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No time to sing the blues

Wed, 01/31/2001 - 7:00pm
CED STAFF

Instead, the event (hosted by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers) attracted a record crowd of about 1,100 persons to the Crescent City. There, they were treated to updates on fiber optics, home networks, open access, video-on-demand and residential gateways, among other topics.

The good news? Theres no shortage of new technologies coming down the pike to enable the suite of services that operators plan to roll out. The bad news? Integrating all this new hardware and software will be a daunting, and difficult, task that has no shortcuts.

For example, dealing with multiple ISP access is both inevitable and, at the same time, presents a daunting set of unique engineering challenges at the infrastructure level.

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Michael Adams

That was part of the message Time Warner Cable Vice President of Network Engineering Michael Adams delivered to attendees during his pre-conference tutorial at ET.

To be sure, Adams knows quite a bit about open access. Hes even penned a book on the subject. At the same time, his company has no choice but to pay incredible attention to the subject, given that the Federal Communications Commission last month attached a number of open access conditions to its approval of the $106.2 billion marriage between Time Warner Inc. and America Online Inc.

Among those conditions, the FCC required that AOL Time Warner Inc. open its broadband network to rival ISPs and to supply Internet access to rival phone companies. Additionally, the newly-minted media giant must allow consumers to select their Internet home page, have a direct billing relationship with rival high-speed ISPs, and enable ISPs to have unfettered control of their home pages.

Time Warner has expected such conditions all along. In fact, the MSO already has launched an open access technical trial in Columbus, Ohio. Cable cousin AT&T Broadband has also made similar moves on that front, launching a Broadband Choice trial in Boulder, Colo. late last year, with another one in Massachusetts presently in the works.

Adams notes that multiple ISP access at the network level involves tinkering with packet routing, addressing and network back office systems. Still, some parts of that tinkering are more challenging than others.

The biggest and more complicated challenge with open access, Adams says, pertains to back office system changes. Today, there is one system that manages subscribers, he says. However, when a host of ISPs are thrown into the mix, Time Warner has to tie them together, with the ultimate goal of integrating services and creating a single contact to field questions and to handle any problems that arise. Under that scenario, Time Warner Cable still would provision the system, but the ISP would handle the billing, Adams says.

The hard part is making those elements transparent to customers, who typically are used to dealing with a sole entity for all of their Internet service needs. In an ideal open access environment, when Road Runner, AOL or Juno cable modem service customers encounter problems, they can contact either the ISP or the cable operator to get it handled. The goal for Time Warner Cable, however, is to tie the cable operators and ISPs customer information into a single electronic interface. Time Warner Cable currently is working on a prototype of such an interface, which will eventually become a standard for all ISPs that tap into the MSOs broadband grid, Adams says.

The easier elements, Adams adds, involve addressing personal computers and routing data correctly in a multiple ISP environment.

Adams says the big difference is building a clear line of demarcation between the cable headend and the other ISPs. That means each ISP will require its own public address base for personal computers. Instead of one IP address base, Time Warner Cable (and other MSOs that take such a route) will have to deal with a cadre of them, and manage each of them separately. At the same time, a cable operator must determine how to allocate those addresses to cable modem termination systems equitably. That can be handled if the cable operator has a firm understanding of an area's demographics, and learning where the densest concentration of typical high-speed data subscribers are on a particular cable system.

Its more of an art than a science, Adams concedes, adding that the advent of IP version 6 eventually will solve that probleman important problem to eradicate since it will be the cable operators responsibility to handle modem addressing in an open access world. 

The networked home

Meanwhile, theres a lot to think about when it comes to the mechanics and standards involved in home networking and personal area networks (PANs) and the opportunity for cable operators to get involved, which was discussed at The Networked Home: Unfolding the Future session.

In addition to the networking of computers and printers, cable operators should also look into distributing entertainment over home networks and use wired and wireless approaches to do that, says consultant Judson Hoffmann.

In addition to the data network, Hoffmann says, three other in-home networks exist, including the entertainment network, the telephone network and the home control network. Currently, Hoffmann says, the cable industry is too focused on the data side of home networking. Instead, whats happening outside of cable should also be put into focus.

