access via cable: The challenges ahead
as cable is foraying into the Indian market as an
access technology, let us look at the various issues
that are impeding its growth and how it fares compared
to other access technologies.
access require 2 - way signal transmission, cable
offers sufficient through put for digital data to
travel in reverse direction that is the problem lies.
that the Internet has meandered into every aspect
of our lives has become redundant. Nevertheless, the
issues regarding access technologies such as speed,
performance, cost, security continue to keep the industry
constantly researching for improvement and the user
fraternity comparing and evaluating, and always hoping
for something better.
various access technologies such as cable, Digital
Subscriber Line (DSL), Integrated Services Digital
Network (ISDN), dial up and so on are vying for supremacy
and market share. With the industry touting cable
as the next best access technology, let us go back
to the origins of the cable network, peek into the
technology itself and see what the industry has to
say about how it fares with the other existing technologies
in the market.
The origins of cable networks can be traced back to
the 70s, when they were deployed in the US to provide
TV access to remote locations, where signal transmission
was poor or nil. It was not long before cable companies
began offering their own content and at affordable
prices too. The content moved from entertainment to
information and today the US has over 4.5 million
users of Internet over cable.
followed suit. Over the past two decades, several
cable companies have mushroomed all over the country,
to transmit TV channels. The Internet has now opened
a whole new service opportunity for these cable companies.
Cable companies and service providers, having recognized
the fast access speed offered by cable networks, are
beefing up their infrastructure to offer Internet
access and other value added services via cable.
there are approximately 2,000-3,000 Internet over
cable subscribers in India.
not all cable companies are offering Internet access
yet and many that do are doing it on a limited or
of the cable operators who are offering or are planning
to offer Internet access via cable are: Siti Cable,
Ice Network Pvt. Ltd., and such others like Innomedia
Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Mantra Online, BPL, Aptech
Internet Ltd., etc.
Internet access can be offered in two ways
by a dial-up service via a modem or an ISDN adapter;
or by using a cable modem for a PC or a set top box
(STB) for a television. Modem and ISDN, however, use
the ordinary telephone cables for transmission and
hence are not much of an improvement over the normal
telephone dial-up access.
a user wishes to access Internet on his PC via cable
he needs to install a cable modem. But if he chooses
to do so on his television, he needs a set top box
modems separate digital and analogue traffic and enable
a PC to send and receive data using the coaxial cable
sharing its downstream and upstream frequencies with
the Cable TV channels. A cable modem interacts with
a Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) installed
at a central location, let us say, the cable operator.
The CMTS in turn interfaces with the CATV frequency
spectrum. Cable modems use various technologies like
the TDMA based DOCSIS standard or the more robust
and modern SCDMA based TERAYON proprietary technology.
set-top box (STB) enables Internet over TV using any
access technology i.e PSTN, dial up, DSL or Cable.
For each access medium, the STB needs to have a suitable
kind of modem built into it. For instance, a dial
up modem in a dial up STB or a Cable Modem in a Cable
STB, separates the digital traffic and feeds it into
the user's television. STB enables a user to use his
TV as a display device. The STB acts as a miniature
PC (or an Internet appliance) and the TV takes the
place of the computer monitor. Thus, the user is always
online and connected to the Internet. In some solutions,
upstream traffic is carried through the telephone
connection while only the downstream traffic travels
only browsing and e-mail facilities can be provided.
Data streaming and downloading from the Net is not
possible in the absence of a memory device and software
plug-ins such as Real, Flash, Windows Media, etc.
User or Corporate Customer?
The primary advantage of cable is the large throughput
it offers to users and hence is well suited for broadband
services. Some industry analysts even call cable a
broadband technology. Cable is suitable for multimedia
downloads such as movies, animation etc. In these
transactions the upstream data is very small while
the downstream data constitutes a large part of the
transaction. The cable technology will give best cost
performance benefits in this case.
providers are targeting both corporate customers and
home users. For the home users services such as work@home,
videochat, PPV (Pay per View), VoD (video on demand)
and so on will be offered. Yet from the point of view
of low transaction levels of home users and exorbitant
price factors, the solution is not yet feasible for
the home user, unless the user has a sizeable amount
of downloads or is an addicted browser. "For
home users, dial up is still the most viable option,"
says Vijay Simha, managing director, Ice Network Pvt.
Ltd., Bangalore. Cable works out to be very expensive,
as a cable modem costs about Rs.10,000 and a monthly
fee of close to Rs.1,000 is incurred by the home user.
the other hand, this technology seems to be just-the-right
solution for bandwidth intensive applications and
the continuous use of corporate customers. Web developers/hosts,
web-services companies such as transcriptions, training
institutes, the SME segment and large businesses will
be the ones who will reap the benefits of the cable
access technology. "Corporates are the primary
target customers because of the high volume of traffic
handled by them. Moreover, the kind of speeds required
for them can be delivered only via cable and within
a reasonable price range," says Subrata Bhattacharya,
general manager, operations, Siti Cable, New Delhi.
cafes are important target customers as they can reap
a lot of benefits. They can pull just one connection
and configure it on a LAN, which will offer huge savings
on telephone bills.
customers using multimedia applications will find
cable more effective. These applications include interactive
entertainment, distance learning, web TV and streaming
audio. This connectivity is also useful in mobile
computing applications such as e-mail.
cable has made possible a lot of community solutions
such as tele-medicine.
