Big AT&T sale for BigBand

To be deployed in Atlanta system, broadband router provides instant backup

BigBand Networks has sold its Broadband Multimedia-Service Router to ATT Broadband for use in the cable operator's Atlanta cable system. The BMR will be the first to use BigBand's latest enhancement: self-healing redundancy.

"Self-healing redundancy means we can protect digital cable services," says BigBand President and CEO Amir Bassan-Eskenazi. "If the feed is of a large pay-per-view event and the signal is lost, that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars that get placed in the 'oops' category."

The redundancy feature allows a remote backup headend to sit on the same Gigabit Ethernet connection as the first headend. If there is a problem, ranging from a single program to a failure of multiple channels, the BMR is designed to draw from the backup source instantaneously.

"This type of technology is important today," says Bassan-Eskenazi, "because, as HD and VOD crunch the cable network, this approach is needed to turn cable from a transmission medium to a true, sophisticated, smart network."

The installation in Atlanta will serve the system's 1.2 million customers, approximately 30% of which are digital subscribers. The BMR router sits on the edge of the cable operator's network. Continuing to move closer to the home, the edge is defined as the place in the system where the operator last has control over the signal before it is sent to the subscriber. A few years back, the edge would have been the cable headend. Today, the edge is the hubs between the headend and the subscriber.

"You're going to see all digital applications move closer to the hubs, closer to the consumer," says Bassan-Eskenazi.

Those digital applications include grooming of digital and HDTV signals (grooming allows better allocation of bandwidth among channels), ad insertion, VOD, PVR functions and interactive television. The software and hardware to handle those services, available as optional modules, can be brought onto the BMR as needed. AT&T Broadband will deploy the broadcast grooming and ad-insertion modules in Atlanta.

"They'll use the ad-insertion module to separate their network into 13 different zones for local advertising," says Bassan-Eskenazi. "That's important for AT&T or any other cable operator because that's a source of revenue that will grow as more and more programs move from the analog to digital services."

In the field, the BMR can load multiple service applications, with cost depending on number of customers (or, in the case of interactive applications, number of sessions). It typically costs between $50,000 and $100,000.

The HD grooming application holds particular promise for cable operators, whose bandwidth demands require intelligent management of the system's overall bandwidth. "Our grooming application enables statistical multiplexing so that more feeds can be placed on the same pipe," Bassan-Eskenazi explains. "If we need to, we can combine SD and HD on the same 6-MHz signal, basically figuring out how to pack those packets into a 6-MHz envelope so they get to the set-top at the home in a way that can be decoded."

Bandwidth is a zero-sum game, he adds, and, with HD and VOD services looming in force, management will be crucial to adding more content. "There could be a shelf-space issue some day" with respect to bandwidth and opportunities for programmers to expand services.

The key to the BMR system, he believes, is its "pay-as-you-go" feature. "Cable operators cannot or will not prepay for functionality they don't use now to help create cash flow. We enable them to do that."