Villanova Students Developing Tool to Help Cable Companies Save Energy

Big city, big cable and big energy savings? Comcast is one of the largest companies in the Philadelphia area, ranking 37th on the 2016 Fortune 500 list. It is also the largest cable provider in the nation. Now the corporation is part of an effort, led by a local professional association partnered with local students, for cable companies to assess how to save energy and money.


That association, The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers/International Society of Broadband Experts is a non-profit organization for the cable telecommunications industry which Comcast is a member of.


“SCTE/ISBE is the applied science arm of the industry,” said Paul Schneider, a consultant from PSPR Inc. for SCTE/ISBE. “We deploy products that will help [our members] drive customer engagement, obviously boost revenue and increase operations efficiency.”


The Exton-based association is working with another local institution, Villanova University to develop a tool to measure energy usage. The tool does not yet have a name but it began development at the start of the semester in August.


“We can really leverage this tool to help improve our energy consumed and then stay very competitive from a powering point of view as business develops and the thirst for bandwidth continues to grow,” said Derek DiGiacomo, the Senior Director of Information Systems and Energy Management Program at SCTE.


In the past, cable company set-top boxes have been scrutinized for consuming large amounts of power when they are not being used. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a television set-top box consumes about the same amount of power in both active mode and sleep modes. The devices consume 20 watts of power when on and 15 to 20 watts of power when they are not being used in standby mode. Some boxes consume about half as much electricity as a new refrigerator does in one year.


But most of the energy consumption of the cable industry happens outside people’s homes at data centers called hubs and headends that deliver television content and high speed data from satellite and terrestrial signals to people.


Hubs and headends account for 73 to 83 percent of the industry’s energy consumption. They are located around the country, regionally located, and can serve 5,000 to 30,000 homes.


DiGiacomo compared cable energy consumption to companies like Facebook and Google. He explained that big internet companies in that industry might only have four or five major data centers. Cable companies need to have buildings and facilities all around the country the serve their customers.


“Cable will have maybe 10,000 hubs and headends and when you aggregate them together, they equal a large amount of power,” said DiGiacomo.


The Villanova students are going out to the hub and headend facilities of companies like Comcast to study them and figure out how they can create a way to evaluate energy consumption.


SCTE/ISBE and Villanova are aiming to complete the first generation of the energy consumption tool by the end of the university’s semester in December.


Both faculty and students from the Villanova University College of Engineering program were unavailable for comment.


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