Internet, cable service providers are also offering
other value added services such as e-commerce solutions,
data warehousing, data mining and so on. Virtual Private
Network (VPNs) with a web interface, effective intranet
and extranet deployments using cable networks.
technology has a long way to go
Though cable has immense potential as an access technology,
it has a long way to go in terms of last mile infrastructure
upgradation, quality of service, cost factors, security
and so on.
begin with the cable laid in most parts of the country
was originally meant for television signal (video
and voice) transmission and not for data transmission.
In addition, Mohan Tambe, Managing Director, Innomedia
Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, points out that
the cables have been laid in the most unscientific
manner by local people who lack the necessary skills.
deployment involves very high initial investment.
The already laid cable is meant only for one way signal
transmission. But Internet access and related services
require two way signal transmission. Therefore, cable
offers sufficient throughput for digital data to travel
from the head end to the users' end but it is in the
reverse transmission from the user end via the cable
to the head end, that is where the problem lies. "The
reverse signal transmission is less than 40 Mhz. So,
lesser the frequency, greater the noise," points
last mile needs to be upgraded, i.e. the reverse path
of the network needs to be made compatible by changing
the amplifiers with two-way capability," points
out Subrata Bhattacharya, General Manager, operations,
Siti Cable, New Delhi. In addition, upgradation is
an arduous and expensive task. In the older cable
networks the joints are improper.
the noise factor is very high. So, it is better if
new cable can be laid. But this is a very expensive
proposition. Hence, there is resistance," adds
cable operators are not an organized sector and are
small companies operating in few localities. If there
is not a sizeable number of users under a certain
cable service provider's area of operation, then there
is no return on investment (RoI). "Since there
are no volumes and economies of scale, the additional
cost/capital investment of providing Internet over
cable is not viable," says Sanjay Ketkar, Sr.
Vice President, e-commerce software development division,
Aptech Limited, Bangalore. Aptech is a software solutions
company and a subsidiary of Aptech called Aptech Internet
Ltd., (Tringtring.com) focuses on Internet access
is primarily the high cost and the high import duties
on cable modems, CMTS and related equipment that makes
cable an expensive proposition.
to Atul Kunvar, CEO, Mantra Online, New Delhi, It
is the small cable networks that impede rapid deployment
and mass penetration, because RoI suffers. Ideally
networks above 10,000 cable homes are required. Most
cable networks are 1,000 to 3,000 cable homes,
vis-à-vis other access technologies
"Cable has wide penetration and has low lead
time (for connectivity). However, the bandwidths supporting
operations continue to be low and this effectively
nullifies the promise of broadband-over-cable. On
performance parameters, DSL wins over Cable,"
says Suroop Gopalakrishnan, Senior Manager (sales),
Dishnet DSL. Ltd., Bangalore.
views are, perhaps, a pointer to the fact that despite
the speed of access benefit that cable as a technology
offers, it is ultimately the performance that is going
to leverage the technology and enable penetration
in the market.
ISDN offers good speed and reliability as data is
carried on digital lines, the user is discouraged
by the very high telephone bills that he incurs. Further,
it is not available in all parts of the world. With
cable, the telephone bill is eliminated, and this
is a big advantage.
to Tambe "ISDN as a technology is antiquated
because the throughput it offers is 64 kbps only".
on the other hand though cable operators promise high
bandwidth, with an increase in the user base, the
bandwidth will be divided and the performance and
uptime of the network will depend on the service provider's
infrastructure and redundancy.
is shunned by most users simply because of its slow
speed , and hence does not match up with cable modems.
Dial-up does have advantages in that it is accessible
from any part of the world. Nevertheless, users have
to connect to the Internet by dialing and hence it
does not give constant online connection as does cable.
This connectivity is more useful in mobile computing
applications such as e-mail.
and dial up cannot match the bandwidth and speeds
offered by Cable. Where ISDN and PSTN end, cable begins!
i.e. ISDN offers a maximum of 128 Kbps and PSTN 56
kbps, cable starts with 64 kbps and can go up in multiples
of 64 Kbps till almost 8.5 Mbps (soon 38 Mbps). There
is no line dropping in cable like in ISDN or PSTN.
Instead of 'more you use more you pay' principle in
ISDN and PSTN, cable offers 'more you use, less you
pay' alternative," says Kunvar of Mantra Online.
to Ketkar "ISDN and Dial up connectivity in the
long run will also be replaced by DSL Technology."
From what the industry has to say, it appears that
the greatest competitor for cable is DSL.
according to most industry leaders, DSL is the only
technology which can offer speeds comparable with
that of the cable modem. However, distance limitation
is a major drawback for DSL and this is where cable
scores over DSL. Nevertheless, Bhattacharya of Siti
cable points out that, "DSL technology can be
implemented on the existing telephone network, which
will offer saving on installation cost."
DSL, Ketkar says, "DSL is the king of all last
mile connectivity technologies. It uses the same conventional
telephone cables so that no new cabling needs to be
technology carries digital data over analogue lines
and provides always-on connection, making it suitable
for both online as well as mobile applications."
However, DSL is again very expensive. The modem itself
costs almost Rs.30,000.
what's the good word?
There is no doubt that cable is a technology with
immense potential. Though it is picking up in the
country, for it to become the preferred access medium,
the cable network infrastructure has to be improved
immensely. With improvement in infrastructure, cable
can attract a larger customer base, and with this,
eventually, the cost factor in terms of cable modems
and the access charges will drop. NM
Murthy can be reached at email@example.com