Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

The word from the International Telecommunication Union is that Fleetwood Mac was right and that the cable industry better continue expanding its data carrying capacity because at least one -- and possibly more -- voracious new services are on their way. ...

Content Dam Btr En Articles 2011 10 Don T Stop Thinking About Tomorrow Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

By Carl Weinschenk, Senior Editor

The word from the International Telecommunication Union is that Fleetwood Mac was right and that the cable industry better continue expanding its data carrying capacity because at least one -- and possibly more -- voracious new services are on their way.

OK, the ITU didn’t exactly say either of those things. What it did say was that an agreement was reached on “most of the pertinent technical characteristics” of Ultra High Definition Television.

How to make a television picture sharper is no mystery: The more pixels, the higher the quality. And the ITU is suggesting that a whole lot of pixels should be added. UHDTV, which will approach the quality of an IMAX presentation, increases the 2 million pixels used in the highest quality HDTV images to 33 million.

This massive increase likely won’t be completely felt by cable systems. Like its experience with 3D, the industry will find some shortcuts around full transmission. At the same time, however, MSOs will need to keep up with the Joneses. Subscribers have options, and better pictures -- requiring significantly more pixels and, thus, more bandwidth -- will have to be transmitted.

The point isn’t the wisdom of UHDTV (though it does sound pretty cool). It is that the industry will be making a mistake to assume that there isn’t a small army of bandwidth-hungry services at various stages of the march to the cable operators’ front door. UHDTV may be among the most dramatic -- a 1,600% increase in pixels is an attention grabber -- but is not the only new source of demand that will emerge.

Cable operators need to continue developing more capacity, either by deepening their physical infrastructures or tightening things to the point that more aggressive modulation schemes can be used in a greater number of circumstances. The choice no longer is whether cable subscribers will get a particular service or not. It is whether they will get it from the cable operator or from another provider.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor for Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@broadbandtechreport.com.

More in DOCSIS