the margins of the existing AC power capacity design limits.”

One part of the solution has to do with lowering power consumption in new node designs. Another entails transmitting power from existing sources to multiple nodes over the coax, “In order to power the relocated nodes, coax feeder lines are added between the PS (power source) and closest node(s),” he said. “AC power is also fed from node to node by bridging the access coax tap strings between adjacent nodes.”

Yet for all the solutions Miguelez identified for making Fiber Deep a practical option with lower total cost than running fiber to every customer, the question remains whether ongoing reliance on coax will make sense in the long run. After all, it’s likely even more spectrum will be needed eventually, necessitating even deeper fiber extensions to make more spectrum available over shorter coax runs.

There’s no doubt there is much spectrum left to use with farther configuration adjustments, as ARRIS demonstrated at last year’s CableLabs Summer Conference in Keystone, Colo. Tom Cloonan, CTO of Arris’s Cloud & Network Solutions unit, and his team used 6 GHz of coax spectrum to show the potential for 50 Gbps throughput with a fiber-to-the-tap or –curb architecture. And they extrapolated from the demo that, if they could shorten the coax to where 12 GHz was possible, they could hit 100 Gbps, or maybe they could even get to 200 Gbps with 25 GHz of spectrum.

But at what point do the ongoing maintenance costs of HFC plant combined with the costs of ever deeper fiber migration add up to more than MSOs would incur by moving to PON sooner than later? Once in place, PON would allow for lower maintenance costs and ongoing upgrades to higher speeds with simple component replacements in existing housing.

As Miguelez acknowledged, Fiber Deep can be seen as postponing but not necessarily eliminating the need to move to PON. “A target node size of 128 HHP (households passed) delivers the same data rates as a 10G EPON port and positions the network for a future transition to PON when needed,” he said.

Will PON prove at some point to be a better option than further shortening of coax? If so, the demand for 10 gig FDX over DOCSIS 3.1 that Nokia is looking for to drive farther development may turn out to be less than enthusiastic as operators weigh the cost tradeoffs of going to Fiber Deep before moving to PON versus avoiding the interim step by biting the PON bullet whenever delivering 1 Gig over DOCSIS 3.1 is no longer adequate to meeting the competitive imperatives.


New Cable Video Edge Trials Target All-IP Ops & New Business Models

Charlie Vogt, CEO, Imagine Communications

Charlie Vogt, CEO, Imagine Communications

Tier 1 Operators Explore Transformative Potential of Imagine’s Selenio VDE Platform

By Fred Dawson

May 20, 2016 – Several unnamed Tier 1 cable MSOs are engaged in trials of an Imagine Communications edge platform that could add momentum to the emergence of a global CDN infrastructure optimized for new business models in the premium video marketplace.

The concept pursued in the Imagine trials, which was articulated a year ago in a joint presentation by Comcast and Imagine at the INTX conference in Chicago, involves use of the technological mechanisms undergirding Internet streaming to support migration to a single IP pay TV infrastructure while sustaining QAM distribution of TV services to legacy set-top boxes. As embodied in Imagine’s Selenio Video Delivery Edge (VDE) platform, the strategy opens opportunities for new business arrangements with content providers and advertisers as well as a path to faster service innovation by eliminating the need for purpose-built headend hardware components such as encoders, DPI (digital program insertion) splicers and statistical multiplexers.

“We went to the largest MSOs and said here’s how we can make your life easier,” says Imagine CEO Charlie Vogt. “What we’re doing lends itself into the unification we’re bringing to the broadcast and network service provider markets. By making video distribution much more seamless and easier to manage for service providers we’re also making it possible for broadcasters to find an accelerated path to delivering their content directly to consumers.”

As previously reported, a global movement involving various types of vendor collaborations with network service providers and CDN operators has raised the prospects for broadcasters who want to create revenue-generating direct-to-consumer (DTC) business models that depend on robust quality of performance over the open Internet. Imagine has taken this a step farther by developing a platform that also aims to eliminate major pain points for service providers’ migrations to all-IP pay TV services.

Fundamentally, the Selenio VDE platform leverages the capabilities of HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)-based ABR (adaptive bitrate) technology in ways that eliminate the need to maintain a separate processing and delivery infrastructure for the legacy pay TV service. “The goal is universal distribution,” says Imagine CTO Steve Reynolds. “We’re responding to the need for one infrastructure that can deliver to all end points whether legacy set-tops, Roku-type devices or basic IP end points.”

The Imagine platform makes it possible to stream all premium video utilizing the mechanisms of the new MPEG DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) standard or Apple’s HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) protocol to edge points. With a single transcoding system at the core, each channel or on-demand file is encoded to multiple bitrates conforming to resolution parameters of multiple device types and streamed to edge points, which is to say local headends and hubs, where an ABR packager, supplied by Imagine or another vendor using open interfaces, performs just-in-time manifest manipulations to manage bitrate selection and execute applications tailored for each client.

