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Modems, test gear, return path hot at Expo

Mon, 06/30/1997 - 8:00pm
CED Staff

What this year's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo may have lacked in new whiz-bang announcements was more than made up by a buoyant, optimistic sense that the cable industry is preparing itself for entry into a long, competitive battle to provide consumers with a dazzling array of new services.

Cable modem news again dominated this show, attended by 8,200 cable operators and exhibitors who flocked to Orlando, Fla. Vendors including U.S. Robotics, 3Com Inc. and Terayon Corp. targeted trial and product news to the attendees in Orlando. Meanwhile, roughly 800 miles and a time zone away, other vendors spouted their data news at the SuperComm Show in New Orleans. Hayes Microcomputer Products started that push, with word that it has sold 10,000 of its cable modems since they became available in May. The vendor would not say who had purchased the products.

Cable-Tec 's annual Engineering Conference also weighed-in heavily on the data side. "High-speed data services appear to be the major potential for the future of our business, so the focus on preparing for digital deployments like cable modems is a major theme this year," said Bill Riker, president of the SCTE.

Other hot topics this year included advanced test equipment for troubleshooting the new services that run on RF plant, and return path solutions.

Modem news

Terayon Corp., which has just completed field tests of its cable modems over an all-coaxial cable system in Urawa, Japan, says that results of that trial demonstrate its modem's ability to deliver reliable data over systems with severe upstream noise interference.

Zaki Rakib, CEO of Terayon, said during a briefing at the Expo that the tests should come as good news to operators wondering how to deal with the troublesome 5–40 MHz upstream path.

The company's modems were tested over three large coaxial systems serving up to 25,000 homes, and then, over a large, aggregated cable network serving more than 62,000 homes. The tests were made at the particularly crummy 15 MHz center frequency — an upstream region with significant interference from impulse noise, narrowband and wideband interference from a variety of sources.

Terayon's cable modem access system is based on S-CDMA (Synchronous-Code Division Multiple Access) technology.

Meanwhile, ISC Datacom Inc. has delivered the first 75 of 245 PTM-19a, low-speed, frequency agile data modems that were ordered by the city of Fort Worth, Texas for traffic control. The modems, which run at 19.2 kilobits per second and use CPFSK modulation, will be placed at various intersections around the city to provide communication links between the transportation engineer's office and the computers that control the traffic signals.

This allows the city to poll intersections for traffic light status and change requests. It also allows light timing patterns to be downloaded over the cable system, instead of programming the hardware at the intersection.

In other news, ISC Datacom officials said they are currently developing a new modem for use in the automatic meter-reading industry. These modems, which would allow utilities to access power meters remotely, offer time-of-day billing options, load management and more, are projected to cost less than $100 each.

On the international front, TV Cable Ecuador, the largest cable operator in that country, will use telco-return cable modems and associated network equipment made by General Instrument Corp. for its high-speed data launch in Guyaquil and Quito. TV Cable Ecuador's network passes 100,000 homes in those two cities. Already, 100 modems are installed and operating there, according to officials.

Jorge Schwartz, executive vice president of TV Cable Ecuador, said in a statement that he likes the way the modems have performed so far. "The initial installation went very smoothly, especially considering that we were inaugurating a brand new technology," he said. TV Cable Ecuador plans to first offer the service to residences, then expand to schools and universities.

Charter Communications and Insight Communications will test cable modems made by U.S. Robotics Inc., the vendor said. Charter will test an undisclosed number of the telco-return modems in its St. Louis system, where it serves 200,000 customers. Insight will test the modems in its suburban Indianapolis system, where it serves about 30,000 cable customers.

InterMedia Partners Inc. will kick off high-speed data services in its metro Nashville system, using gear made by Motorola Inc. Ken Wright, chief technical officer for InterMedia, said that headend installations were scheduled to start last month, followed by the installation of the @Home Networks Inc. regional data gear.

InterMedia's modems were scheduled to be installed into "alpha" homes the week of June 26, according to Wright. He also said that commercial deployments will begin in September, with follow-on launches in adjacent counties occurring throughout the year. "By the end of '98, we plan to have the service in front of about 400,000 homes passed," Wright said.

On the software side, CableLabs and Netcom Systems Inc., a Chatsworth, Calif. maker of equipment for testing high-speed data gear, said they've worked together to commercialize a test software package that assists modem suppliers, other laboratories and system operators to test and evaluate the performance levels of cable modems.

