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Drawn to Digital Simulcast

Cable operators aren't the only multichannel video providers looking at digital simulcast. The Jackson (Tenn.) Energy Authority, which essentially provides a seven-service offering, has begun converting its 80-plus analog cable-channel lineup to digital.

“The big driver for us was [DBS because they are all-digital,” Ben Lovins, JEA's broadband operations manager, said of its direct-broadcast satellite rivals. “We want to offer the best possible picture.”

And that picture isn't even going out over traditional hybrid fiber coaxial cable plant. JEA runs a fiber-to-the-home operation using gear from Wave7 Optics.


Lovins also finds the cachet of “digital” a marketing benefit. “A lot of people do have the 'digital is better than anything' mentality.”

JEA is a non-city-owned utility company that offers water, wastewater, gas, electricity, telephone, Internet and cable services — that's seven — to consumers.

Telecommunications services were launched after residents approved a $54 million bond measure several years ago. JEA tapped Wave7 Optics Inc. to build a fiber-to-the-home system in 2002, offering services in competition with incumbent telco BellSouth Corp. and cable MSO, Charter Communications Inc.

The company's fiber build passes 25,472 homes. It has leased out space on its plant to two competitive local-exchange carriers to provide phone service. “We don't sell telephone directly,” Lovins said. The two CLECs count 3,400 phone subscribers.

JEA offers an EPlus Broadband service, a high-speed data service with capacity levels ranging from 384 Kbps to 4 Mbps. The system counts 3,700 data subscribers.

About a year ago, cable video services were added, with all three services terminating at a Wave7 gateway on the outside of the home. JEA has amassed 7,800 video subscribers, Lovins said; about half of them take its digital service.

“For video, we use traditional RF frequencies,” Lovins said. “At the side of the house, we provide RF out and the phone service comes out with POTS [plain old telephone service] lines. The data is a Cat-5 connection to the gateway. We don't use DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification].”

JEX offers 270 total video channels, with channels 2 through 83 delivered in analog. Those are the channels JEA is converting to digital. With an 860-MHz plant, there's plenty of room for duplicate analog and digital channels even at 10-to-1 conversion, he said.

Lovins said JEA is using Tandberg Television encoders to handle 43 local channels.

“On several channels, we can take the [asynchronous serial interface] output and not have to encode it,” Lovins added. JEA is using BigBand Networks Inc.'s Broadband Multimedia Router to handle asynchronous serial interface multiplexing.


JEA inserts ads on only about 11 networks, so it isn't looking at doing digital ad splicing. It's easier to take the analog feed, commercials and all, and convert it to digital, he said. JEA uses 256 quadrature amplitude modulation with Motorola Inc. headend gear and set-tops.

JEA is using 1550 transmitters on the fiber plant. “We send broadcast video at 1550 nm. At the home, we convert back to conventional RF,” said Farmer. The Wave 7 gateway has a 1550 receiver, one RF connector, four 10/100 base T-connectors and four POTS connections,” said Wave7 chief technical officer Jim Farmer.

“Data is sent to the last mile connector using standard Gigabit Ethernet, and is adapted there for a point-to-multipoint environment,” he said. “We add quality of service and security at the LMC. The data is then multiplexed with the video and sent to the home on a tapped optical network.”

Because the fiber system covers a smaller geographical area, JEA can get away with one hub location, Lovins said, but has 360 “cores.” A core feeds 96 gateways. About one third of the cores are in hardened buildings, he said, with the rest pole mounted.

The switch to digital simulcast should also save JEA money down the road by eliminating analog tuners to set-tops.