Cable operators can use multimedia appliances to network entertainment devices such as DVD players and stereos, Hoffmann says. The advantage it would give cable operators is it would let them promote their services throughout the house and push control of the network one step deeper.

The cable industry, which is connected to their subscribers in multiple ways and has the network management skills, has an opportunity to become the network manager for their subscribers, says Hoffmann.

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. Chief Technology Officer David Reed followed with an update of the organizations CableHome initiative, which will add home networking standards to the DOCSIS/Packet Cable set-up.

The objectives of CableHome, according to Reed, are to extend bandwidth advantages of cable to all devices connected in the home; create interface specifications needed to preserve DOCSIS, PacketCable, and OpenCable platforms services delivered over home networks; and develop integrated home-networking, service-delivery platforms for cable services.

Technology is still early in development, and consumers want it simple, Reed says.

CableLabs in-home device categories include HA, or Home Access devices, such as the cable modem, set-top box and residential gateway; HB, or Home Bridge devices, like the HPNA-to-Ethernet adapter; and HC, or Home Consumption devices, which include the PC, an IP phone and a Web pad, among others.

Most home computer users do not have the expertise and resources to deploy their own computer security solutions, says Jed Johnson, director of engineering for Motorola, who discussed ways to analyze risk and determine requirements for home network security.

The most common threats to computer security include TCP/IP weaknesses, poor coding and implementation, active code and poor administration. Ways to circumvent these threats, Johnson says, include using firewalls, a proxy server, smart filters, virtual private networks and intrusion detection systems, which act like a burglar alarm.

According to Forrester Research, 7 million broadband homes will have their own home network by 2003, says Tony Wasilewski, chief scientist for subscriber networks for Scientific-Atlanta. This means home networking could be considered the next revenue growth area, he says.

Many customer premises equipment (CPE) devices will be employed in a home networking scenario, including PCs, laptops, printers and fax machines, Wasilewski says. One result of the existence of several CPE devices is that home gateway devices will haves to support multiple connectivity standards, he says.

The operator must choose a home gateway vendor that understands and follows the customer acceptance and deployment of the required physical layer standards, Wasilewski adds.

Jack Terry, president and CTO for JT Laboratories, discussed a coax approach to home networking, which he called a new approach to upstream and downstream frequency shifting.

The advantages to this approach include the ability to use unmodified residential coax; two simple Ethernet compatible boxes and plug-and-play consumer installation.

When it comes to fiber optics and network upgrades, the cost of construction and maintenance of outside plant remains the single largest capital expense for cable systems, which is a key consideration for those network designers who are grappling with optimal node sizing strategies and future node management. These issues were discussed during a session called, Hey, You with the Big Node! (Node Sizing and Strategies for Node Management).

Different forms of node architecture were presented, including one called Collector Node Architecture, by Eric Powell, senior systems engineer with ADC Telecommunications. Collector Node Architecture calls for smaller node sizes of roughly 150 homes passed, pushing fiber deeper into the architecture, says Powell.

A key feature of the collector node is not in how the forward path is crafted, but in the return path, says Powell. The return signal from fiber deep nodes (FDN) to the collector node arent optical, but employ coaxial cable used to link each FDN to the common collector point (hence the name of the architecture), says Powell.

Emerging trends in node architecture include digital transport, fiber deep nodes, use of DWDM, digital upstream, hub simplification and bundled services, says Paul Connolly, vice president of marketing and network architecture for Scientific-Atlanta.

Access architectures discussed by Connolly included DSL, advanced HFC, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and FTTH-Mini LAN, which S-A advocates, says Powell. Powell also posed the rhetorical question, Is there a positive migration path to get from one to the other?

Enabling technologies for access networks, Connolly says, include high-power optical amplifiers, digital reverse path, low-cost dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), hardened optics, optical integrated circuits, IP over fiber transport and a passive optical network.