One of those clients is the co-located VDE HTTP-to-UDP (User Datagram Protocol) gateway, which supports legacy QAM-based pay TV distribution by converting streams from the packager to the UDP/IP-over-MPEG-2 TS (Transport Stream) mode now supported by the vast majority of set-tops. By relying on software-defined uses of commodity datacenter hardware at all locations, the new VDE-enabled approach breaks with today’s bifurcated operations model, where operators have continued using purpose-built components to deliver pay TV programming to legacy MPEG-2 set-tops.

As noted in the paper presented at INTX 2015 by Weidong Mao, senior fellow for technology and products at Comcast, and David Brouda, director of solution architecture at Imagine, the current approach not only prevents convergence of all the master headend video processes onto the more scalable, flexible and cost-effective COTS (commodity off-the-shelf) appliance-based IP processing platform. It also sustains reliance on encapsulation of MPEG-2 TS in UDP at the core with utilization of IP multicasting to enable point-to-multipoint distribution of the content to edge points, which is becoming an increasingly complex and costly mode of distribution.

One area of complication has to do with the difficulties of managing IP multicast streams over UDP from the core with security mechanisms that allow administrators to prevent those streams from traversing network segments where there’s a risk of congestion or other problems. This is made more difficult by the fact that operators have to maintain redundant multicast paths to ensure reception mechanisms at the edge QAMs have alternative options to choose from when there are disruptions to smooth flows on the primary paths.

In addition, operators want to capitalize on the bandwidth-conserving capabilities of H.264 compression, which is now widely supported by set-tops deployed over the past few years.

But H.264, with greater processing complexity than MPEG-2, poses problems for the statistical multiplexing process operators use to maximize bandwidth efficiency when they pack multiple program streams into a QAM channel. Similarly, it’s harder to splice ads using traditional DPI technology with the H.264 streams.

The Imagine VDE solution is designed to overcome all these problems. Rather than continuing to rely on conversion of the incoming TV signals to UDP at the master headend for IP delivery over the Ethernet backbones, operators deploying the VDE solution can now feed the linear streams destined for legacy set-tops into the core transcoding system used with ABR distribution to the edge points.

Moreover, instead of using proprietary stat muxing appliances, operators can leverage the VDE to capitalize on the ABR transcoding and fragmenting system to perform stat muxing. In this model, the VDE client selects the bitrate for each fragment on each stream from the packager based on minimum bitrates required to achieve required video quality levels within each fragment.

By doing this across all fragments flowing into the VDE, the moment-by-moment selection of fragment bitrates for aggregation into the UDP flow designated for any given QAM can be orchestrated to achieve the same level of bandwidth efficiency that’s attained with traditional stat muxing, according to Mao and Brouda. Along with eliminating the need for traditional stat muxing gear, this approach takes care of the H.264 stat muxing complexity problem, they noted, insofar as the processing requirements for ABR-based stat muxing are unchanged in the move from MPEG-2 to H.264.

Reynolds stresses that all these capabilities are beyond the proof-of-concept stage. “We’re in MSO field trials with paying customers watching TV based on this 21st century model,” he says. “It’s strong evidence as to how mature this technology is.”

In fact, he notes, the VDE platform is also in use by two broadcasters who have positioned it at core playout points for sending their content to distributors terrestrially over the UDP MPEG-2 TS feed. “They’re using it to replace satellite links,” he says. In this scenario they’re leveraging the same transcoding and ABR distribution system for contribution playout that they use for delivering their content to end users over the Internet.

Beyond the need to consolidate their own internal video processing operations, cable operators have a strong interest in the wholesale business prospects that come with putting edge systems into play that can serve the needs of broadcasters, Reynolds notes. This includes providing support not only for better quality of service in DTC operations but also for a more dynamic approach to advertising placements on linear as well as on-demand pay TV programming.

“Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) is what makes this really interesting,” Reynolds says. “It’s one of the things that differentiate what we’re doing from other approaches. DAI is built into the entire fabric of our model for legacy as well as OTT content.”

Using a single, HTTP-based ad insertion system puts operators in a position they’ve long sought in their dealings with programmers and their advertisers. Notwithstanding past failures in the Canoe and EBIF (Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format) eras, there remains a wholesale revenue opportunity tied to setting up an addressable advertising infrastructure serving multiscreen and set-top clients that unifies ad campaigns and performance metrics across all viewing experiences.

For example, by implementing an IP-based video processing platform with DAI capabilities at the edges of their networks, operators can create virtual zones for targeting ads on linear TV channels, Reynolds explains. This isn’t the individually personalized ad placement mode common to the use of ad networks in the OTT domain but rather one that responds to TV advertisers’ desire to create more generalized demarcations demographically and geographically that can accommodate the mass audience metrics of the TV business.

“People buy TV to get to mass audiences,” Reynolds says. “We don’t think that dynamic is going to change, but there’s a need to reach audiences more effectively.”

