Best of NCTA Tech Papers: Part 1
If you’re into big chewy technical documents, which occasionally reveal as much in strategy as they do in tech-speak, go get the annual Spring Technical Forum papers, put out by the National Cable Television Association and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
If you’re not into big chewy technical documents, fear not. This week’s translation condenses the interesting nuggets in this year’s haul of 34 papers and presentations.
Let’s start with the biggie that is Big Data. How big is Big, in cable? Put aside data coming from customer care, billing, and other sexier sources. Consider just the tiny sliver of cable’s data warehouse that is the digital video switch.
According to Cisco’s Marthin De Beer and Kip Compton, who penned “Big Data: Capitalizing on Untapped Knowledge,” every 1 million cable subscribers generates a honkin’ 2,400 Gigabytes (GB) of data per DAY, through switches.
That means that an operator with 25 million subscribers would generate 87,600 GB (which is the same as 87.6 Terabytes, abbreviated TB) of data per year, just through the switch, the authors said.
To put that in perspective, Walmart handled over 1 million transactions per hour last year, feeding a database of 2.5 Petabytes (abbreviated PB and the next order of magnitude step after Terabytes.)
To Google, which was processing 20 PB/day way back in 2008, these numbers are chump change. But it’s an early and interesting look at how big “big” is, when it comes to plant metrics.
Also interesting: “Advanced Menu Usage and System Architecture: Impacts on User Behavior,” co-authored by Jim Brown, of Buckeye Cable, and Arris’ Carol Ansley (the queen of gateways) and Scott Shupe.
The paper studied the behaviors of people working with newer, advanced guides, vs. users of traditional grid-based guides.
They looked at channel changes as well as DVR and VOD usage, across both types of navigation. Among the general findings: 10% of subscribers order a two hour movie weekly.
Only 70% of DVR recordings are actually viewed. Even though the average number of set-tops per home is 2.6, only 1.5 are active at any given time.
As for new guide vs. old, the results were startlingly un-startling: “Subscribers will continue using familiar technologies, such as a grid guide, but also will gradually accept new user interfaces.”
(True where I live, and at the lab: I have to remind myself to use the phone or tablet app to navigate, rather than reaching for the remote.)
For upstream path junkies, check out “Making Rational HFC Upstream Migration Decisions in the Midst of Chaos” (bottom line: Go to 85 MHz for the least disruption), by Dean Stoneback and Fred Slowik, both with Arris, as well as “Distributed HFC Digital Architeture Expands Bi-directional Capacity,” by Aurura Networks’ Oleh Sniekzo, Doug Combs, and Rei Brockett.
Also in this year’s batch: Tons of getting ready for DOCSIS 3.1. Tons of “Software Defined Networking,” or SDN (described as “the solution to all our problems!” at a Rocky Mountain SCTE meeting last month. The tone was sardonic at best.)
And more, which is why a Part II to the papers is in the works.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.