Arguments for using baseband digital reverse include its lower network cost, TDM muxing capability, increased distance capability, signal quality invariability to distance and temperature and future capability such as higher speeds, higher order muxing and digital signal processing, Connolly says.

John Downey, broadband network engineer for Cisco Systems, discussed network segmentation. Downey argues that it comes down to monitoring to see how it will happen, versus doing it mathematically based on how computer savvy people become, Downey says.

One segmentation method being tested now, Downey says, is called digitizing the reverse, and uses digital pulses to send the reverse traffic back to the hub or headend.

Direct broadcast satellite, overbuilds by upstart regional companies, MMDS service, digital broadcast, wireless technology and DSL were cited as competitive threats by Don Gall, a consultant for Pangrac & Associates.

Pangrac also listed several issues that will define the future, including competition, network termination, operational issues, next-generation networks, streaming video, and reliability and network availability.

If we dont start looking at how to integrate all these services, it will be hard to teach (technical support people) how to maintain networks, Gall says.

Gall advocates smaller node sizes and deep fiber, but said he believes you can go too far in redundancy. Smaller node sizes are a must to keep operating and training costs in line, Gall says.

Chris Skarica, senior network architect for Nortel Networks, discussed the next-generation transport network and how multiple protocol support is needed. He said gigabit Ethernet is becoming a widely used form of WAN transport.

A transportation network bandwidth explosion is looming for HFC network operators, and the solution is a switched DWDM photonic network, Skarica says.

--Jeff Baumgartner, Broadband Editor for Multichannel News, contributed to this report.

 

Time to step out of the box!

Mixing humor, futurism and industry insight, ET keynote speaker Daniel Burrus achieved a rare feat in New Orleans: He commanded rapt attention during the first days morning session, and managed to deliver several key messages about future trends at the same time.

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Burrus

The technology forecaster and author of Technotrends and five other books, Burrus pointed out how broadband engineers must spend more time thinking strategically, to leverage new technologies that provide competitive advantages, instead of focusing on putting out fires.

Stretch your thinking, Burrus told the crowd. Plan for 10 years from now, then work backward toward the present. But make sure the plan has flexibility and that you can change the approach along the way: Its imperative to build in change, he added.

Burrus also pointed to several technology trends and services that will dominate the future, including: biometrics (using eye scan and fingerprints to electronically identify people for security purposes or to perform electronic transactions); voice recognition to power appliances (so everyone wont have to learn to type); video sampling; and ultra intelligent agents that promise to help organize our lives.

These agents will reside on the network somewhere because theyll require massive computing and processing power. They will also be customizable to match personality traits users prefer and are comfortable with, Burrus predicts. For example, if you desire an assistant who has a sense of humor, youll be able to select an agent with those traits.

He also notes that in an Internet-enabled economy, companies must shift their thinking from the old either/or model to one thats more inclusive. For example, technologists need to stop thinking about whether the future is a world of wireless vs. wired, or digital vs. analog, or fiber-based vs. copper based.

It will be both, Burrus says.

To illustrate, he says books will be both electronic and paper-based; consumers will want both video-on-demand and video stores; both IP and circuit-switched telephony will be used; and DSL and cable modems will co-exist.

Taking a jab at the financial community, Burrus noted that Wall Street doesnt get it. Its not Old Economy vs. New Economy. Instead, its a single economy that will force old companies to use new tools to stay competitive.

Referring to last years dot-com industry economic woes that saw scores of company stock prices into the tank, Burrus added: The only bubble that burst was related to absolute stupidity, and it needed to (burst)!

The broadband industry, however, has a bright future, if service providers can
Become the digital service provider of choice. Operators will have to execute, manage customers expectations by only promising what can be delivered and focus on applications. Dont just keep up with technologyits a fools game, said Burrus. Spend more time seeking a competitive advantage in everything you do.
Embrace global standards to speed service adoption and growth.
Provide excellent customer service, to both those who need it every step of the way as well as those who prefer to do things themselves.
Change as fast as the customers are.
Build relationships based on trust. Tell your customers the truth, says Burrus. Never teach your customers not to trust you.

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