In the VDE-based scenario, operators employing a packager with just-in-time manifest manipulation capabilities like Imagine’s xG AIM can leverage SCTE-130 technology in communications with ad policy servers to direct DAI placements from ad servers at whatever level of personalized targeting makes sense for any given usage scenario. In the case of DAI applications for linear programming, multicast streams tied to specific demographic- or geographic-based zones are defined to create a UDP-over-MPEG-2 TS flow for each zone served from a given edge point.

MSOs’ or other NSPs’ use of the Imagine technology to support advanced advertising applications at the edge can be seen as a subset of the wholesale business opportunity that comes with using edge CDN functionalities to support broadcasters’ DTC initiatives. Until now, OTT video outlets have relied on traditional CDNs to get content closer to end users, largely in conjunction with traditional on-demand usage. But with ever more DTC players offering live with on-demand content in efforts to generate subscription and/or ad revenues from a TV-caliber OTT service, demand for premium quality performance on streamed video has made closer positioning of processing at the edge an important if not crucial component of the DTC strategy.

In this regard the Imagine platform joins other new options various vendors are supplying to enable a CDN role for service providers in the DTC arena, including the Ericsson Unified Delivery Network (UDN) initiative. Launched in February as previously reported with participation of Tier 1 NSPs Hutchison Global Communications, Vodafone, Telstra and AIS, the UDN recently added several new NSP partners, including China Telecom, Chunghwa Telecom, Far EasTone Telecommunications, Globe Telecom, Singtel and SK Broadband.

Ericsson’s CDN technology positioned in NSPs’ local facilities allows high-value video services to be optimized and scaled over the last mile with full support for personalization of content and advertising, notes Per Borgklint, senior vice president and head of business unit support solutions at Ericsson. “UDN’s disruptive business model has struck a chord with service and content providers that want more flexibility, visibility and control over the delivery of high-quality OTT services,” Borgklint says.

The UDN initiative also counts several partners from the content side of the ecosystem, including Brightcove, DailyMotion, EchoStar, Deluxe, Dolby Laboratories, Paramount Pictures, Vubiquity and Twentieth Century Fox. “Ericsson, along with its partners, have successfully created a win-win content delivery play that drastically improves how a broad range of services are delivered to customers around the world,” Borgklint says.

Imagine, too, is well positioned through its relationships with broadcasters and NSPs to foster such partnerships. As Charlie Vogt notes, broadcasters of every description are committed to transforming their production and post-production operations to IP technology, many in conjunction with Imagine solutions built on a next-generation universal workflow that opens the door to a highly streamlined end-to-end approach to creating and delivering DTC services.

The IP transition undertaken over the past year by Disney ABC has been a significant landmark in broadcasters’ evaluation of what’s doable in the all-IP domain. “Live linear is especially tough,” Vogt notes. “ABC is launching new shows every month using IP playout on the Image platform.”

That success has helped persuade others to jump in. “We have 100 proofs of concept underway with savvy broadcasters around the world,” Vogt says. “I believe there will come an inflection point around mid-2018 when everyone has moved in this direction.”

The capabilities of the Selenio VDE platform in conjunction with other aspects of the Imagine edge solution set positions NSPs to play a big role as suppliers of the CDN support broadcasters are looking for, he adds. “When you think of the power of broadband and the Internet to support such services, broadcasters have to be able to take advantage of edge technology,” he says. “Broadcasters are going to benefit from what we’re doing with MSOs and other service providers.”


NSPs Finding New Ways to Get In Sync with Digital Lifestyles

Phil Jordan, CIO of Telefónica Group

Phil Jordan, CIO of Telefónica Group

AT&T, Telefónica, Others Tap Amdocs Solutions to Accelerate Digital Transformation

By Fred Dawson

April 15, 2016 – Judging from far-reaching digital transformations underway among some major network service providers here and abroad there’s no longer any reason to assume NSPs can’t put themselves on course to compete in a youth-driven marketplace.

“End-to-end digitization is do or die,” said Phil Jordan, CIO of Telefónica Group, during a presentation at a customer conference held by Amdocs in Orlando last week. “We need to be relevant to compete.”

That view, echoed by other NSP executives speaking at the conference, is driving new approaches to consolidating and automating operations aimed at putting the ways network operators engage with customers on par with the experiences consumers have come to expect from what another speaker, Frank Palase, senior vice president of IT strategy and innovation at AT&T Entertainment Group, referred to as the “digital natives” of the Internet. “If we can’t learn their techniques, we will die,” Palase said.

The network services industry has been talking about transforming how they do business for a long time. But as Internet players continue to drive shifts in consumer behavior at warp speed, many NSPs find themselves falling farther behind in their efforts to quickly bring innovations to market that reflect sensitivity to consumer expectations.

