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Unlike the telephone industry that began its colorful life under the scrutiny of a small number of like-minded individuals (Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail, among others), the cable industry came about thanks to the combined efforts of hundreds of innovators, each building on Parson s original concept. As a consequence, the industry, while enormous, is in many ways fragmented. Powerful industry leaders like John Malone and Gerald Levine were able to exert Tito-like powers to unite the many companies, turning a loosely cobbled-together collection of players into cohesive, powerful corporations with a shared vision of what they were capable of accomplishing. Today, the cable industry is a force to be reckoned with and upgrades to the original network are underway. This is a crucial activity that will ensure the success of the industry s ambitious business plan and provide a competitive balance for the traditional telcos.
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The traditional cable network is an analog system based on a tree-like architecture. The headend, which serves as the signal origination point, serves as the signal aggregation facility. It collects programming infor-
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
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Figure 6-6 Satellite receive antennas at cable headend facility
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Figure 6-7 Layout of typical cable distribution network
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mation from a variety of sources including satellite and terrestrial feeds. Headend facilities often look like a mushroom farm; they are typically surrounded by a variety of satellite dishes (see Figure 6-6). The headend is connected to the downstream distribution network by one-inch diameter, rigid coaxial cable, as shown in Figure 6-7. That cable delivers the signal usually a 450 MHz collection of 6 MHz channels to a neighborhood, where splitters divide the signal and send it down halfinch diameter, semi-rigid coax that typically runs down a residential street. At each house, another splitter (see Figure 6-8) pulls off the signal and feeds it to the set-top box in the house over the drop wire, a local loop of flexible quarter-inch coaxial cable.
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Figure 6-8 Signal splitter in residential cable installation
6
While this architecture is perfectly adequate for the delivery of oneway television signals, its shortcomings for other services should be fairly obvious to the reader. First of all, it is, by design, a broadcast system. It does not typically have the ability to support upstream traffic (from the customer toward the headend) and, therefore, is not suited for interactive applications. Second, because of its design, the network is prone to significant failures that have the potential to affect large numbers of customers. The tree structure, for example, means that if a failure occurs along any branch in the tree, every customer from that point downward loses service. Contrast this with the telephone network where customers have a dedicated local loop over which their service is delivered. Second, because the system is analog, it relies on amplifiers to keep the signal
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strong, as it is propagated downstream. These amplifiers are powered locally they do not have access to central office power as devices in the telephone network do. Consequently, a local power failure can bring down the network s ability to distribute service in that area. The third issue is one of customer perception. For any number of reasons, there is a general perception that the cable network is not as capable or as reliable as the telephone network. As a consequence of this perception, the cable industry is faced with the daunting challenge of convincing potential voice and data customers that they are in fact capable of delivering high-quality service. Some of the concerns are justified. In the first place, the telephone network has been in existence for almost 125 years, during which time its operators have learned how to optimally design, manage, and operate it in order to provide the best possible service. The cable industry, on the other hand, came about 50 years ago and didn t benefit from the rigorously administered, centralized management philosophy that characterized the telephone industry. Additionally, the typical 450 MHz cable system did not have adequate bandwidth to support the bi-directional transport requirements of new services. Furthermore, the architecture of the legacy cable network, with its distributed power delivery and tree-like distribution design, does not lend itself to the same high degree of redundancy and survivability that the telephone network offers. Consequently, cable providers have been hard-pressed to convert customers who are vigorously protective of their telecommunications services.
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