Commentary

Something New Under The Covers: Switched Broadcast

The latest new technology coming down the path of change is called switched broadcast. This new bandwidth-expanding technology, hotly pursued by MSOs and telecos, makes it unnecessary to deliver hundreds of channels simultaneously to a subscriber's home. Instead, switched broadcast uses the two-way digital plant to deliver digital content toward addressable nodes. The effect is that only one channel at a time is delivered to a digital set-top box (and TV), not the hundreds of channels we receive today.

This dramatic change in distribution technology, which is largely invisible to the consumer, allows operators to free up valuable bandwidth behind the scenes for (what else) additional digital services.

Switched broadcast is presently being deployed by a number of MSOs--and yes, the telecos have likewise been very keen on this from day one. The benefits to bandwidth are obvious when calculated in the "bits moved" savings realized by the operators, but consumers will also benefit by virtue of faster broadband delivery, more telephony services, improvements in on-demand services, etc. So what's the big deal? All this accomplishes is to bring more profitability to the MSOs and telecos, right? Not exactly. To be fair, there is more to the story.

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The actual benefits enjoyed by the operators will be passed on to consumers because high bandwidth applications that presently hog resources today will give way to the efficient delivery of digital entertainment streams to customers' homes tomorrow. That means more room for new programming sources and for the emergence of more high definition sources--which will really be needed when HDTV sets are flying off the shelves.

Switched broadcast is no doubt a good thing, but it also fundamentally changes a concept we have all lived with for years--namely, that video is delivered by "channels." The new era we are entering increasingly features streams of digital content intelligently directed to specific geography, locations, or homes, and coexists with the broadcast-to-all model. From the content provider view, the pressure for closer linkage between branding and technology seems clear; technology quite simply enables this. So let's "mark the calendar" that the consumer experience really profits from a technology providing greater choice and expanded services.

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