Half the respondents to a recent global survey of NSPs conducted for Amdocs by IDC reported it will take their companies more than five years to achieve digital transformation. “The majority of service providers today are actively working to deploy digital technologies to improve their businesses, but this is happening without a unifying top-level vision and strategy,” said Andy Hicks, research director for EMEA telecoms and networking at IDC. “They may be able to keep up with other service providers, but they don’t think they can keep up in the broader digital world unless they address gaps in digital strategy, skills and leadership.”

For a long time one big reason for this was the lack of technical wherewithal to close the gap. But now, it seems, if there’s the will, there are ways to get it done, although nobody is claiming it will be easy. Sixty-nine percent of respondents to the IDC survey believe that the communications industry has strong technology capabilities but will find it difficult to implement and bring to market digital transformation projects quickly enough.

As reflected in a new generation of solutions Amdocs is providing to a growing base of customers worldwide, NSPs have access to mechanisms for achieving digital transformation that weren’t available even in the recent past. These include better approaches to personalization and operations management through big-data analytics in combination with tools that facilitate a DevOps approach to rapid innovation, consistency of offers across all customer-facing channels, consolidation of wireless and fixed service back offices, better customer service and much else.

In fact, noted Palase, “Technology is the easy part. It’s really about fundamentally changing the cultural DNA of the company.”

To effect that change AT&T has taken a new approach to encouraging innovation and execution in IT programs by training small teams in what Palase called “design thinking.” “We’re trying to instill new processes and empower teams to drive innovations into production,” he said.

Rather than relying on the old pattern of releasing big new revisions in IT department programs three or four times a year with minor patches in between, Palese’s group has replaced hierarchical group-wide approaches to change management with collaborative project-oriented approaches that bring together a few people trained in accelerated, customer-centric innovation techniques.

“This is what startups do,” Palese said. “Driving collaboration is the key.”

Just what NSPs are up against was underscored by the trends in consumer behavior highlighted at the Amdocs conference. What anybody selling goods and services to millennials and the “Z” generation coming along behind them needs to understand is that for these young people “it’s about collecting relationships, not things,” said Clint! Runge, managing director of creative agency Archrival, whose clients include NBCUniversal, Adidas, Pabst Brewing, Red Bull and other big brands. “Every moment must be harnessed for sharing.”

The role of online social engagement as the source for self-esteem among youth was evident in many of the findings from a survey of teens conducted for Amdocs by research company Vanson Bourne. The results, which haven’t been publicly released, are a sober reminder that, when it comes to transforming operations to compete in the digital age, connecting with millennials is just the beginning of the battle.

In fact, said Daniela Perlmutter, head of product and solution marketing at Amdocs, the best way to address what needs to be done is to recognize that the teens 15 years and older targeted by the survey are already customers whose experiences today will shape their choices when they begin spending their own money for services. “The reason we focused on 15 to 18 year-olds wasn’t so much about describing customers of tomorrow,” Permutter noted. “It was to understand an existing customer segment that, unlike the millennials, was born connected.”

Not surprisingly, the behavior patterns revealed in the survey don’t represent a sharp departure from the trends set by millennials. Rather, they point to an ever deepening association of personal identity with online engagement.

Indeed, with 43 percent of the surveyed youth already using connectivity to monitor their fitness and health, 78 percent said they would like to have an Internet device “embedded” on their arms. “These are averages across all the regions we surveyed,” Perlmutter said.

Considering the 4,200 young people surveyed were from ten countries, including the U.K., U.S., Germany, Brazil, India, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Singapore and the Philippines, such findings seem remarkable. In fact, three of the four countries below the health monitoring average were the U.K., U.S. and Germany.

“Digital is part of them and who they are,” Permutter said. The collective average of youths who strongly believe access to the Internet is a fundamental human right was 55 percent, with respondents in India topping the group in this category at 75 percent. “They can’t comprehend there was a time without the Internet,” she noted.

These constantly connected, continuously multitasking teens, 52 percent of whom check their social media accounts as soon as they wake up every morning, have become emotionally dependent on that connectivity. According to the survey results, more feel lonely (56 percent) when cut off from the Internet than feel lonely (52 percent) when they’re away from their families. The feelings of loneliness without the Internet apply in all situations, including when they’re with family.

And they have deep affection for the providers who give them what they need. When asked which companies they love, 60 percent named Google, followed by Facebook (48 percent), Apple (47 percent) and WhatsApp (47 percent).

But while 82 percent are aware of who provides their Internet service, only 36 percent include their NSPs in the love list. “Only 12 percent believe their service provider understands their lifestyle,” Permutter said.

Winning and retaining engagement from young people is harder than ever. “Brand loyalty is conditional,” said Archrival’s Clint! Runge, who has made the exclamation mark part of his legal first name. “Millennials are loyal to innovation and disruption.”

And to companies whose behavior squares with their values. “Spending money has become a political act,” he said. “Brands have to stand for something.”

