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FOCUS: Connected Home Entertainment for DBS Operators
by Troy Brandon + Jon Iwanaga, Entropic

Satellite, Cable, Telco or even free broadcast TV — how is a consumer to make the correct selection? Subscription cost is certainly a key factor, but if it were the sole criteria, the operator with the lowest monthly cost would grab the entire market. Instead, consumers look for features that provide genuine value to them. In a business where competitors all have access to the same media content the challenge is how an operator can bring to bear a distinctive value to the subscriber. This provides the opportunity for service operators to establish brand loyalty, especially if that value is unique to the operator.

Service operators have rolled out pay-per-view (PPV), video-on-demand (VoD), digital-video-recorders (DVRs) and added high-definition (HD) content to their networks in order to increase average revenue per user (ARPU) for existing subscribers and to attract new subscribers from another operator. What an operator really needs are features that increase ARPU and attract new subscribers as well as increasing switching costs for subscribers so a switch to another operator becomes more difficult. A home network, set up and managed by a service operator, can enable features and services that provide these results.
Pure-play satellite TV operators already come to the game somewhat handicapped as they are unable to offer high-speed broadband access themselves. However, just because a DBS operator doesn’t own a broadband connection does not mean a home network would not be useful in increasing ARPU and reducing churn.

According to Parks Associates in their recent report Home Networks for Consumer Electronics, home networking will reach 167 million households worldwide by the end of 2008 and is forecast to reach 250 million households by year-end 2013. The home entertainment networking segment is expected to grow even faster. Parks Associates forecasts home entertainment networking penetration to grow from 6.4 million at year-end 2008 to 52 million by year-end 2013 — a compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent.

Entropic Communications provides silicon and software solutions that enable DBS operators to overlay a high-speed home network on top of their existing broadcast video services. Using the same coax cable that is used between the low noise block (LNB) converter and the set-top box (STB), Entropic’s MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) based network solutions enable a 175 Mbps network to be formed between STBs.

Additionally, by using Entropic’s Channel Stacking Switch products in conjunction with the home networking solutions, operator installations can be simplified to the point of a having a single wire from the LNB able support the home network and the video services.

The Multimedia Home Network
Remember the time before DVR, when only a few consumers knew what it meant to pause, fast-forward, and rewind live TV? It was difficult for consumers to understand the value of digital-video-recording unless they actually used the technology. But once used, many consumers found they couldn’t live without their DVR.

Similarly, would you want to return to the days of the dial-up modem? At that time, some questioned the need for anything faster than 56k, but as more broadband users came online, more Internet content appeared that required higher speeds to offer a far richer experience. The point is that the technology in these cases outpaced the consumer and created the desire. Today, the multimedia capable home network is in its early stage — consumers and operators are just starting to realize the benefits this technology can deliver.

A MoCA home network enables DBS operators to broaden their product offerings. For example, by using the network to connect DVR STBs to non-DVR STBs, the operator can offer room-to-room video streaming. A show recorded in the living room can now be watched in the bedroom or in any other room with an equipped STB. Dad can still watch the time-shifted game on the big TV in the family room and the kids can watch their recorded shows in bedroom, even though the recorded content sits on the family room DVR.

A MoCA network has enough bandwidth available to handle four or more simultaneous HD video streams around the home. By attaching a PC or network attached storage device to the operator’s network, subscribers can access their pictures, music, personal videos and stream that content to the TV — perfect for those family gatherings when relatives and guests are sitting around the TV and the subscriber wants to share the content.

When connected to a broadband modem, the multimedia home network becomes even more enriching. A MoCA network can enable the DBS operator to offer additional services such as HD VOD, remote DVR programming, and channels of personalized content. Once a network is established, room-to-room gaming, on-line gaming, or social networking becomes possible through the operators’ STB. A DBS operator can go so far as to manage other aspects of the subscribers’ home by offering services such as remote PC data backup, home security, and automation. Imagine being able to easily view security camera images from around your home to your TV with the click of a menu item. New, high value features such as these can differentiate an operator from competitors and create value for a subscriber, leading to a long-term relationship.

