By Carol Wilson
May 7, 2007 12:00 PM
It's no secret the telecom world is gearing up for the onslaught of video traffic bursting onto its networks now and ramping up over the next few years. The push of telecom companies into video services is driving much of the capital spending as access networks, metro networks and backbone networks all pack on new capacity to handle video that increasingly will appear in the network as data packets.
What's less clear, or less unanimously agreed upon, is how telecom service providers are handling what is already an assault of “over-the-top” video services, as Internet-based video becomes more popular, and how the improvements made for residential video will also help provide more efficient business services.
“There are two sets of video. The first is the over-the-top Internet video, and the second is the managed video service — the channels you are watching,” said Suraj Shetty, senior director of ISP marketing for Cisco Systems. “You can't separate the two because at the end of the day, they run on the same infrastructure.”
Already, service providers and vendors agree, the Internet backbone designed for bursty data traffic is being stressed by the sustained impact of video downloads, which today tend to be shorter video clips from services such as YouTube. But as high-definition (HD) cameras come down in price — they are expected to hit the $300 range by the end of 2007 — more consumers are inspired to become content creators and shorter clips need more bandwidth.
Now layer on top of that the growing demand for the managed video services that telcos are planning, including the delivery of multiple streams of HD video into a single home, providing volumes of niche content on demand and supplying it all on the same backbone with high-speed Internet traffic to a PC.
“You have a provider with managed video services and Internet all coming into the home on the same pipe — the same last-mile infrastructure,” Shetty said. “Say you have two TVs and one computer. That can be two HD streams as well as laptops doing high-bandwidth viewing.”
Research firm iSuppli projects the number of IPTV subscribers worldwide to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 92.5% by 2011, with the widest adoption occurring in Asia and Europe. Infonetics has forecast 45 million IPTV subscribers by 2009, although other analyst firms are predicting 25 million IPTV users in the same time frame.
“The stats are staggering,” said Mike Coward, chief technology officer for Continuous Computing, which provides hardware and software focused on packet processing and security to major equipment vendors. “Plus, as soon as you switch to video-on-demand, you have to supply a separate stream to every TV in every subscriber's house,” he said. “There is an average of 2.5 TVs in each home. As people get used to watching TV when they want to, and how they want to, that's a lot of video streams. And then you have to factor in high definition.”
Coward believes the industry may even be headed for a bandwidth crunch, which could limit IPTV rollouts. “Normally, rollouts are limited by the ability to get customers to sign up,” he said. “In this case, carriers won't be able to offer as much video-on-demand, if they don't plan for it, and they won't be able to sign up as many customers.”
Part of Stuart Elby's job, as vice president of network architecture and enterprise technology for Verizon, is to make sure technology doesn't limit what the company can provide its customers. Verizon's current FiOS deployment is obviously beefing up the local access pipes. The company has already gone from deploying broadband passive optical networks (BPONs) to deploying Gigabit PONs (GPONs) at the edge of its network. Elby said other major changes are coming, beginning late this year and in early 2008, to add to the video-on-demand portion of FiOS TV while preparing the network to deliver that content.
“Within twelve months, you will start to see a transition,” he said. “You will start to see us add more and more channels, but it's long-tail content — not the stuff you watch frequently. All of that is going to have to come across the IP infrastructure. We don't have that much [radio frequency, used to deliver cable channels in Verizon's hybrid system] analog capacity. We are all dealing with the same 1 GHz of spectrum, and you can only have a certain number of channels. All of it already won't fit.”
Right behind the deployment of GPON, Verizon will introduce a next-generation gateway router, looking to upgrade its core routers, Elby said.
“The edge routers will set in the [local phone company office] right next to the video headend,” he said.
Verizon will be moving to 40 Gb optical networks on a national basis, building more reliable ring networks and using mesh networking to survive large-scale disasters.
“The initial view of needing 40 Gig was driven by the enterprise network, but we will need that as well,” he said. “[Verizon Business] is seeing hotspots across the country between certain metro areas. If those triggers weren't there, we would be getting there very shortly with video. We have built an exceedingly reliable network using rings. No one wants to be the carrier who loses the Super Bowl. With mesh networking, we can get to the same amount of resiliency at a fraction of the cost.”
By year's end, Verizon also expects to trial a new generation of core routers capable of supporting multiple virtual networks, as well as make hardware and software upgrades without needing to take down the network, said Fred Briggs, executive vice president of network operations for Verizon Business.
“We expect to have a new [router] box we will trial at the end of this year,” he said. “We will be able to build virtual networks on it, virtual private networks and a virtual public IP network, and we will have hitless failover, so we can do software upgrades and hardware upgrades and not have to take the customer down.”
Such gear will be available from major vendors such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks by year's end for trial deployment in 2008, Briggs said.
Not surprisingly, technology vendors believe they have the answer to the bandwidth crunch that some fear video will cause.
Cisco's Shetty said that the CRS-1, his company's newest generation of routers, is designed to grow in segments, almost like Lego blocks, from the smallest form factor of 320 Gigabits up to 92 Terabits of capacity.
“You can add capacity in service if you need more,” he said. “In less than two years, we are seeing over $150 million in one quarter of revenue from this product. It's amazing for a brand new platform and operating system to see over 65 customers who have been adopting this across the globe.”
Nortel Networks, which reorganized its company around metro Ethernet because it believed the technology is the best aggregation medium for video, is seeing service providers upgrade at all layers of their networks: access, metro and core. It is promoting the use of provider backbone transport technology “to essentially segment the network into more efficient point-to-point links,” said John Hawkins, director of carrier Ethernet marketing for Nortel.
“The residential and the wireless guys are really taxing that first layer of the infrastructure,” he said. “The bandwidth at the first layer [point of presence] could be 75% due to video. The access network really becomes exacerbated at the aggregation point, and then once it's bundled at the metro level, that is where you start having to having 10 Gig pipes where before you didn't think you needed 10 Gig.”
The combination of Ethernet, DWDM and reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs) factor into Tellabs' approach to helping its service provider customers upgrade their networks for video, said Tim Doiron, group marketing manager of access and data products for Tellabs.
But, as he points out, the business case for deploying all this new technology is based on selling new managed video services and creating a converged infrastructure for all traffic.
“We see increasing interest in the combination of lots of wavelengths with ROADM, with DWDM and Ethernet switching,” he said. “Those three combined seem to make a pretty powerful combination to create not just a residential distribution network, but a distribution network for the lambdas and wavelengths throughout the metro area for residential, business and all the rest.”