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Stepping into a brighter tomorrow

Tue, 12/31/2002 - 7:00pm
Staff

Though the attendance numbers were lower than ever, the folks who made the pilgrimage to Anaheim for BroadbandPlus (the new Western Show) were guardedly optimistic about the broadband sector at large, hoping that
the economy has finally reached the bottom of the bathtub.

Though the attendance numbers were lower than ever, the folks who made the pilgrimage to Anaheim for BroadbandPlus (the new Western Show) were guardedly optimistic about the broadband sector at large, hoping that the economy has finally reached the bottom of the bathtub.

Although a far cry from the 17,000 who were in attendance last year, those who did make it (all 9,947, according to the CCTA) saw that cable has plenty to talk about and much to look forward to when it comes to video-on-demand, IP telephony and high-definition television.

VOD continued to be a hot topic at the confab, and appears to be maturing as launches include more subscription-based and free content.

The going concern for 2003 seems to be centering on how interactive program guides can provide a more efficient and intuitive navigation tool for consumers.

On the IP telephony front, operators extolled that they have all of the stuff they need to continue testing and perhaps begin deploying the nascent service, but the challenge ahead remains putting it all together and wrapping a pretty, integrated bow around it.

Per usual, new set-tops abounded, with many sporting the requisite capabilities to foster HDTV, but the usually dry subject of conditional access (CA) played a starring role this year. Sony Corp.'s "Passage" technology, if it works as advertised, could make the set-top sector a very interesting (and more competitive) place in 2003.

SONY TACKLES CA CONUNDRUM

Sony Corp. provided a rare buzz at the Show by announcing a technology it claims can give cable operators safe passage out of the "two sizes fits all" world of digital video conditional access and open up the market to more set-top box makers.

Sony’s Passage technology would allow operators to
more easily use multiple set-top brands.

Sony's Passage system provides a way to create two versions of encryption that can flow side by side in a digital headend.

Digital video signals transmitted into a video hub would be separated into "critical" and "non-critical" data. Critical data–including vital information about changes to a frame image–constitutes between 2 percent and 10 percent of the total video data payload, depending on content. It would be sent to the legacy system and any alternative conditional access system.

Two encrypted versions of the critical data would be produced, and both would be re-combined with the unencrypted non-critical data for transmission to digital set-top boxes.

Such a system could loosen the traditional hold Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola have preserved in the digital video conditional access market. By giving operators the opportunity to add another conditional access system, they could diversify the vendor list for encryption, headend controllers and digital set-tops, said Gregory Gudorf, vice president of business planning for Sony's digital platform division in America.

"Passage is our attempt to open up what has been a closed market," he said. "We've been through successful lab trials already with Motorola and S-A systems. We've been in discussions with several MSOs about lab tests. We are ready to go."

Sony has gathered a laundry list of technology partners to support Passage, including headend equipment manufacturers (Harmonic, Cisco Systems, Terayon), chip vendors (Broadcom, Conexant, SCM and others), CA system suppliers (Nagra and NDS) and competing set-top box manufacturers (Pace Micro Technology). Others include: Digeo, ATI Technologies, BigBand Networks, Irdeto Access, LSI Logic and STM Microelectronics.

Gudorf added Sony would be ready to start full market trials as early as late spring or early summer, and from there it could go live with the dual conditional access system with a cable MSO customer.

A SET-TOP IN CONSOLE CLOTHING?

The way Advent Networks and BroadQ see it, Sony Corp.'s Playstation 2 can be used for more than just fun and games. In addition to playing the latest gaming titles, the most popular gaming consoles on Earth can also be leveraged by cable operators as media gateways capable of delivering video-on-demand via codecs such as MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and DivX.

To make that possible, Advent and BroadQ have collaborated on a system that combines Advent's Ethernet-based Ultraband platform and BroadQ's Qcast Tuner software. Under that scenario, Advent provides a dedicated IP transport link between the cable headend and the Qcast software, which would reside in the gaming console, and supports multiple data video streams.

"Consumers are buying PS2s twice as fast as cable operators are deploying digital set-tops," said Advent President and CEO Geoff Tudor, in a press release. "Why not leverage this huge installed base and let the consumer buy the set-top?"

The Advent-BroadQ solution provides an added level of security because content is streamed from the cable headend rather than downloaded via the Internet, the companies said.

Although Advent and BroadQ are billing the combination as a game console that can also play the role of a high-end digital set-top box, what's not as clear is how the Playstation 2 would handle an important element such as conditional access (CA) before OpenCable–and the removable CA and encryption system that it fosters–becomes a reality and creates a true retail channel for digital cable set-tops.

