RGB Attacks All-Digital Dilemma

RGB Networks heads to NCTA's National Show this week with a new product it says will make it easier for cable operators to address one of their top technical concerns: moving to an all-digital cable plant.

Cable operators are feeling the push from satellite and telco operators to offer more channels and services. That means better utilizing their cable bandwidth. Step one: Get rid of the analog tier, a bandwidth hog serving low-end subscribers and those who don't want to use a set-top box.

The analog tier eats up as much as two-thirds of a cable plant's bandwidth, greatly limiting the number of channels and services that a cable operator can distribute.

The Simulcast Edge Processor (SEP) can help make more bandwidth available, according to RGB Networks President/CEO Adam Tom. The unit is expected to be available toward the end of the second quarter, with pricing to be determined.

The all-in-one approach taken by RGB Networks is a new paradigm in the industry. For most operators, solving the digital-cable-plant problem has meant waiting for set-top–box manufacturers to build a digital set-top box that costs around $50 each and can be attached to the back of the TV set. But that wait will continue as set-top box makers such as Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta focus their attention where the money is: large set-top boxes with tons of DVR storage.

Converts Digital to Analog

Once the SEP is in place, cable operators can distribute all their channels in compressed digital form right to the cable hub, which is the last link between the coaxial cable running to the home and the cable operator.

“Operators won't need a dual plant, one analog and one digital, any longer,” says Tom. “This unit is placed in the hub at the edge of the cable distribution network. There, it converts the digital signals to analog so they can be distributed to older analog sets and set-top boxes.”

Losing Units Saves Power

Previous methods to accomplish this goal have required several pieces of equipment. The SEP, however, combines decoding, modulation and even upconversion not only in one product but also in one rack unit of space.

“With separate units for those functions, it can take as much as 20 rack units of space,” says Tom.

Losing those units also saves power. He says power savings alone will run upward of $11,000 per hub.