CableLabs researchers worked with Netcom to emulate the data traffic generated by real-world cable modem systems using Netcom's "SmartBits" test system. Last year, Labs researchers used the SmartBits test system to generate and analyze traffic for up to 80 users in a single piece of test equipment.

What was missing was software to make the system simulate the data traffic generated by real-world cable modem systems, said Bob Cruickshank, director of data applications for CableLabs. His group then collaborated on software, which CableLabs calls its "cable modem traffic tester." CableLabs then encouraged Netcom, which had created software simulating other types of high-speed data traffic, to develop a commercial version of that software.

Speaking of software, 3Com Corporation has developed a new software application designed for cable service providers. The 3Com Cable Ethernet Installation Software allows operators to quickly set up the subscriber equipment for their customers. It is included at no charge with a new 3Com Cable Modem Bundle, which consists of one EtherLink III network interface card (NIC), one 3Com Cable Modem and the new installation software. The software, which runs on Windows 95, was specifically developed to ease cable modem and NIC installation by integrating many of the installation steps under one application. It also addresses the most common installation problems before they occur.

MediaOne has expanded availability of its MediaOne Express high-speed Internet service in southeast Florida — the service is now available to 400,000 homes in the MediaOne Express Broward and Dade County service areas. The service uses Surfboard cable modems from General Instrument's NextLevel Satellite Data Networks Group.

And Broadband Networks Inc. introduced a new family of RF and optical T-1 products at Expo. The new line was specifically designed for cable operators who want to generate additional revenue from new services like Internet access and voice.

The RF product is frequency agile over 10 channels. It can be used to eliminate long-distance telephone charges when providing Internet access by allowing cable operators to use their broadband plant to collect inbound service from local modem banks.

The T-1 family also includes 1310 and 1550 nm optical products that provide bidirectional T-1 service over a single fiber strand, instead of two fibers.

Headend equipment

Myriad announcements about new headend gear came out of Expo, with an emphasis on more efficient and space-saving products.

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New from Scientific-Atlanta Inc. are modules that promise to shave headend space restrictions. As part of its "Continuum" headend system, the new modules are designed for plug-and-play capabilities, frequency agility, compact design packaging and high-quality audio, company executives said. The new modulator and upconvertor modules are scheduled to start shipping this summer, with the stereo encoder planned for the fall.

The new components address a continuing problem in the broadband industry: Headend space restrictions. By reducing rack space requirements by up to 50 percent, operators can install equipment needed to support new services such as digital video and high-speed data without having to worry about running out of headend space, S-A executives said.

"To compete effectively in the market today, operators are implementing a variety of new headend interconnect system architectures, such as source and hub and ring interconnects, to provide redundancy and reduce staffing requirements at each plant site," said Peter van der Gracht, vice president and general manager of S-A's headend systems division.

Quality RF Services is now offering cable TV RF return path signal isolation for the headend. The new QISO/R75-32 is a 5.25-inch by 19-inch, rack-mount chassis containing eight independent, four-output, 50 dB isolation amplifiers with 5 MHz to 75 MHz passband. The loop-through inputs of the unity gain amplifiers allow additional isolated outputs from a single source. Each output has better than -20 dB return loss needed for digital signal distribution in the headend return path processing environment.

Meanwhile, WaveCom Electronics Inc. showcased its DQM3010 Dual QAM Modulator. The product includes two independent QAM modulators with frequency agile upconvertors in a 1-unit high chassis. VHF and UHF versions cover an output frequency range from 55–850 MHz. The unit comes with a front-panel LCD display, remote control with RS-232 or RS-485 serial interface and has fully synthesized tuning for drift-free operation with frequency accuracy of 1 kHz. Each modulator may be independently set for output frequency and output level. In addition, bit rate, modulation order, excess bandwidth and error correction coding can be factory-set to customer requirements. The unit is compatible with DVB, DAVIC and Digicipher II standards and includes all-digital modulators.

WaveCom has also announced a new frequency agile upconvertor for cable, MMDS and LMDS applications. The UC3010 is comprised of 10 independent, frequency agile upconvertors and a common power supply. A single card covers a frequency band from 50 to 850 MHz and maintains a phase noise specification which exceeds the requirement of 64 QAM, according to the company. High-level mixing, a microwave frequency IF and multiple levels of filtering achieve low out-of-band performance and low spurious emissions over the 45 to 900 MHz band. In addition, the card chassis can contain from one to 10 independent agile upconvertors in a 3U rack mount.

