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26 August 2021

Comcast Tech shoots down satellites with managed IP video migration path

Many B2B technology subsidiaries of pay TV operator giants have struggled to hit the ground running, for numerous reasons. Comcast Technology Solutions is a prime example of a vendor that has labored to break out of its parent’s shadow and make a real impact beyond its primary business of supporting legacy TV operations of smaller regional operators – and change has been a long time coming.

With a view to fully replacing its decades-old satellite-based managed service for content acquisition and distribution, Comcast Technology Solutions has released a new Managed Terrestrial Distribution service – forging a path to IP video using ground-based video infrastructure. Done right, expenses reductions for customers can be significant.

While this is a natural evolution from what was once known as a headend in the sky, now more commonly known as Managed Satellite Distribution to help operators reclaim bandwidth and recoup costs, this latest move is another blow dealt to the satellite industry by the video vendor community.

We should note that Comcast very recently handed a major multi-year contract renewal to SES for continued delivery of its Managed Satellite Distribution service on behalf of Comcast Technology Solutions. However, Comcast Technology Solutions is now providing its customer base with a migration path to IP for those actively seeking a way out of satellite distribution, so the long-term implications are still gloomy for fleet operators like SES.

So, the Managed Terrestrial Distribution technology is a new service within the existing CTSuite, comprising upgraded technology for content acquisition, packaging, management, and delivery. It takes a hybrid-IP approach to enhancing video that it says allows operators to maintain field investments and existing customer user experiences.

Comcast Technology Solutions will delicately balance the delivery of IP video and terrestrial-based infrastructure, including network connections, content delivery, and managed distribution services. Those operators in danger of being left in the dark will be able to channel more investments towards broadband-based projects and therefore evolve their video businesses accordingly around this.

For many smaller regional operators in the US, this is a marathon not a sprint. Only by further crushing headend infrastructure expenses, can these cash-strapped service providers redirect expenditure to IP video infrastructure – through savings in areas like rack space and power, with room for server consolidation.

MTC Cable, a regional operator serving the Central Catskill region of New York, is one of the first customers to make the switch. Reducing operational costs and positioning itself to survive the future of TV with high-quality experiences are the main selling points for MTC Cable, which spends a considerable about of time and resources maintaining satellite equipment.

Plenty of US pay TV operators still rely heavily on Managed Satellite Distribution, which is really the product of 20 years of technology evolutions, as a method for adding more digital services and making savings on equipment costs. Comcast Technology Solutions claims customers can reclaim more than 70% of their bandwidth, making room for up to 44 HD services.

The upgraded Managed Satellite Distribution service also eliminates transcoding from programmers that only transmit in MPEG-4 HD while maximizing investments in MPEG-2 to improve bandwidth utilization by 25% with advanced compression. All signals are available via a single satellite using DVB-S2 compression on all 256 QAM multiplexes, and it of course comes with conditional access assurances. This is still a big business for the likes of Comcast Technology Solutions, so the arrival of new hybrid Managed Terrestrial Distribution technology as a service to cannibalize its existing Managed Satellite Distribution product is a decision that cannot have been taken lightly – but one that absolutely had to be made.

Cloud migrations will be another thing playing on the minds of tier 3 and 4 regional operators. We have observed Comcast Technology Solutions in the past talking about taking advantage of cloud providers’ high order of services. This allows it to develop technology faster, so that it is not just looking for basic compute and storage. It can try to pin an application to a specific cloud like AWS or Azure, for example, and then say this application will run here and give the end user all the speed and efficiencies possible.

Like most businesses with a focus on channel delivery, Comcast Technology Solutions decided a few years ago that it wanted to securely and reliably deliver content over the internet and acquire content from different sources, so in came the low latency protocol SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) as a no-brainer.

One distinct advantage Comcast Technology Solutions has is the ability to push out to the Comcast edge network, where SRT media gateways are deployed on edge infrastructure to pick up signals, over satellite, fiber, or dedicated networks. Any signals it doesn’t already have, it can pick up over the open internet.

Of course, the Comcast network was purpose built for video over X1, boasting a spread of PoPs across the country (in the region of 200, we believe). It has also configured the channel delivery edge to be geo-dispersed, meaning customers can pick up signals locally from the edge network.

Comcast Technology Solutions has also been gearing up to create additional revenue streams for customers via pop up channels and distribution partners, particularly as a method for promoting live events as they return to action after an extended hiatus.