Cox ramps to 1 Ghz, revamps backbone under EON plan
Friday, November 09, 2007
For Cox Communications Inc. bigger will be better for its core network infrastructure – and that includes a move already under way to raise plant bandwidth to 1 Gigahertz across the board, take over operation of its own backbone fiber network and consolidate linear TV and video-on-demand services in two national hubs.
The MSO revealed some details about this initiative – dubbed the Extendable Optical Network – at a media briefing Wednesday in Rhode Island.
Chris Bowick, Cox’s senior vice president of engineering and chief technology officer, said the ambitious plans was aimed at moving Cox into the 2010 service world, a place that will require far more bandwidth and diversity of content. Cox’s marching orders from now until 2010 include:
scale back the analog channel count from 74 to 68
increase standard definition channels from 110 to 200-plus
raise HD channels from just 8 in 2006 to 100-plus
boost data bandwidth to 25 Megabits per second downstream, 4 Mbps upstream.
Enter EON, to provide the bandwidth in backbone and last mile as well as a new, more flexible and agile architecture – which Bowick dubbed “flexiagile.”
Starting in the last mile, bigger bandwidth is in the offing by cutting down on the size of nodes serving individual homes and boosting the overall plant capacity to 1 Gigahertz. At present Cox’s node size is about 620 homes offering between 750 and 860 Megahertz of total bandwidth.
Cox’s plan is to move its plant nationwide to 1 Gigahertz capacity – the first major MSO to take that step – and cut node size down to 310 homes initially. Eventually, the node size will reach a maximum 250 homes, Bowick said.
Bowick would not reveal how much it will cost to move to 1 Gigahertz across Cox’s markets, but he did note it was “not as expensive as you might think it would be.”
He gave a further hint at the cost range by noting that in comparison to Verizon Inc.’s $750 to $800 per home expense to build the base FiOS fiber-to-the-home network, Cox’s 1 GHz upgrade “wouldn’t be even close to that."
The 1 Gigahertz upgrade has already been completed in 70% of Cox’s markets, with almost no customer disruption, Bowick said.
Switched digital video, meanwhile, has been launched in two systems, and a third will be added in 2008. Switched digital video’s biggest attraction is the fact that it can offer virtually unlimited channel capacity, given it delivers into the home only the channels being viewed, rather than the entire channel lineup.
“We have taken a tack with switched digital video of a look see,” Bowick said. With the three launched markets planned “we will see how it goes.”
Cox also plans to start trials of Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0 in 2008. The new technology in its final iteration can deliver more than 160 Mbps downstream and 100 Mbps upstream.
Elsewhere, Cox also is eying the video bandwidth savings using MPEG-4. While the compression codec won’t be accessible to homes with older digital set-top boxes, MPEG-4 “plays beautifully in the 850 to 1 Gigahertz realm,” he noted.
Cox grows its own backbone
Nor is the capacity increase just to be found in the last mile. At present, Cox’s backbone network is operated by partner Level 3 Communications, with Cox paying on a per-bit basis. But in the past year traffic has doubled and the cost per bit for transport has dropped, Bowick said.
In response, Cox also has plans to up its national backbone game. It will create its own 18,000 mile backbone network using Level 3 dark fiber under a long-term indefeasible right to use (IRU) lease. That means hiring technicians to oversee the network and buying transmission gear to light it, but in the end Cox ends up with a network that costs less to run and is much more flexible – and using dense wave division multiplexing it can scale capacity on the backbone, Bowick said.
“Now we need to take a new look at the national infrastructure and own, if you will, that national infrastructure,” he said.
As with the 1 GHz upgrade, Bowick declined to offer any cost figures for the switch to a Cox-run fiber backbone. But he said the numbers did make sense given the projected expense under the managed fiber contract with Level 3.
“We looked at the OPEX verses CAPEX and it was a tremendous payback,” Bowick said.
Video delivery is also getting an architectural makeover, moving from a scheme whereby each Cox system manages and distributes linear and VOD content to a more central distribution, with two hubs delivering content to all markets.
Those two super hubs – the main one in Atlanta with a backup in San Diego – will be the aggregation points for the content. In doing so, Cox eliminates a lot of duplicate video processing and server storage for VOD content, Bowick said.
Plans are to turn up the super headends this month.
All in all, 50% of the EON upgrades have been completed, and Bowick said most of the rest of the work will be completed at the end of 2008.