MoCA for the Network
Of course, many consumers have set up their own home networks using Ethernet or WiFi gear, but these are primarily used as data networks rather than multimedia networks. We differentiate between data centric networks and multimedia networks because multimedia networks require an additional level of robustness and performance that data centric networks don’t offer.

For example, although WiFi is perfectly suited to transferring files or browsing the Internet, try streaming, not downloading, multiple HD videos across it. Bandwidth will vary across different points in the home and, even though some bandwidth may be available, current WiFi technology cannot guarantee enough bandwidth is available to ensure a pristine viewing experience.

A multimedia network such as MoCA offers enough bandwidth for multiple streams of HD video and ensures the bandwidth is available at every coax outlet in the home. Operators require this level of robustness, as they cannot tolerate a situation where their home network only works in some areas and with undeterminable bandwidth.

The Multimedia over Coax Alliance represents a large cross-section of companies with a common vision to enable the distribution of entertainment media and data throughout the home. MoCA has representation from OEMs that build equipment such as STBs, gateways, and routers; service providers that sell the consumer services; and silicon companies who produce the technology that is used to power the network.

MoCA is a fully defined network MAC/PHY standard that can establish a full-mesh communications network using existing coax cables found in typical residential dwellings. The targeted application for a MoCA home network is to open the path to previously isolated pockets of multimedia content, providing access to entertainment content such as HD video, audio, and data traffic in any room with a coax outlet.

Coaxial networks provide an ideal physical medium for a high-speed networking as it offers wide bandwidth, a shielded and relatively low noise environment, and is conveniently collocated next to televisions. Unlike other network technologies focused primarily on transferring non-time critical data, MoCA focuses on achieving the key performance specifications critical to support streaming multiple streams of HD video around the home.

CSS Value for the Operator
By adding Channel Stacking Switch capability to a MoCA home networking solution, DBS operators gain the opportunity to offer new services and reduce the capital costs associated with new subscriber installations and current customer upgrades.

In traditional DBS installations, a single cable is run from the outdoor dish or multi-switch to each STB tuner within the home. DVRs have two tuners to support watch and record, so a typical home with four DVRs would require eight unique cable runs. The CSS technology allows these same eight tuners to be supported from a single cable run using standard satellite band splitters. In most cases, the DBS operator can reuse the existing cabling within the home. This pre-existing network has historically gone largely unused during a non CSS DBS installation, resulting in a lost opportunity to leverage the existing cabling and extra labor and material costs to the Operator.

A single cable MoCA network allows video-on-demand (VOD) and pay-per-view (PPV) support with only a central, conveniently located internet connection versus a connection at each STB location. The CSS frequency agility is of added benefit as it allows a DBS Operator to create large chunks of BW within the 950MHz -2150MHz band. This entire band is reserved for DBS service which provides the Operator flexibility in where to place the MoCA channel today and reserve bandwidth for the next generation MoCA technology.

Cost Savings + More...
In the highly competitive pay-TV business, DBS operators will need an array of new services and operational tools to keep providing value to its subscribers. An Entropic MoCA home network enables operators to expand their service offerings and create new value for subscribers and thereby increase ARPU. By combining MoCA and CSS together, DBS operators can gain cost savings from a single cable structure that also supports whole home entertainment networking. Together, MoCA and CSS offer DBS operators proven, ready-to-deploy technology solutions that are future proof, reliable, and cost efficient. Entropic based multimedia home networks yield increased revenue, while its Channel Stacking Switches help minimize costs to provide a net positive impact on the operator’s bottom line. MoCA plus CSS offers DBS operators and its subscribers a true win-win for connected home entertainment.

About the authors
Troy Brandon is the Product Line Manager, DBS ODU Solutions at Entropic Communications. He may be reached via his email, troy.brandon@entropic.com

Jon Iwanaga is the Product Line Manager, Home Networking at Entropic Communications. He may be contacted via his email, jon.iwanaga@entropic.com