VIDEO-ON-DEMAND

BigBand Networks expanded its broadband horizons with the introduction of a video-on-demand product that integrates quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and RF upconversion with the company's flagship Broadband Multimedia-Service Router (BMR). Dubbed the BigBand VOD Edge, it combines QAM RF with the BMR's switching and media processing, and supports protocols such as Gigabit Ethernet, which has become the transport of choice for operators that are deploying VOD in new markets.

BigBand's latest application, which can handle VOD flavors ranging from traditional movies-on-demand to subscription-VOD and network-based personal video recording, complements the company's support of digital broadcasting, HDTV and "zoned" ad-insertion.

BigBand has yet to announce any customers for the VOD Edge product, but the company has secured relationships with several MSOs, including Cox Communications, Rogers Cable, Blue Ridge Communications, Comcast Corp. (via AT&T Broadband) and Time Warner Cable.

Meanwhile, video-on-demand server start-up MidStream Technologies enhanced its IP2000 product line with the addition of HyperDrive, a RAM-based drive designed to replace or co-exist with standard Fibre Channel drives that use 2.0 Gbps FC-AL technology. The addition, the company said, will ensure that VOD platforms can withstand peak request conditions by exploiting the RAM-based in-line cache.

Manticom Networks joined the video-on-demand transport fray with a Gigabit Ethernet-based product designed to push the economic needle below $35 per-provisioned subscriber. Manticom's "Scorpion" product suite implements a distributed, Layer 2 Ethernet switching architecture, delivering backbone capacity that scales from 2.5 Gigabits per second to 100 Gbps.

Layer 1 solutions, notes the Chantilly, Va.-based start-up, force cable operators to over-provision the network to adapt to changes in user demand.

Instead of the typical cost-per-stream measurements tied to VOD, cost-per-provisioned subscriber is a more accurate figure for the true cost to the operator, the company argues, because cost-per-stream measurements don't reflect over-provisioning of the network–a figure that grows 1.5 to 3 times the actual bandwidth required.

IP video equipment provider Path 1 Network Technologies Inc. debuted at the show its new Chameleon vidX product line, which is designed to allow cable operators to grow services and adapt to change as they plan for an "everything-on-demand" environment. Four of the top five cable MSOs are currently utilizing Path 1 devices in their IP VOD deployments, the company said. The Chameleon gear allows cable operators to offer IP VOD today, and add in the future general broadcast content, integrated IP telephony, cable modems and video, into one network.

Features include the ability to handle up to 1,024 streams of standard- and high-definition VOD content, music and other content which can be multiplexed and demultiplexed for IP transport to existing digital cable set-tops.

The Chameleon gateway can provide a range of video bit rates, topping out at more than 20 Mbps, to serve emerging HDTV requirements.

DATA COMMUNICATIONS

Scientific-Atlanta introduced the Prisma G1 CMTS, which is DOCSIS 1.1 qualified. The new CMTS is suited to deliver DOCSIS standards-based data services to multiple dwelling units (MDUs), corporate campuses, office parks, malls, hotels or other high-density environments.

Additionally, it can also be used to deliver high-speed data service to small hub or start-up areas of a cable system.

The new CMTS, which S-A resells through a partnership with Juniper Networks, will enable cable operators to penetrate these new service areas while deferring, or in some cases eliminating, future costly node splitting or re-combining and service interruptions, according to S-A.

The Prisma G1 CMTS features a compact size, as well as ingress noise cancellation–especially useful in MDUs where wiring quality presents a challenge. The unit also offers operators the ability to provide tiered services, via sophisticated bandwidth allocation capabilities.

Conexant Systems Inc. has released details on the CX24951, a single-chip cable modem based on DOCSIS 2.0, an advanced CableLabs specification that dilates cable's upstream by threefold and mitigates noise.

Like other products based on DOCSIS 2.0, the CX24951 supports two advanced physical-layer schemes that the specification requires: advanced time division multiple access (A-TDMA) and synchronous code division multiple access (S-CDMA).

In addition to DOCSIS 2.0, Conexant's chip is also designed to adhere to CableLabs' CableHome spec for home networking products and PacketCable, the cable industry's platform for packet-based services such as IP telephony.

On the technical front, Conexant's new chip generates 500 million instructions per second (MIPS), includes universal serial bus support, and houses an embedded interface for access to the company's HomePlug 1.0-certified powerline and HomePNA phoneline semiconductor products and other home networking devices.

Conexant did not disclose which cable modem vendors have committed to use the new chip. A number of cable modem makers use Conexant silicon in their EuroDOCSIS, DOCSIS 1.0 and DOCSIS 1.1 models, including Accton, Belkin Corp., Best Data Products Inc., CastleNet, D-Link, Dakos, Powercom, Samsung, SMC Networks and Zoom Technologies.