Mega Hertz/Spectrum introduced "Casablanca," its new non-linear editing system. The system has been designed to economically deliver the power, functionality and capability of a high-end professional non-linear system.

Mega Hertz/Spectrum displayed a new product from Magic Box, the Alphagen Plus Character Generator with Image Capture. The character generator offers the features of the Alphagen Plus, and adds a built-in hard drive for storage of user-supplied backgrounds.

And Mega Hertz/Spectrum announced a new product from Magic Box — the Photogen Photo Advertising system. Photogen gives the user the tools to create local ads without "computer-based limitations," according to information released by Mega Hertz/Spectrum. The system utilizes user-friendly menu driven software, automatic ad/layout templates, and a library of thousands of backgrounds and pieces of clip art. The user also has the flexibility of colorization, rotating, scaling and animation. Photogen also offers optional digital audio, paint programs, billing, scheduling, reports, video switching, weather display and remote communication.

Iris Technologies Inc. used Expo to show operators how they can solve the headend wiring conundrum, with its "Video Commander" routing system.

Meanwhile, Barco announced the availability of its new multistandard TV and sound demodulator (Marco Polo) and its Vivaldi II Multi Image Display System.

The Marco Polo hyperband tuner covers the entire frequency range from 45 MHz up to 860 MHz, which allows demodulation of TV signals, including BG, DK, L, I and MN. It also accepts mono sound, IRT stereo, BTSC and NICAM stereo. A user-friendly menu guides users through a selection of 128 present programs. Specific channels and frequencies may also be selected using front panel switches.

Barco's Vivaldi II Multi Image Display System can transform any multi-sync VGA monitor into a four-channel video display system for broadcast applications. The Vivaldi system accepts both analog and digital inputs and allows for full-screen enlargement of any four displayed pictures, freeze frame and on-screen white reference for accurate color evaluation. The 19-inch, rack-mountable Vivaldi unit also provides typical broadcast features including auto set-up, scan delay, blue-only, tally display, auto-alignment, pulse cross and a programmable under monitor display of up to 10 characters for each of the four images.

NII Norsat International Inc. has introduced its new line of agile channel processor modules and a new series of television modulators. The CP 61/62 line of agile channel processor modules, when installed in the housing, accepts any television channel input from 5 MHz to 880 MHz and provides a modulated channel output.

The CP 61 has an agile frequency output range of 30 to 600 MHz, while the CP 62's range falls between 300 to 800 MHz. A key feature of the product line is its ability to demodulate T channels which are used in reverse path transmissions. The modules support NTSC, PAL and SECAM formats for various installations, including cable TV and private broadcast networks.

Norsat's VM 61/62/63 series of TV modulators and channel processors has a tumble range of 5 to 800 MHz and supports adjacent channel operation. The series also features an intuitive Windows-based graphical user interface option which allows for local or remote control over all of the system's operating parameters. The modulators are agile, compatible with NTSC, PAL and SECAM formats.

NII Norsat International has also announced the availability of two remote control options (RS-232) for the company's multi-standard private cable headend system.

Both options, the RC60 and the RC62, offer Windows-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that provide automated control over all cable headend functions, including: operating frequencies (ranging from 5 MHz to 800 MHz), A/B input source switching, audio and video modulation levels, and carrier and subcarrier power levels.

The company has also announced that its 9000 series Ka-band, low-noise block downconvertors are now available in prototype quantities.

Standard Communications Corp. went on-line at Expo, with its Web site up and running for show attendees' perusal. The company featured its new DSVR digital receiver series and its Stratum modulation system, with software able to be viewed on a 31-inch monitor.

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General Instrument 's NextLevel Broadband Networks Group announced that it is now offering a suite of pre-packaged headend equipment options for digital headend systems. The pre-packaged equipment is designed to reduce system upgrade complexity by performing a number of pre-deployment tests prior to shipment. The tests provide system-level performance verification, and the factory staging area duplicates the signal environment, including signal levels, format and cable-runs. Currently, four configurations are available: three 6-MHz digital multiplex channels; six 6-MHz channels; six 6-MHz channels plus a suite of test equipment; and 12 6-MHz channels.

