By now, most small and medium-sized cable operators are familiar with the basic benefits of transitioning to the Internet protocol suite. Using IP enables them to provide a superior end-user experience, lower their relatively high CAPEX levels and ultimately make their networks more flexible, scalable and future-proof. IP also means the eventual end of legacy set-top boxes, at a time when cable customers are consuming video across a wider range of devices than ever before.
What does the actual IP transition look like, though? There are several critical steps that cablecos usually follow when making the upgrade from Quadrature Amplitude Modulation and other legacy standards to IP, including:
1) Prepare for infrastructure evolution…
Many cable networks in the U.S. are still built on remnants of original deployments dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. These infrastructures are sometimes described as coaxial/fiber hybrids (since they use both types of cabling), but analog coax remains the backbone of a lot of these systems.
For all-IP distribution, operators need to incorporate something newer, like DOCSIS 3.1, Ethernet Passive Optical Network over Coax or Converged Cable Access Platform. Such technologies better support the use of IP in delivering content at the speed and quality that subscribers have come to expect from over-the-top services like Netflix and Amazon.
2) …but don’t leave legacy infrastructure behind just yet
The IP transition will not happen instantly. Just look at the telecom sectors, in which the move from circuit- to IP-switched calls has taken years and currently requires simultaneous support of 2G, 3G and 4G LTE by carriers.
Something similar is already affecting the cable industry. The QAM and IP technology stacks will need to be maintained side-by-side for years. This balancing act can be pulled off by using a solution such as the Evolution Digital Hybrid IP STB, which combines a QAM tuner with an IP port for maximum flexibility.
3) Analyze your costs for content delivery
In recent years, programming options have become increasingly expensive for cable operators, which now pay a premium for the most popular channels. The IP transition complicates the bottom line for cablecos, since it can save money in the long run but possibly increase costs in the short term.
“The IP shift could reduce expenditures on customer premises equipment like set-top boxes.”
For example, providers will have to account for the higher costs of DOCSIS compared with QAM. However, the IP shift could ultimately reduce their expenditures on customer premise equipment such as STBs. Operators will need to consider all of these possibilities when selecting an IP migration strategy, whether that ends up being hybrid STB, hybrid gateway or something else.
4) Have a video-on-demand platform ready to go
OTT content has raised the bar for viewing convenience, as well as for the UI and UX of interfaces. Cable operators can adjust by aggregating OTT options in their STBs while also developing top-notch IP video-on-demand solutions.
Platforms such as eVUE-TV provide a natural progression of services from legacy transport to IP distribution. IP-VOD is becoming a vital layer in cable packages, and its importance will only grow as the IP transition moves further along.