He cited many examples where companies are taking pains to stay on the right side of their customers by acting in accord with their values, such as Colgate running toothpaste ads that focus on conserving water or Starbucks’ “rethinking their entire supply chain.” Social engagement with brands, a specialty at Archrival, is also now a part of what it takes to get on young people’s radar, he noted, citing examples of promotions that engage consumers in designing products.

For NSPs, engagement in this changing marketplace isn’t just about adding some social bells and whistles on UIs, improving discovery or simplifying the ordering process, although all those things are important. It’s about becoming part of the new commercial culture.

For example, noted Jonathan Shmukler, solutions manager for the Amdocs Lab, in that culture people are accustomed to getting what they want when they want it without being bound to long-term affiliations. “Occasional service is the new constant,” Schmukler said. “We need new business models where people aren’t tied down with monthly payments and contracts. If somebody says, ‘I want to watch the Olympics for a couple of days,’ they should be able to do that.”

Breaking reliance on the bundle for bottom-line performance doesn’t have to be a leap into a downward spiraling revenue stream, he noted. It just means learning to drive revenue like a digital native.

NSPs must be able to package goods with services to capitalize on commercial opportunities in real time as the service model shifts to enabling occasional usage. For example, with IT systems support for what Schmukler called “digital immediacy,” giving occasional users the option to tune into a show featuring a favorite singer can be coupled with offering recordings, t-shirts and other items.

Using all data resources to identify and react to the preferences of any given user, even when that user is accessing service from the family TV, is part of the shift to digital immediacy. For example, Schmukler said, NSPs should be able to collect usage patterns on personal devices that allow them to identify who’s using the TV remote control based on which channels the person tunes to first.

“In communications everything is being commoditized,” Schmukler said. “So it’s not just about competing on the basic product. You have to create a brand with an experience that gets the customer to say, ‘This is incredible.’”

That means, as NSPs bring more purchasing options into play, customers must be able to get to checkout with just two or three clicks. “This is one of the ways Amazon keeps you coming back for more,” Schmukler noted.

Two key concepts in this new environment are “multi-play,” where any offer can be instantly activated on any channel, and “omni-channel,” where the user experience is uniform across all channels. This means the old bifurcation between mobile and fixed-line back offices and product development needs to be eliminated.

In fact, noted Guy Hilton, director of product marketing at Amdocs’ Portfolio and Solutions Division, this is a top priority across the global ecosystem of providers operating over fixed and mobile networks. “Almost everyone is either doing it or planning to do it,” Hilton said. “Full-blown multiplay is a big deal for us. It definitely has affected our bottom line as a revenue engine and driver to new customer relationships.”

Amdocs, like its customers, has undergone major changes in its approaches to developing and delivering solutions, from the design and frequency of the solution sets to the development of partnership ecosystems and new support services.

“In the past we released a major software version every two to three years,” Hilton said. “Now things are moving so fast that if we waited two years to issue the next version, we’d be on par but not ahead of the state of art in the market.”

Instead Amdocs’ goal is to send out new packages every eight months or so “to stay with the pulse,” he said. “We can capitalize on change quickly.”

But over longer periods there will be “step-function changes that dictate a new architecture,” and, hence, a completely new version of the solution stack, he added. This was the case earlier this year when Amdocs announced the CES 10 product portfolio, successor to CES 9, which was released three years ago.

CES 10 solutions include a multi-play offering with a new implementation framework that employs pre-packaged BSS/OSS, big-data capabilities and business processes to enable the launch of new multi-play operations in under a year. The Amdocs CES 10 release also offers a rich set of digital capabilities in a cloud-enabled portfolio that allows NSPs to address what Amdocs sees as the four business imperatives for digital success:

  • The ability to deliver omni-channel customer experiences, including retail and e-commerce;
  • Operating in a diversified business environment that supports new enterprise, IoT, video and other services;
  • Utilization of data-powered analytics to drive business, customer and operational decisions;
  • Service agility that shortens time to market, including support for network functions virtualization (NFV) to accelerate fast rollout of new technologies and hybrid network services.

Amdocs is witness to a wide range of customer initiatives where elements of these capabilities are in play, Hilton said. “Serving the occasional user has become a big thing, especially with the popularity of eSIM (embedded subscriber identity module),” he noted. With the recent standardization of how SIMs are embedded in device hardware, there’s now a common approach to allowing users to avoid locking themselves into a plan with a single operator or having to buy a new device when they switch operators.

While complete digital transformation is the Holy Grail, NSPs, including those on the path to complete transformation, are taking advantage of new solutions to target their most pressing pain points as they progress, knowing the solution components applied now will fit into the overall framework, Hilton noted. Indeed, said Telefónica’s Phil Jordan, business, not IT, needs to be the driver behind the course taken in digital transformation.

“This is not IT led; it’s business led,” Jordan said, noting Telefónica relies on its regional presidents to tell his team what the priorities should be in the migration path. Critically, he added, the process isn’t about the IT department finding ways to cut costs.

