NCTC WEC: Coping With Bandwidth Demands

Phoenix -- Cable technology officers, dealing with bandwith consumption on their networks growing at 40%-50% per year, have to plan ahead, given that network capacity can't grow as fast as demand and given that a small number of heavy users tilt the scale so heavily.

And they have to factor in more than just Netflix and video. Al Kuolas, chief technology officer at cable provider Atlantic Broadband, said that "when you look at the future one of the things that probably scares me the most is this concept of a self-driving car.”  To work properly, he noted, a self-driven car will need lots of intelligence road closures and the latest maps. "Conceivably, you can imagine that every car needs a gigabyte of data updated every night.” He thinks the bandwidth demand growth rate will go beyond the 40%-50% happening now.

Kuolas spoke during an opening general session of the National Cable Television Cooperative's Winter Education Conference, a gathering of small to midsized multichannel-TV providers and supplier companies. 

Kuolas also talked about connected households and differing bandwidth needs among devices. Say the provider promises a 100 megabit per second service into the home, how fast should it work on the attic floor of a Victorian house? It seems from experience that 10 MBPS might be enough to keep Netflix working without breaking up and enough speed to keep customers relatively satisfied. “That might be the sort of medium ground that we agree to,” he said. Atlantic Broadband is trying to figure out what are "the minimum standards and the minimum specs that we’re going to offer as a truly connected home.” 

Ken Paker, CTO and vice president of network services at TDS Telecom, which owns independent phone companies and, increasingly, cable companies, said the uneven nature of demand during peak (6-11 p.m.) and non-peak periods strains the system. The difference between peak and non-peak broadband demand is about a 10-times ratio, he said. “The peak time is what’s driving the capital investment and that’s also how customers are rating our service,” Paker said, and there's no clear evolution to how product offerings and pricing evolves to address that situation.

The two CTOs -- and Jason Hansen, CTO of the Comway, Ark., municipal broadband provider -- said DOCSIS 3.1 will play an important role in managing bandwidth and providing gigabit broadband service. Hansen said Conway is hoping to have gigabit service on offer to the community by the end of this year. Kuolas said the first Atlantic Broadband gigabit markets will be in Connecticut this year, following through on promises made in acquiring former Metrocast systems there, but the Miami, Fla., market where Atlantic operates also will see early rollouts. Paker of TDS Telecom said gigabit service will be an important offering -- wanted by perhaps 15%-20% of the market -- and speeds of 60-100 MPBS are likely to be the biggest mainstream product.

Clearcable Networks CEO Rob McCann moderated the panel, which also included Rob Bazilewich, CTO at Access Communications in Canada, and Frank Miller, chief architect and vice president of architecture and roadmaps at CenturyLink.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.