The R.L. Drake Company announced its VM1550 modulator is now available in T-channel configuration. The fixed-channel modulator, which safeguards against unwanted tampering and accidental setting changes, now provides a modulated visual and aural RF carrier output on any T-channel 7 through 11.

Drake's VM1550 modulator has been designed to accept video and audio baseband signals from a satellite receiver, TV camera, video tape recorder, TV demodulator or similar equipment. In addition, the IF loop-thru capability of the modulator provides a padded IF output prior to channel conversion, allowing replacement of the standard internally-generated IF output with an alternate source of composite IF or insertion of IF scrambling equipment.

The unit also features several other audio/video features, including a 4.5 MHz audio carrier input for BTSC input. A heterodyne conversion system, in conjunction with the use of a SAW filter, provides vestigial sideband selectivity for adjacent channel headends.

WaveCom Electronics Inc. has introduced its RA2020 frequency agile cable TV modulator and its Stacker/Destacker. The RA2020 accepts audio/video baseband inputs and provides a modulated visual and aural carrier on any NTSC or PAL channel in the 45 to 550 MHz and 550 to 850 MHz ranges. The modulator is comprised of up to 12 independent agile modulator cards with a common power source in a 3U chassis.

The WaveCom Stacker/Destacker is designed to stack up to 10 reverse blocks (5 to 45 MHz) on top of each other, starting at 80 MHz. The 10 stacked blocks would then be combined with a narrowband SCADA channel to form a frequency spectrum from 5 to 750 MHz. Each Stacker would be agile to any stacking block, thus eliminating the need for fixed custom frequency Stackers. The Destacker receives the 5 to 750 MHz frequency spectrum and converts the desired block down to the original 5 to 45 MHz reverse block spectrum.

Aska Communication Corp. announced a number of new products at Expo, including a digital audio/video modulator; 1 GHz, one-sided horizontal ports splitters, designed to have input and output ports on one side of the housing; weatherproof quality connectors, which use a silicone gel that forms around the crimped area for complete protection; and a 1 GHz grounding block, 1 GHz splice and 1 GHz terminator.

And Viewsonics Inc. introduced its new return path, 48-way, multi-port isolator. The rack-mount device provides needed gain and port-to-port isolation for the deployment of new return services.

Philips Broadband Networks showcased its Crystal Exchange headend system, a modular platform that allows broadband operators to install the appropriate plug-in boards into the digital switch interface (DSI) and RF interface headend modem shelves (HEM), adding boards as subscriber demand for telephony and data services increases.

Belden is now offering composite cable designed to solve many of the difficulties associated with headend installations. The construction includes a coaxial Series 59 Duobond Plus tri-shield to which two separate audio cables are bonded. The cables each contain two 22 AWG shielded copper conductors. With this design, one cable can serve needs typically requiring three separate cables.

Meanwhile, the Broadband Communications Division of ADC Telecommunications Inc. announced the extension of its 1550 nm Homeworx transmission system to include models for single fiber distribution and dual fiber supertrunking.

The company also introduced new encoders and decoders for transporting a modulated intermediate frequency carrier with an approximate bandwidth of 7 MHz. The encoders and decoders provide an interface with the company's DV6000 and DV6010 digital transport systems for the transmission of IF signals in PAL B/G format.

And, ADC's new HX6213 Dual Path Receiver adds to the upstream capability of the Homeworx AM Transport System. With the HX6213RX, system operators can add two-way transmission capability for video and data applications including telephony, data services, Internet access and video-on-demand.

Fiber optics

ADC Telecommunications introduced a new forward path receiver that extends performance to 860 MHz for cable TV and telephony applications. Featuring a +35 dBmV RF output, the receiver is capable of receiving 1310 or 1550 nm forward path optical signals within a hub or office environment, and outputs up to 112 NTSC video carriers at 35 dBmV.

The company's Broadband Communications Division also introduced a family of return path transmitters for use with the company's ISX optical distribution nodes. The transmitters provide bi-directional broadband services to cable TV systems for delivery to communities and businesses.

The ISX2 return transmitter is designed for networks with small subscriber counts that require a low volume of two-way or only one-way services, and the ISX3 family of return path transmitters offers 5–300 bandwidth capabilities and a 1 mW optical output for the delivery of enhanced telephony, integrated digital services, full bandwidth data or multiple video channels.