“If you believe digital transformation is do or die, you have to stop looking at IT as a cost line,” he said. “My goal is to make sure the investment is as beneficial as possible for each of our operating companies.”

A case in point is the way Telefónica Argentina is using Amdocs’ solutions to collect, store and gain actionable business insights from its data assets. Amdocs is implementing a data store for Telefónica Argentina that aggregates data from numerous multi-vendor operational sources, including billing, ordering, customer management, enterprise product catalog, inventory management, workforce management and network trouble ticketing.

Using the Amdocs Logical Data Model, the data store provides one holistic view of the customer across Telefónica Argentina’s wireless and wireline lines of business, as well as a common data dictionary and integration with Telefónica’s enterprise data warehouse through a single gateway. “This project supports our current transformation initiative in Argentina and is a key element to differentiate Telefónica by ensuring a consistent and personalized omni-channel and digital customer experience,” said Telefónica Argentina CIO Luciana Barrera.

Jordan made clear that, notwithstanding having new tools to work with, the path his company has chosen is not for the faint of heart. “If you’re not terrified contemplating this transformation, you don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said.


2016 Shapes Up as Breakout Year For MSOs Pursuing Big Businesses

Bill Stemper, president, Comcast Business.

Bill Stemper, president, Comcast Business.

DOCSIS 3.1, Virtualization and Industry-Wide Wi-Fi Footprint Open Low-Cost Path to Competing with Telcos in Enterprise Market 

By Fred Dawson

March 9, 2016 – Cable MSOs, with a strong foundation in commercial services that now extends into mid-tier SMB markets, find themselves positioned to compete more broadly across all enterprise segments thanks to technical advances that enable a vastly expanded cloud-oriented service portfolio.

Developments at the physical networking and service management layers have come together to give operators the tools they need to respond to customer demand for higher bandwidth and more agile services at cost points well below those of competitors, resulting not only in opportunities to reach larger companies but also to deliver value-added services that might not otherwise be available to smaller businesses. From a networking perspective, with widespread deployments of DOCSIS 3.1 and PONs (passive optical networks) under consolidated control of  new back-office systems, operators are able to deliver high-speed services at speeds up to 1 gigabit-per-second to virtually any business or multi-tenant office building.

In fact, notes Ovum analyst Julie Kunstler, the commercial services expansion now underway in the cable sector is big enough to have a significant impact on the overall PON equipment market in North America. “The U.S. PON equipment market is facing a likely upside,” she says in a recent blog, citing as one example the implications of the consolidated commercial service operations of Charter Communications if its bid to acquire Bright House and Time Warner Cable is approved.

In Bright House’s case deployment of the 10G EPON (Ethernet PON) and DOCSIS Provisioning over EPON platform supplied by Nokia (formerly Alcatel-Lucent), has opened important high-end markets once held exclusively by telcos, such as mobile data backhaul. “Bright House’s successful use of PON is likely to permeate into Charter’s network, increasing sales for PON equipment vendors,” she says.

Such capabilities open virtually the entire U.S. managed services market to cable companies, which, according to IT analytics firm IDC, is expected to increase from $29 billion in 2014 to $52 billion in 2019. Last year, with little penetration in this market, the U.S. cable industry’s total take in commercial services jumped 20 percent to about $12 billion, with Comcast accounting for $4.7 billion and Time Warner Cable taking in $3.3 billion, according to estimates of Heavy Reading.

One of Charter’s chief justifications for acquiring Time Warner Cable and Bright House has been the commercial services potential that comes with being able to service business customers across a broader service footprint. “The economics are powerful,” Kunstler says. Contrasting this side of the business with the $170 or so operators attain in ARPU from triple-play residential services, she comments, “The leasing of 1G MBH services provides monthly revenues of around $2,500, with 10G providing twice that amount.”

Comcast is leveraging the arsenal of new networking and service platforms to farther expand its market base after having spent the last few years penetrating the mid-range SMB market with Metro Ethernet Services. The MSO’s new Enterprise Services unit is targeting Fortune 1000 companies, offering to serve multiple business locations with a portfolio of managed services that include broadband, Ethernet, voice, router, security, business continuity and Wi-Fi.

“We’re committed to expanding and enhancing our offerings for businesses of all sizes, and having the expertise, tools and portfolio in place to deliver customized service packages to nationwide enterprises is a key part of our growth strategy,” says Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business.

“Large companies need a provider who can help them manage complex networks, develop business continuity plans and integrate cloud-based applications,” he adds. “Our entry into this segment of the market will introduce new innovation and choice.”

Comcast Business has already signed large customers from multiple industries, including financial services firms, banks, hospitality chains and retailers, notes Glenn Katz, who is leading the new group within Comcast Business. He says the MSO’s ability to expand beyond connectivity to a full slate of managed services is helped by its recent acquisition of Contingent Network Services; a national technology deployment and managed services company that helps enterprise customers outsource their day-to-day network operations.

