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L.A. Deal Is nCUBE's First Big U.S. Win

In its first major U.S. cable video-on-demand deal, nCUBE Corp. will deliver its n4 streaming-media technology — and 77 servers — to three of Time Warner Cable's Los Angeles systems.

Though nCUBE has won a number of major international VOD deployment contracts, SeaChange International Inc. and Concurrent Computer Corp. have won the lion's share of U.S. business.

"We're pretty excited," said nCUBE president Mike Pohl. "It finally validates here what we've been doing abroad."

Time Warner Cable has rolled out VOD in Austin, Tex.; Tampa, Fla., and Honolulu. It has launched subscription VOD in Cincinnati and Columbia, S.C. The MSO plans to have 12 total VOD markets up and running over the next two quarters.

Pohl said nCUBE would install centralized server architectures in three separate headends in Orange, South Bay and West Valley. Pasadena is slated for deployment in 2002.

The sites serve 363,000 basic-cable subscribers.

In the 35-server West Valley system, nCUBE will deliver up to 4,200 simultaneous streams, said Pohl. The main West Valley server could scale to more than 30,000 streams for any single piece of content.

The hypercube architecture employed by nCUBE allows a cable system to scale its VOD offering from a single server to hundreds of servers without content replication. The ability to scale streams becomes more important as digital penetration and simultaneous usage activity grows, Pohl said.

A 130,000-subscriber digital-cable system with a simultaneous-usage rate of 30 percent require 39,000 streams, according to Pohl.

"We like to present to our divisions multiple vendors," said Time Warner Cable vice president of corporate development Mike LaJoie, who noted that the company also has deals with Concurrent and Seachange. "nCUBE was very aggressive on price."

Los Angeles is typical of the larger systems in which Time Warner Cable is deploying VOD. In Tampa, for instance, more than 100,000 Time Warner subscribers can access the product.

The Tampa system's distributed-server architecture uses more than 60 Concurrent servers to deliver content to consumers.

"We want to get servers as close to the subscribers as possible, to minimize the amount of bandwidth we're utilizing," LaJoie said.

But as more content is added to VOD systems, say more than 150 titles, "it's less expensive to transmit a session than it is to duplicate storage," LaJoie said. In Los Angeles, TWC "will be using quite a bit of transport," LaJoie said, to stream content to VOD users.

Ninety-five percent of the bandwidth in joint VOD/SVOD trials is being taken up by SVOD traffic, according to LaJoie.

"VOD is very peaky," he said. "SVOD doesn't demonstrate the same kinds of peaks."

Scientific-Atlanta Inc. president of subscriber systems Allan Ecker said the average SVOD user's session time is just 8.5 minutes, compared to 90 minutes for a VOD user.

"The behavior of the subscriber is completely different if they pay on a monthly basis," he said.