Motorola Broadband unveiled the SURFboard SB5100, a cable modem based on CableLabs' advanced DOCSIS 2.0 specification. Powered by silicon from Broadcom Corp., the SB5100 incorporates the advanced physical layer schemes required under the upstream-widening DOCSIS 2.0 specification: A-TDMA and S-CDMA. Motorola said the model, which is interoperable and backwards-compatible with DOCSIS 1.0 and 1.1, is presently being tested by "several" unnamed cable operators. The company expects to begin shipping the SB5100 before the end of 2002. The model supports both USB and Ethernet 10/100 interfaces.

Arris and Cisco Systems Inc. announced upgrades to a number of their respective cable modem termination systems. Arris said it has launched release 3.0 of its flagship Cadant C4 CMTS, adding in enhanced scalability, hardware-based "wire-speed" Layer 3 IP routing performance and integrated "hitless" RF module failover capabilities. Among MSO deployments, Comcast Corp. is using the C4 for its anticipated mid-2003 launch of IP telephony services in the Philadelphia area.

Meanwhile, Cisco upgraded the density of its flagship CMTS, the uBR10012, by adding the MC5X20S Broadband Processing Engine. That combination will allow MSOs to scale from five to 80,000 modems on a single uBR10012 chassis, Cisco said.

Cisco also unveiled the uBR7200-NPE-G1 processor, which is designed to more than double the performance of the company's widely deployed uBR7246VXR CMTS.

Com21 Inc. added two new DOCSIS 2.0 modems to its DOXport line of products–the DOXport 1110XB2 and the DOXport 1112XB2. The DOXport 1110XB2 modem comes equipped with additional features that support the requirements for synchronous-code division multiple access (S-CDMA) and advanced time division multiple access (A-TDMA) upstream modes of DOCSIS 2.0. The DOXport 1112XB2 offers the same capabilities, but is designed for the Euro-DOCSIS spec. Used in conjunction with the DOXcontroller 1000XB CMTS, both models are capable of operating at up to 256 QAM upstream.

With Broadcom's 3348 chip as the base, the new generation modems feature the same Broadcom silicon tuner and a 200 MHz processor for improved throughput. Both modems are scheduled for release early in 2003.

ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS

Motorola Broadband showed off a new family of broadband access products that will enable network operators to provide connectivity services to enterprise customers. The new Multi-Service Enterprise Access (MEA) platforms can enable both telephony and data services, providing transport for both aggregated TDM telephony and high-speed data services over an integrated gigabit transport network.

The integrated approach Motorola is proposing allows operators to get around some of the recovery time issues that have held back growth into the enterprise market. The new MEA platform provides transport with less than 50 milliseconds of network recovery time–enough to support business-type end users of T-1/E-1 and 100 Mbps voice and data services.

The new platform builds on the vendor's existing Multiservice Broadband Transport platform, allowing the combined offering to support all of the various topologies and applications that operators have in place with current MBT network infrastructures.

Optical transport company Aurora Networks has unveiled a new product suite aimed at helping cable operators serve the SOHO and small- to medium-sized business market. The company's new Aurora Ethernet Transport product family offers 1.6 Gbps bandwidth per wavelength, which can be extended using dense wavelength division multiplexing. With that much bandwidth, MSOs can provide a wide variety of voice, video and data services, including virtual local area networks (VLANs), virtual private networks (VPNs) and leased line replacements.

Because Ethernet traffic is channelized using time division multiplexing, MSOs can offer businesses dedicated, full duplex, 100 Mbps connectivity with high security. Because it uses Layer 1 transport, it preserves and passes through Layer 2 and higher protocols so that MSOs' networks may be overlaid with datacom protocols such as QoS and IPSec.

The Aurora Ethernet Transport product suite includes: a headend-based Network Interface Module which interfaces with MAN/WAN routers/switches and manages the transport network; an Ethernet Access Device for business premises, which interfaces with office LAN switches/routers; and Opti-Trace Monitoring and Management software, which enables provisioning and management of Fast Ethernet services.

The system has been in continuous service at municipal offices and school district facilities in the Dallas, Texas area since September 2001, according to Aurora Vice President of Marketing John Dahlquist.

HOME NETWORKING

Ucentric Systems added FlexMedia LAN software to its product suite, which enables the networking of multiple clients, hard drives and tuners distributed throughout the home. The package also offers network operators more flexibility in their roll-outs of Multi-TV PVR and whole-home digital TV, according to Ucentric.

With PVR and FlexMedia LAN software, consumers receive personal recording capabilities, as well as their full programming lineup on TVs throughout the home. They can also choose and control individual video recordings from a single in-home recording library shared among multiple television sets. In addition, with a common recording library among TVs, consumers can pause a program in one room and pick it up on exactly the same scene on a TV in another room.

Also, the software gives operators the ability to deploy PVR-enabled set-tops and then progress to whole-home deployment of PVR by adding resources incrementally.

As consumer demand for additional storage develops, the new software allows standard, retail hard drives to be attached to the home media network at any location in the home.