“Contingent’s mission is to provide clients with high-quality, cost-effective network and deployment services wherever and whenever needed for reliable communications across an enterprise, and we couldn’t be more excited for them to join our team,” Katz says. “By joining forces with Comcast Business, Contingent can further expand their reach and take advantage of Comcast’s extensive fiber and hybrid fiber coax network to give enterprises the optimal network experience to meet their business and technology requirements.”

Inter-MSO cooperation across service boundaries is another enabler to cable’s expanding business agenda. Comcast Business has reached network agreements with leading cable operators making it easier to serve national clients with local offices and locations that span different geographies. Such cooperation dovetails with the alliance top MSOs are already engaged in to support Wi-Fi roaming across their networks.

Opening a Wi-Fi connection between companies and their employees will allow operators to extend one of the most important new commercial service capabilities, cloud-based VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), to employees on the go, making it much easier to provision connectivity to company files and apps on a protected, personalized basis than has been the case with traditional VPNs, where employees have to go through the cumbersome process of setting up VPN clients on their personal computers to gain remote access.

In general, with or without wireless components, the ability to offer software-defined VPNs provisioned from the MSO cloud as a service overlay on their networks greatly facilitates companies’ access to IT applications wherever they’re hosted, whether somewhere on a corporate campus or in SaaS (software-as-a-service) providers’ clouds. Moving on a similar track with Comcast, other MSOs are well down the road in preparing to roll out virtualized services if they haven’t already.

Bright House, for example, along with its lineup of phone, hosted voice and broadband connectivity services, is offering an array of advanced cloud and managed IT services. The MSO’s capabilities are a good illustration of what can be done with new virtualized systems, in this case running on a 1 terabit-per-second line card inserted in Cisco 6000 routers. The line card supports Cisco Network Convergence System (NCS), a network fabric family of scalable components enabling cloud-based managed services such as security, network transport, Wi-Fi and traditional voice and data services.

The movement to higher levels of service is underway among Tier 2 operators as well, one example of which is Midcontinent Communications. With a footprint extending across nearly 350 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin interconnected by an 8,100-mile fiber backbone, MidCo, as it now brands itself, has undertaken deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 in conjunction with Cisco’s cBR-8 converged router to bring gigabit speeds to more of the 55,000 businesses in its domain, some of which already have access to 1-gig service over all-fiber access extensions.

The project, slated for completion in 2017, “will change the quality of life and spur business innovation in the communities we serve,” says Jon Pederson, vice president of technology at MidCo. “The unique DOCSIS and Remote PHY capabilities of the cBR-8 will help us meet our commitments for the Midcontinent Gigabit Initiative.”


Risks of Ho Hum Attitude on IPv6 Go Well Beyond IPv4 Exhaustion

John Jason Brzozowski, fellow & chief architect, IPv6, Comcast

John Jason Brzozowski, fellow & chief architect, IPv6, Comcast

Comcast Strategy Makes Clear What’s at Stake for Laggards as Services Evolve

By Fred Dawson

February 26, 2016 – The trend line on IPv6 adoption continues to lag expectations with new statistics registering an increase in the volume of distinct IPv4 addresses showing up in global Internet traffic amid a decline in IPv6-based Internet usage in several countries that have been IPv6 traffic leaders.

Notwithstanding the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses in the pools managed by several Regional Internet Registries, including the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), there’s yet to emerge a sense of urgency in many quarters. Even as many service providers and major Web content companies are now fully IPv6 enabled, a chicken-and-egg kind of stasis is holding things back as many network service providers (NSPs) wait to see more IPv6-enabled content, and content providers remain unmoved as long as they know consumers and businesses everywhere have recourse to IPv4 connectivity on service providers’ networks.

Data describing these trends issued by Akamai in December with its Q3 2015 State of the Internet report square with findings on the pace of migration to IPv6 by NSPs reported by Canadian OSS vendor Incognito. In its global survey of NSPs Incognito found that while 17 percent of respondents reported they were IPv6 ready compared to14 percent a year earlier, there was a significant increase in the percentages of respondents who said they had not started IPv6 adoption, from 10 percent in the 2014 report to 22 percent in the report issued this past December.

Moreover, the Incognito report notes, the percentage of providers either planning adoption or midway through the process had dropped from 72 percent to 61 percent. “Providers who have adopted IPv6 state that traffic is still overwhelmingly IPv4-based, indicating a lack of IPv6-only available content and therefore minimal incentive for service providers,” the Incognito report says.

That lack of incentive was highlighted by the Akamai Q3 report, which extrapolates IP address information from all the traffic flowing through its CDN networks across 242 countries and regions. Worldwide, the number of unique IPv4 addresses on traffic running through those CDNs jumped to 808 million, representing an increase of 2.3 percent or 18 million addresses from the Q3 2014 report and an increase of 4.8 million from Q2 2015.

