Broadband: An introspection

By : |May 7, 2002 0

Alopa is a company that is doing pioneering work in the field of cable
provisioning and end to end backend automation for the cable operators providing
broadband services. Vijaya Verma the founder and managing director of the
company shares her views on cable as a broadband medium and her predictions for
the future in this space.

There has been lot of talk of broadband in India and cable as a great medium.
How can a medium like cable really take off in a country like India?
In terms of the sheer size of India and its population, the number of people
who have cable TV has increased enormously over the years. In terms of
percentage, the penetration of PC users and dialup users is not so great but the
fact that it is so simple to have one cable and use the same connection for TV
and Internet browsing, remains. If the cable operators actually push this
concept in a much better way than they have been doing so far, you can actually
find a lot of people opting for data over cable versus dialup services. The
cable operators have to actually take the initiative of pushing the users to use
cable for data also instead of just TV.

How has India matured in terms of technology for this kind of a scenario?
The major thing in terms of hardware infrastructure is that the cable
operators have to gear up for two-way services. Most of the cable operators
today operate only one-way as TV is just unidirectional, whereas Internet is
two-way as it involves both up-stream and down-stream of data. This, people here
have been a little slower to adopt. In the US, practically almost all the cable
operators have become two-way. They have changed their entire infrastructure,
requiring a lot of investment, which they have done. Though they have done it,
somehow the penetration hasn’t been all that high in terms of converting the
pure cable guys in to data over cable guys. People are still content using the
dialup services.

What do you think are the hindering blocks?
The hindering blocks have been really that if you take a dialup kind of a
setup, the user has to just buy a modem off the shelf connect to the PC, sign up
with an ISP and you are online. In the case of cable somebody has to come to
your house and do some installation and tuning (referred to as truck roles) to
get it up and running. One truck role is for the RF technician to tune all the
parameters of the cable modem to ensure the transmit power levels and the
receive power levels are okay. The other truck role is for the PC technician to
come to your house and actually set up the IP addresses in your cable modem so
that it can actually talk to the back-end system. Now two truck roles per
installation is the huge bottleneck that actually prevented people from getting
on to data over cable network. The cable operators have realized that they have
to actually reduce this and what is required for this is proper back office
operation system support (OSS) solutions that automate this whole process. The
PC technician going and setting the IP addresses at the user end can be avoided
by completely automated processes. That is what a software like ours does, it
completely cuts down this whole truck role.

One more thing is that standards are being established now, earlier there
were no standards and there were proprietary clashes and you would require to
have very specialized software. Now it is not needed as there is a standard
called the Data Over Cable System Interface Specification (DOCSIS).

What is the pre-requisite for Broadband Service Providers (BSP) for going in
for a backend automation solution like yours?
The only pre-requisite, atleast for us, is the numbers. The BSP should be in
a position to project numbers in the range of a few thousand or hundred thousand
subscribers in a quarter or some target of this kind. So basically, the BSPs
must have a target for themselves. The reason being our pricing model is
entirely dependent on the number of subscribers. Say if there are only 2000
subscribers in a huge region it does not work out in terms of business

So what’s the business potential, it all boils down to speculation?
Well, you’ll have to predict growth. Compared to any other market it is a
great market to be in because the number of people wanting high-speed access is
always going to grow. It’s a question of how quickly it grows. It is how you
position yourself in this market to actually take a large portion of the pie.

Don’t you think there is great potential for cable in the business segment,
why is cable not being positioned for the businesses?
Cable was positioned for homes as TV being in homes and DSL was positioned
for business. The focus of DSL was always on business. That’s how the market
also grew and only now there is a demand for cable for offices as well. The
mindset has always been cable for home and DSL for business. Cable was projected
more as a broadband medium with multiple users using it and so business users
were vary of using cable unless there was security and VPN kind of services
built on top of cable. Now with techniques like tunneling cable is also gearing
up for business as greater security can be ensured with the possibility of data
being tunneled to a specific recipient.

Why do you think DSL did not kick off, as it should have?
Well, DSL didn’t kick off for scalability issues and due to problems of
truck roles etc. They didn’t have standards to resolve that. Every
manufacturer of DSLAM, DSL multiplexer and DSL modem had their own proprietary
software with which alone it worked, thus limiting the scope of its usage.

How are the next generation services poised in the broadband space according
to you?
Now it is not only just data but also voice over cable which is picking up
in a big way. The standards also are almost frozen. Many of the tier one
companies to whom we are talking to are interested in voice over cable as this
proves to be a huge advantage compared to the telcos. People already have cable
modems and telephones, they have to just to shift over. The latest standards
brought out by cable labs have security, quality of service standards and so on.
Once these standards are deployed fully you can see the demand for voice
services or the next-gen services. If we have voice and data using the same
infrastructure then it can be a huge advantage for the MSOs, they can make a lot
of money and they can even slowly push the telcos out of business.

How do you predict the future of broadband services in India?
I think it is very good. It is just the question of some people taking
leadership position and giving their mindshare to the people as to what is
broadband, why is it good and putting an infrastructure for this in to place.

Winding up, what do you think are services to watch out in the future in the
broadband space?
I think video on demand or streaming video is going to take off in a big
way. Internet gaming is another domain which could attain new dimensions with a
broadband kind of set up. Content provisioning is also another exciting thing to
watch out for where service providers can stream in target specific content. I
think on the whole, Broadband is such a great framework where a lot of exciting
things can happen.

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