Cable's Technology Showcase
Mike Schwartz, CableLabs’ senior vice president
of communications, has helped oversee
CableNET since its 1993 inception.
Like necklaces, bracelets and other pieces of fine jewelry, cable technology purchases typically aren't made until the buyer wades through a rigorous set of decision-making processes.
Of course, broadband hardware and software buys don't carry the same emotional weight as purchasing a wedding ring does, for example, but those processes still involve the tactile senses of sight and feel.
This year's CableNET showcase, which coincides with the Western Show (Nov. 27-30) in Anaheim, Calif., while not exactly a jewelry store replica, will once again provide operators with a variety of hands-on opportunities with broadband technologies that could impact them today and well into the future as new services and applications evolve.
As the Western Show has morphed into a cable confab with a marked technical bent, CableNET's size, scope and popularity has grown almost every year since its inception nine years ago. In 1993, CableNET absorbed 2,500 square feet of floor space and offered in the neighborhood of 24 demonstration pedestals. This year, CableNET's presence will rise to 10,000 square feet and include about 70 demonstrations.
However, as might be expected in the midst of an economic slowdown that has impacted the technology sector, CableNET's numbers this year are expected to drop slightly. So far, 60 companies have committed to take part in this year's technology showcase. Last year, about 70 vendors participated and ran roughly 100 demonstrations, says CableLabs Senior Vice President of Communications Mike Schwartz.
Still, a number of vendors this year will be new to CableNET, meaning the numbers could've dropped even lower, he adds.
‘Instead of having to travel all over the country to see these things, you can see them all in one place ‘–Henderson
As CableNET's Manager of Technology Demonstrations, Jim Rice spearheads the integration schedule, and collaborates with vendors for in-kind technical support to ensure that the exhibits are as bug-free as possible.
"It takes four days to set-up and another day for the booth designers," he notes. "In October, we bring participants to CableLabs to do an integration to make sure the displays work on the floor with our equipment."
Rice says the CableNET displays will employ two DOCSIS-based cable plants to make sure that the demonstrations don't absorb more than their share of the available bandwidth. CableNET also will tap a broadband connection supplied by Adelphia Communications Corp. to handle CableNET's video and data needs.
Like the CableNETs before it, this year's is expected to draw cable and state regulatory VIPs. In conjunction with the California Cable Television Association, separate tours will be conducted for MSO CTOs and CEOs, as well as California state officials.
While this year's iteration of CableNET will mirror recent ones on several fronts, CableLabs has added a new twist this year, shining a brighter light on interactive content, applications and services, which will take on starring roles of their own (see related story, page 16).
Looking ahead, here's a glimpse of what will be on display this year, as well as what's on the technical hot lists of cable operators.
On the home networking front, CableNET regular Motorola Broadband Communications plans to demonstrate a new Web pad that's being developed under the project name of "Spyder." Designed to communicate wirelessly with Motorola Broadband's line of DCT boxes, Spyder will support either 802.11b or HomeRF protocols.
In a separate area of CableNET, Motorola Broadband will demonstrate the interoperability of its "SURFboard" cable modems with the "BSR 64000," a "carrier-class" CMTS the company absorbed via its pending acquisition of RiverDelta Networks Inc.
Meanwhile, Toshiba America Information Systems, fresh off a DOCSIS 1.1 certification for its PCX 2500 cable modem, plans to show off its next-gen "PCX 3000" design, which is presently undergoing live trials. Designed to handle IP voice traffic, Toshiba's new model will come equipped with two phone ports and universal serial bus and Ethernet connections, says company Marketing Communications Manager Chris Boring.
Also highlighting its work on CableLabs' advanced spec, Toshiba will participate in an interoperability demonstration with Cadant Inc.'s DOCSIS 1.1-qualified CMTS, the "C4."
Pacific Broadband Communications’ Kodiak G10 CMTS
Narad Networks Inc., another start-up that's erecting a booth on the Western Show floor as well as participating in CableNET, believes it's ready to provide a dose of reality to its strategy to drive commercial-class revenue into MSO coffers. "We have come a long way since the National Show [in June]," says Narad Chief Technical Officer Vikram Saksena. "We'll be demonstrating a real product."
Saksena adds that Narad will make its first public demonstration of the company's software, which is designed to help cable operators manage and provision their network for small- and mid-sized business applications such as high-speed data, virtual private networks and VoIP. At CableNET, "our main purpose will be to demonstrate that our technology will allow cable MSOs and subscribers to make service provisioning and management easy to use," Saksena says.
He adds that Narad's technology will begin beta trials with undisclosed operators before the end of the year, and move to general availability sometime in the first quarter of 2002.
Chinook Communications Inc., yet another technical fledgling in the cable arena, will show off its ability to embed data within an analog signal, essentially expanding a cable plant's bandwidth, explains company Director of Product Management Chris Rehl. Chinook, which made a splashy launch in April, is developing a CMTS-based encoder that corresponds with decoders based in consumer premise devices, such as set-top boxes or cable modems.
Last year’s CableNET drew about 70 vendors,
Look for Chinook to build its own booth at a future show, after the company develops the silicon for its first product, which is expected to cram another 6 megabits of bandwidth per 6 megahertz channel. The availability of that product is slated for mid-2002.
VOD is also expected to be a hot item at this year's CableNET, as several cable operators plan to aim their deployment efforts in that direction next year.
Add to that list Canada-based MSO Rogers Cable Inc., which plans to roll-out VOD to more than 50 percent of its subscribers by the end of 2002, says Vice President of Product Development Michael Lee. To further that cause, Lee says he'll be looking for integrated VOD management systems, not just for more video servers.
Though Lee will seek out solutions to Rogers' immediate needs, he says he'll also have an eye out for new cable gizmos that have a 36-month deployment timeframe.
While the technology behind applications and services like iTV, VOD, home networking and cable telephony are taking prominent positions at this year's CableNET, the tragic events of Sept. 11 may alter a few agendas, says John Clark, president and CEO of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE).
More specifically, Clark predicts that cable operators will train their sights on network reliability and network integrity technology, because the need for communication and the ability to maintain it remains high, especially in times of crisis.
When it comes to the network in general, Clark says he will be on the lookout to determine whether MSOs plan to execute on a traditional philosophy that calls for system decentralization, or to roll those systems into an overall national operating approach, as Rogers does.
Charter Communications Inc. Vice President of Corporate Development Jim Henderson says he'll continue his search for the latest PVR, VOD, home networking and advanced set-top technologies, but will likely take a gander at software and hardware designed to protect digital content.
At CableNET, "I'm going to take a look at digital rights management technology for VOD and streaming media content to ensure that [content] distributed either to a VOD server or a hard drive is secure, and that people can't make illicit copies of it," says Henderson. "It's a new area, and I want to see what's out there, and to see what I can learn about it. We'll also talk to set-top box manufacturers on streaming and gateway devices and Web pads."
Henderson notes that, through separate meetings, he's familiar with most of the technology that will be on display at this year's CableNET, but the showcase gives him an opportunity to gather new information in one fell swoop.
"Instead of having to travel all over the country to see these things, you can see them all in one place," he says.