This contrasts with Akamai’s assessment of IPv6 usage, which it measures differently, looking at IPv6 traffic as a percentage of all traffic, rather than reporting the number of unique addresses as it does with IPv4. IPv6 traffic as registered in the top ten countries in this category (Akamai did not report global IPv6 numbers) was down compared to the previous quarter report. Q3 IPv6 traffic was off in five of the top ten countries by anywhere from 0.6 percent to 12 percent, compared to increases in all ten registered in Q2.

Countries in negative territory, representing a much larger population share than those in the positive column, included the U.S. (-2.9 percent), Germany (-.6 percent), Belgium (-8.4 percent), the Czech Republic (-1.3 percent), and Switzerland (-12 percent). On the positive side of the ledger were Peru (+0.9 percent), Greece (+37 percent), Portugal (+21 percent) and Estonia (+22 percent). The tenth entry in the top ten, Luxembourg, was flat.

Akamai also names the top 20 service providers in the IPv6 traffic category, five of which, including the leader, Verizon, are in the U.S. Ranked by volume of IPv6 traffic hitting Akamai CDNs, the leading generators of IPv6 traffic were Comcast (40 percent of its traffic was IPv6), AT&T (39 percent), Verizon Wireless (72 percent) and Time Warner Cable (20 percent). Other providers with a large share of their traffic using IPv6 addresses were Belgium’s TELENET (53 percent), Kabel Deutschland (49 percent), Portugal’s Sapo (47 percent), T-Mobile (45 percent), Swisscom (38 percent), Belgacom Skynet (26 percent) and Japan’s KDDI (25 percent).

Incognito’s survey, which the company characterized as a “snapshot” rather than a comprehensive look at what is happening, reflects the strategies reported by 36 respondents from service providers across the world, seven of which serve more than one million subscribers with another eight at 100,000 to one million subscribers and 21 under 100,000 subscribers. Eighty-three percent of respondents who hadn’t begun IPv6 migration said they would not see any urgency to converting until 30 to 50 percent of Internet content passing their way was IPv6 enabled.

Beyond lack of content enabled for IPv6, lack of support by device vendors was cited by 63 percent of the respondents who hadn’t begun IPv6 migration as a reason for not doing so. Interestingly, the industry appears split over the question of whether it makes sense to continue relying on Network Address Translation (NAT) technology to extend the life of IPv4 by supporting multiple private IP addresses behind one public address.

Fifty percent of those not in the IPv6 conversion process said reliance on NAT was a reason for not moving ahead, while 68 percent of those pursuing or finished with IPv6 migration cited distrust of NAT as a reason for adopting IPv6. As a motivator to IPv6 conversion, lack of confidence in NAT was second only to IPv4 address exhaustion, which was a motivating factor for 82 percent who are on the IPv6 conversion bandwagon.

The concern about NAT not only reflects the network management complexities tied to growing reliance on the protocol as NSPs run out of IPv4 addresses in their stockpiles; it also points to awareness of how important it will be to have a public address for every device as personalized connectivity, Internet of Things apps and the need for improved customer support through device awareness become ever more important aspects of service operations.

As previously reported, another factor driving IPv6 adoption is service providers’ desire to exploit the capabilities of network function virtualization (NFV) to enable virtualization of CPE and more cloud-focused operations. Use of IPv6 is essential to allowing routing, firewall, parental controls and other functions hosted in the cloud to be combined with direct per-device service provisioning, orchestration of home-based subnets and other back-office functions to transform convenience, service flexibility and degrees of personalization. Confirming the importance of IPv6 to this agenda, John Jason Brzozowski, fellow and chief architect for IPv6 at Comcast, in an appearance at Cable-Tec Expo in October said, “If you’re going to rely on the cloud, you need IPv6.”

Comcast, with IPv6 deployed on all its networks, had enabled 77 percent of its customers’ CPE for IPv6 connectivity by the end of last year and is on the way to 80-85 percent this year. “We’re using v6 more and more to run our business,” Brzozowski said, noting that the company is using IPv6-based enhancements to OpenStack, the OS layer that’s used to enable virtualization of commodity servers in its datacenters.

“v6 outperforms v4 by 20 to 40 percent, especially on mobile networks,” he said. “v6 is simpler operationally. It’s not hard to deploy. It’s the platform for innovation.”

The Incognito survey found that among those planning or in the process of converting to IPv6, the majority believe they’ll be fully IPv6 enabled within two years. “Whether or not this is a realistic goal remains to be seen,” Incognito says in the report. “[I]t will take the rest of the industry – vendors and content providers in particular – to adopt IPv6 before we are likely to see a truly IPv6 world.

Maybe so, but with ever more major players equipping themselves like Comcast to exploit the service advancement capabilities of the protocol,  it’s clear that IPv6 enablement will soon become a service differentiator that puts those who aren’t IPv6 ready at a significant competitive disadvantage. Perhaps this, more than IPv4 exhaust or conversion to IPv6 by a larger share of the Web community, will be the force that pushes the laggards into high gear.

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