TORONTO – The snowy weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of some of the top cable executives in Canada as they shared their thoughts during the opening session Tuesday morning at the SCTE Canadian Summit 2009.
Dermot O’Carroll, senior vice president of network engineering and operations for Rogers Cable Communications, started the Summit with his introductory remarks about the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) – there are currently two chapters in Canada – and a tribute to Rogers’ founder, Ted Rogers, who passed away late last year, before the first panel was underway.
Moderator Leslie Ellis asked the panelists about their priorities and top issues to start the “Technology Leaders Roundtable” session. Steve Irvine, director of Internet engineering and operations for EastLink, said his company is working on consolidating recent cable acquisitions onto a common platform in order to offer the same services across the board.
EastLink did win some spectrum in last year’s wireless auction, but Irvine said EastLink was in the very early stages of deciding how it will be used. Another key area for EastLink is business services, including provincial government and federal government contracts for data services in Nova Scotia.
EastLink is also engaged in node splits that will bring the number of homes passed down to 65 homes per node, as well as in upgrades to 750 MHz over the next few years, and then eventually analog-to-digital reclamation.
Not surprisingly, Dennis Steiger, vice president of engineering for Shaw Cablesystems, said the increasing demand for bandwidth, due to more high-definition (HD) and standard-definition (SD) channels and the demand for high-speed data services, was one of his company’s top priorities.
Steiger said that while Shaw has some large systems in its footprint, it also has a lot of small- and mid-size systems, and one area of focus is to get those up to 750 MHz “so we have a common playing field.” Shaw is also looking at 860 MHz upgrades and analog reclamation, but both of those aren’t on the immediate to-do list.
“No. 2, we’re going to see a resurgence on the video side,” Steiger said of his list. “Video is going to move to the forefront.”
The on-demand mode of customers getting what they want, when they want, where they want it on different devices – such as PCs, TVs and mobile devices – will drive the resurgence in video, Steiger said. The third item on Steiger’s list was adding more value to existing products and services.
“Right now, customers aren’t clamoring for new services; they want value for what they already have,” he said.
Vidéotron Senior Vice President of Engineering Daniel Proulx said bandwidth is also a concern because his company has to offer up services in both French and English to its customers. While Proulx said managing bandwidth was his top priority, he also added the continued rollout of DOCSIS 3.0-enabled services and transitioning to HD as his top priorities.
Vidéotron started reclaiming bandwidth last spring in its Montreal system by deploying switched digital video (SDV), and Proulx said more SDV rollouts are slated this year for other systems.
O’Carroll said Rogers’ biggest priority is customer satisfaction.
“As time goes on, we won’t differentiate on technology, but with customer service,” he said.
O’Carroll agreed with Shaw’s Steiger that the pendulum has swung back toward video services after the emphasis on data and phone services over the past decade. O’Carroll said the next five years will be video-driven, and the biggest challenge will be the user interface.
The current user interfaces are archaic and leave cable operators susceptible to over-the-top providers, O’Carroll said.
“There’s a huge risk of being the incumbent with legacy technology,” O’Carroll said of the need to upgrade to better user interfaces to help subscribers navigate through all of the new video content.
O’Carroll said Canadian operators can learn from their counterparts in the United States in regard to new user interfaces on tru2way-enabled set-top boxes. Another area where user interfaces could be improved is through hybrid set-top boxes that use both MPEG and Internet Protocol (IP) for delivery, particularly since there are a lot of IP developers.
Rogers implemented SDV in its Ontario system last year (story here) with good results, O’Carroll said. While the Ontario market uses Cisco/Scientific Atlanta equipment, Rogers anticipates SDV trials later this year and deployments next year in its Motorola systems.
As for network neutrality, several panelists mentioned an upcoming meeting in July with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as being key to how Internet service providers will be allowed to manage traffic on their networks.