The division also announced an increase in CNR optical performance to 55 dB for its 750 MHz 1310 nm transmission platform. Operators upgrading systems can use the 1310 nm platform's increased performance to add to their distribution network, or to the transmission length of existing cable, says the company.

Quality RF Services introduced the QRCIA multiple isolation amplifier for laser transmitters. The amplifier offers 60 dB combining isolation for narrowcasting of video, telephone or RF modem signals coupled directly to individual laser inputs. The 3.5-inch by 19-inch rack-mount chassis contains five independent hybrid amplifiers. Bandwidths offered are 550, 50 and 860 MHz.

And Siecor Corp. featured its ALTOS cables — a new line of loose tube optical fiber cables for outside plant telecommunications applications — at Expo. The cables include water-blocking technology and new materials that make them easy to install and access.

The cables incorporate a combination of water-swellable tapes and yarns, rather than flooding compounds, to prevent water penetration.

The company also featured its OptiFit assembly, designed to connect the Optical Network Unit (ONU) to the optical drop cable. The patented design allows the user to configure the system with pre-connectorized cables dropped at the node location.

Finally, Siecor featured its new X77 fusion splicer, which combines the splicing features of the M90 fusion splicer in a unit the size of the company's X75 micro fusion splicer.

DiCon Fiberoptics has introduced an Add/Drop WDM cassette. The standard package combines two, three-port filter WDMs in a pigtailed version for board mounting or a front panel connectorized version for shelf installation.

General Instrument Corp.'s NextLevel Broadband Networks Group announced two new upstream optical transmitter modules for the NL StarGate 2000 Telecommunications Optical Node Platform at the Expo.

The NL StarGate 2000 platform offers two different upstream optical transmitters, models SG2-IFPT/* and SG2-DFBT/*, to provide thermal stability, advanced management capabilities and plug-and-play operation. The transmitters enable operators to offer advanced applications like telephony, high-speed data applications and video-on-demand.

"The NL StarGate 2000 transmitter family offers broadband operators split-band or redundant functionality to address the effective use of the available return bandwidth," said Pat Harkins, senior product manager of Cableoptics Nodes for NextLevel's Transmission Network Systems business, in a statement.

The SG2-IFPT/* transmitter is equipped with an isolated Fabry-Perot laser with an optical output power of 400 μW. The SG2-DFBT/* transmitter uses an uncooled distributed feedback laser operating at 1 mW for improved link performance. Both transmitters offer automatic power control, an integrated RF amplifier, thermal slope efficiency compensation, a module fault indicator, integrated optical and RF connectors and status monitoring capability. In addition, the transmitters accommodate a full 35 MHz of digital data, or up to two video channels.

C.I.S. Inc. has developed a fiber engineering calculations software module which calculates fiber loss budgets and generates a sheath bill of materials indicating aerial, underground, sag, slack and total route. The product operates on the Windows NT platform with FOCUS fiber modules.

Belden Wire & Cable Co. displayed its new central tube fiber trunk cables at Expo. Available in both armored and all-dielectric configurations, the new cables range from 4 to 216 fibers. As such, they can serve both the last optical link, as well as the loop distribution markets.

In a related announcement, the company also said it will increase the utilization of composite plastic reels for its coaxial products. The reels, made of recycled materials, are reusable, regrindable and more economical than traditional wooden reels. In addition, the recyclable reels offer substantial stacking stability for safer and more reliable storage and transport.

Fitel/Lucent Technologies introduced two new loose tube fiber optic cables, as well as a loose tube cable breakout kit and a splicer's tool kit. Fitel/Lucent's cable TV market product — single-jacket all-dielectric loose tube cable — is the first of the company's cable designs to be made available with "DryBlock" water-blocking technology. The technology achieves water-blocking performance through the use of super-absorbent polymers.

Its dual-purpose outdoor/indoor loose tube fiber optic cable, called Option1, enables direct transfer from outside plant to indoor riser applications. The cable qualifies as a riser-rated, low-smoke/zero halogen cable and features lightweight, jelly-free, DryBlock technology.

Fitel/Lucent's Breakout Kit features 24-inch, color-coded 900 μm tubing to facilitate quick and reliable field connectorization. Six- and 12-fiber kits are available. The company's Splicer's Tool Kit provides all the necessary tools needed to prepare loose tube cable for mid-span entry, splicing and testing.

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