Open Access: The Freedom to Choose
By: Bruce Bahlmann - Contributing Author (your
is important to us!)
Created: July 25, 2000
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Broadband operators faced with opening their network must navigate several complex
problems. One of the most complex of these will be the management of connectivity and
services offered to their customers. The focus of this paper is to explore the depths of
this problem and provide direction for follow-on study or product development.
Open Access Introduction:
The basic concept of open access is to provide individual broadband customers with a
choice of service providers. The term service provider represents a supplier
of generic information and/or entertainment services. From here on out a service provider
represents any company that can utilize the broadband media to deliver some service
(content, data, connectivity, etc.) to customers. The breath and scope of information
and/or entertainment services available are limited only by ones imagination. This is
especially true as the amount of bandwidth available between the service provider and the
Figure 1.0 Simplified View of Open Access
Figure 1.0 represents a simplistic view of what open access offers broadband customers.
Open access will afford each broadband customer the opportunity to choose those service
providers that best meet their needs.
Figure 1.0 can be further broken down into the components shown in figure 1.1. This
shows the major areas of challenge with regard to open access. They are HFC connectivity,
connectivity management, and service management. HFC connectivity in a true
open access environment goes beyond todays single frequency pair. HFC connectivity
in this case represents a spectrum of bandwidth dedicated to open access and managed by
the broadband operator. This bandwidth permits the delivery of multiple services to every
broadband customer. Connectivity management represents the low level switching and routing
necessary to permit various service providers to deliver diverse connectivity options that
do not interfere with one another. Lastly, service management controls of the array of
service options that are currently available for customers to subscribe, the presentation
of these options to broadband customers, and the subscription changes to their respective
service provider. Of the three components, service management represents a green field
business area with little (if any) shipping products.
Figure 1.1 Major components of Open Access
Note open access means more than simply allowing customers to access the Internet. Open
access means freedom of choice for all types of information and/or entertainment services
via the broadband media. Choice implies competition and its competition that drives
innovation, diversity, and value all good things for broadband customers. Figure
1.2 expands on the management components of Figure 1.1 by showing various possibilities
that open access could bring customers of broadband services. The management components
provide an organized and fair selection of service & connectivity options.
Figure 1.2 Management Components of Open Access
Management of connectivity selection may also facilitate and promote
cooperation among service providers to supply the highest availability possible. This
cooperation may range from peering to resource sharing in an effort to reduce
hardware and transport costs of providing the service. By reducing the startup (or entry)
costs new service providers may quickly enter existing markets by leasing
capacity from non-competing service providers. In addition, service providers
may be able to fail over to one-anothers equipment where by maintaining
their service with little or no interruption. As a result there appears to be several
business opportunities that range from full-fledged service providers (who maintain all
their own equipment and content) to hardware-centric service providers (who only lease
capacity of their equipment) to primarily content providers (that only supply information
and/or entertainment to broadband customers).
Management of service selection likely represents the single most
challenging task of open access. Service selection is responsible for assembling all the
services available and then presenting them to the broadband customer. Intelligible
presentation of these services is complicated by (among other things) the different types
of services available. Some of currently known service types include:
Services that are always active that includes Internet access, news
channels, home/business security, etc.
Services that are active at scheduled times that includes sporting events, stock
Services that are activated immediately on request that includes movies, phone calls,
telemedicine consultations, etc.
Presentation of available services also varies depending on how the service is
distributed. Take for example continuous services like Internet access and CNN. While both
of these services run continuously, they operate vastly different from one another in the
way their distribution works. Consequently differing distribution schemes for services
Unicast -- Services where unique content is routed to individual broadband
Multicast -- Services routed to multiple broadband customers simultaneously.
Because each service differs in type and distribution means it likely
requires significant experience and planning to determine the proper charge for such a
service. This is of interest as service selection is also responsible for routing of
billing (or subscription) information related to each service. Diverse service types and
distribution also dictate the amount of bandwidth required by some number of services.
