Test time for CableHome
Two residential gateway makers made major statements in mid-October after becoming the first vendors to submit products to CableLabs for official CableHome 1.0 testing.
The only vendors that decided to stick their necks out and gun for certification were Linksys Group Inc. and Netgear Inc. Whether those products passed the test won't be revealed until at least Dec. 19, when CableLabs is expected to release the official results of certification wave 24.
Linksys has rapidly bumped up its North American cable modem market share strictly through retail channels, moving to the No. 6 slot at the end of the second quarter of 2003 with 51,161 units shipped, giving it 3.25 percent of the market for the period, according to Kinetic Strategies Inc. Linksys has also gained some favor among MSOs through home networking sales and support deals with companies such as AT&T Broadband.
Residential gateways with embedded cable modem technology represent the "next battleground" for traditional cable modem vendors, McRae says.
Linksys will enter the fray with a new DOCSIS 1.1-certified four-port cable gateway, but–at least in the early going–will only sell the product directly to cable operators.
"Initially, this won't be a retail product for us," McRae says. "We've received a great response by MSOs [for the CableHome product], so we're not in a big hurry to go to retail." He adds that Linksys' cable gateway already is in trials with cable operators, and should be deployed commercially before the end of the year.
The CableHome 1.0 specification, released in April, was crafted to extend DOCSIS to other devices populating a home network, including residential gateways. Since then, CableLabs has conducted four major interoperability tests with vendor products to ensure that they're all speaking the "right language," says Rouzbeh Yassini, senior executive consultant to CableLabs.
Although CableHome 1.0-based products have only been involved in "practice runs" prior to certification wave 24, the products are well enough along their development curves that some MSOs have begun to trial equipment based on the specification, Yassini notes.
Like other CableLabs specifications such as DOCSIS, CableHome certification comes at a price. CableLabs, starting in 2003, will simplify and streamline some of its certification practices by combining its DOCSIS test programs with PacketCable and CableHome.
That will result in some lower testing fees. DOCSIS testing of cable modems will drop 26 percent to about $70,000, and CableHome testing of a stand-alone residential gateway will run $30,000. Likewise, a product that happens to be a cable modem, multimedia terminal adapter and a residential gateway all in one box can be tested against all three specifications for $130,000.CABLEHOME CAPABILITIES
Those piece parts are designed to provide the functionality consumers need to handle basic home networking needs such as sharing Internet connections with multiple PCs and linking those PCs to printers, scanners and other peripherals. CableHome 1.0, in its current form, doesn't reach into the home network beyond the gateway device.
CableLabs has not set a specific timeframe on when those enhancements might be added to future CableHome specifications. "They are all [presently] at the feasibility level," Yassini says.WHY CABLEHOME?
From an MSO's perspective, CableHome's benefit is clear: products based on the specification can open up additional revenue sources. Initially, operators can offer customers a home networking service package–perhaps based on a monthly fee–based on equipment designed to sync up to their high-speed DOCSIS networks. Longer-term, CableHome might also offer MSOs lower inventory costs and a bevy of low-cost and interoperable home networking gear.
Consumers, however, don't necessarily need to build their home networks with CableHome-stamped products. In fact, there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy buying equipment on their own and setting up their home networks sans cable operator intervention.
Yassini agrees that technically savvy consumers aren't the primary targets for CableHome 1.0 products. "CableHome 1.0 is for [people] who need home networking as a tool or a device to get a job done," he says. It's also for people who might not have the expertise to set it up on their own, or wouldn't mind if the cable operator lent some technical and general customer support.
"Instead of just a product, home networking can be a service," Linksys' McRae says, noting that home networking equipment sold from store shelves and directly through cable operators won't necessarily compete for the same customers.
CableHome can help the less technically inclined because it allows operators to peer into home networks and help customers troubleshoot the devices in the home through remote management tools and techniques.
One of those tools involves pinging the various devices on a home network to check for connectivity. Another, dubbed a "speed test," monitors the gateway to determine whether packets were dropped. "A cable operator can't [use those tools] without CableHome," says Steve Saunders, CableLabs' project director, home networking.GROWING SUPPORT
Although only two manufacturers have felt confident enough to go for official CableHome 1.0 testing so far (and paid the full $95,000 fee–prices don't drop until next year), several other vendors are building a diverse line of gateway products for high-speed cable environments as they prepare to pull the testing trigger in 2003.
Motorola Broadband, which held off on official CableHome testing in wave 24, will be pushing the SBG1000 to operators, retailers and consumers.
The SBG1000 "is our first product that's designed around the CableHome specification," says David Grubb, vice president of advanced network technology for Motorola Broadband's IP communications gateways division.
Toshiba America Information Systems marks another CableHome hopeful with its new PCX5000 residential gateway. Already certified for DOCSIS 1.0, Toshiba's 802.11-based wireless device will help cable operators offer more advanced services that extend beyond the scope of CableHome 1.0, says company Marketing Communications Manager Christopher Boring.
Although Toshiba will sell the PCX5000 direct to cable operators, the CE giant will also sell the device through consumer channels, and already has deals in place with two "major" retailers, Boring says.
When HSS decides to make its official CableHome 1.0 push, HSS expects to test the SM 300, which will be formally introduced at next month's Western Show. True to its design, the SM 300 wireless (802.11a) base unit will accommodate a variety of independent modules.
Scientific-Atlanta submitted its new DPR362 residential gateway for DOCSIS 1.1 certification in certification wave 24, but has decided to hold off on official testing for CableHome 1.0. Like S-A's WebStar cable modems, the DPR362 is the product of the company's relationship with Askey Computer Corp.