Thus the amount of bandwidth will limit the number of services that can be
made available to customers until such time as the broadband operator can free up more
Since the amount of bandwidth is not unlimited, broadband operators will
need to manage the number of service providers allowed on their network. This management
must take into consideration customer demand for services, competing service
providers, and the bandwidth available. This management process must also be
able to join components from various service providers to form a hybrid set of
usable services for broadband customers. However maintaining the available set of service
providers as well as the services currently available present some interesting
opportunities for companies interested in niche market products. However, for hybrid sets
of products to work reliably across multiple broadband operators and multiple service
providers either significant standardization in the services offered must take
place or each service from each service provider must somehow be configurable
to allow it to conform to some established standard.
Challenges and New Roles for Broadband Operators:
Lack of Bandwidth
As the model of open access gains more popularity, traditional broadband operators will
likely continue to offer legacy (analog) video along side new digital
services. This is because it is too expensive to reclaim the bandwidth used by these
analog systems as it would require all their analog customers to return their
set-top-boxes (STB) in favor of a digital STB (or equivalent). In the mean time, new
broadband operators (perhaps those who have overbuilt HFC to compete with traditional
broadband operators) can maximize their use of the available bandwidth. Until traditional
broadband operators can rid themselves of supporting analog video, new broadband operators
will enjoy a significant advantage. They will have a more than twice the available
bandwidth (of traditional broadband providers) to deploy new services. In contrast,
traditional broadband operators must squeeze everything they can out of the new bandwidth
made available as a result of upgrades those that have not yet upgraded cannot
offer any new services without taking something away from their existing customers.
Fresh Content and Revolutionizing Content Distribution
Much of broadband content is replicated. Essentially, its the same movies playing
over and over again. Very few channels actually maintain "fresh" (continually
changing) content some examples include CNN, ESPN, etc. Oddly enough, most all
public broadcasting stations (CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, and public television) maintain
"relatively fresh" content as it is unlikely to see the same program
twice in one day or during the same week. The advent and perfection of Video On-Demand
(VOD) along with assembling extensive libraries of popular movies will likely
decrease demand for long standing content providers such as HBO, Showtime, etc. Although
many of these organizations produce original content, it will be difficult for them to
spin off as a separate service provider organization or sell their services directly to
broadband customers, as they do not officially own a majority of their content. In fact,
it is highly likely that movie-making companies will jointly form a service provider that
offers an extensive archive of movies that are available for VOD viewing. This service
provider would be highly attractive to broadband operators and would permit
movie-making companies to directly sell their movies to broadband customers. In the end
the number of service providers that offer movies would decrease or perhaps specialize
into genre specific focuses (sci-fi, action/adventure, humor, etc.). Service providers
that just repeat the same content over and over will likely die along side
Maximizing Return on Capital Investments
Open access is likely to force traditional broadband operators out of their
inefficient information and/or entertainment business and into a toll-road type of common
carrier. Some new broadband operators have already taken this highly innovative approach
as the time required to turn profit on capital investments to launch new content services
is growing out of control. To address this, broadband operators should split
off a separate operating group to form a service provider that can sell its information
and/or entertainment services to several broadband operators. These service providers
should compete with other service providers to ensure broadband customers
receive increasingly better services and quality. By doing this, smaller broadband
operators could offer nearly the same content as larger broadband operators (depending on
their available bandwidth) without investing in costly capital equipment. In this case,
becoming a service provider is more attractive as a single capital investment can claim
several income streams.
All broadband providers benefit from open access as it allows them to specialized in
taking care of their customers while managing their service providers, bandwidth, and
network reliability. By not having to upgrade, maintain, and seek new services they can
tighten and more closely scrutinize minute changes in the HFC and make broadband ultra
reliable. This would also open up opportunities for entertainment providers such as ESPN
to form a service provider and sell their content service directly to broadband customers.
Although this service would not be different.
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