As cable modem subscribers increasingly install home networks in order to share their broadband connections with multiple PCs, they're often stymied by complex and proprietary gear. SupportSoft Inc. came riding to the rescue with HomeNet, a software application designed to enable broadband service providers to offer subscribers an easy solution for pre-qualifying, installing, configuring and receiving ongoing support for their home networks.

SupportSoft HomeNet software is an intelligent automated solution for home networking, allowing service providers to accelerate revenue generation by deploying value-added services. By automating network installation and ongoing support, HomeNet also helps service providers lower the cost of supporting complex new services.

SupportSoft's HomeNet streamlines the entire process of wired or wireless home networking. Product capabilities include pre-qualification to assist in determining if users have the right software and hardware to enable home networking; configuration and settings protection to establish if the computer is correctly connected to the router, ISP network, ISP service or the Internet; resource sharing to handle the entire configuration process for setting up features such as file sharing; and ongoing proactive support. This provides the subscriber with personalized self-service and assisted service options to target and fix problems when they arise.

SupportSoft counts among its customers many of the largest cable MSOs, including Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable's RoadRunner Internet service. The company's software is distributed to customers via the MSOs.

SMC Networks announced its new dual-band, 802.11a/802.11b wireless network adapter, the EZ Connect 2.4 GHz/5 GHz Universal Wireless PCI Card (SMC2302W). Designed to connect desktop computers to either 802.11a or 802.11b compliant wireless networks, the card is suited for evolving networks, providing connectivity with a built-in migration path for the future.

The card supports bandwidth-intensive applications such as voice, data, video, graphics and multimedia files. Its automatic data rate and channel selection ensure optimal performance and connection to any available 802.11a or 802.11b wireless access point on the network, according to SMC. Operating in 802.11a mode, the new dual band PCI card supports data rates as high as 54 Mbps, doubling its speed to 108 Mbps in "turbo" mode. When placed in an 802.11b-compliant network, the card adapts automatically, and connects using its standards-compliant 802.11b mode to operate at speeds up to 11 Mbps. The card also comes with an EZ Installation Wizard that makes driver and utility installation easier; as well as a site survey utility that displays a listing of all available wireless access points on the network, and the ability to create and save multiple profiles for different wireless LAN settings.

HighSpeed Surfing Inc. introduced the beta version of its SM 300 Secure Modular Professional Gateway and its SM 200 Residential Series of network gear. HSS' SMPG is based on CableHome and DOCSIS specifications and features a variety of snap-on modules for added functionality. The company's SM 300, which functions as a stand-alone wired or wireless device, is a base unit router with a built-in access point, firewall and four-port 10/100 Fast Ethernet switch.

Modules currently available for the SM 300 include the cable modem, ADSL modem, IP telephony module and personal video recording module.

HSS' modular approach "addresses today's economic needs by providing a flexible and incremental solution, which allows broadband business users to customize and build their network over time," said company President and CEO David Lin, in a prepared statement.

Though traditionally a player in digital set-top boxes, Pioneer Electronics has joined the crowd in developing a next-generation integrated modem and router gateway device. Pioneer unveiled the BTM-850W Wireless Gateway Modem–a device that combines a DOCSIS 1.1 cable modem (pending certification), a router-gateway with four-port Ethernet switch, and an 802.11b wireless base station.

This latest device reflects a greater trend in the home networking and access industries. In advance of cable operators rolling out home routing services to their traditional cable subscribers, they'll be looking at gear that can combine functionalities into a single device for simpler deployment across their subscriber networks.

The new Pioneer gateway is hardware-ready for the new CableHome 1.0 specification and can also support the HomePNA 2.0 networking protocol. It also claims security is handled via 40/128 WEP encryption and triple DES.

HEADEND EQUIPMENT

QRF (Quality RF Services Inc.) announced its new tool for headend amplification, the QRBCA, an active combiner product that uses separate amplifier modules to overcome combiner losses before combining up to four groups of channels. The device is suited for amplifying different bands or groups of channels. Jumpers to configure the product into a (1) 4x1 or (2) 2x1 device(s) are easily accessible from the front.

QRF’s QRBCA

The QRBCA provides an easy adaptation to filter usage for octave combining that results in the best possible CNR, removing all distortion products by eliminating them with filters, according to the company. The device is built in a 2 RU chassis.

Wave7 Optics Inc. launched its Last Mile Subscriber Return (LMSR) Headend product, which enables operators to connect the company's Last Mile Link single fiber optic access solution to traditional set-tops in the home. Wave7's standards-based LMSR works in conjunction with its family of Last Mile Gateway (LMG) customer premise products to transport traditional RF return signaling from the home to the headend using Wave7's single fiber access system. This enables residential customers to have access to interactive services like pay-per-view (PPV) and video-on-demand (VOD) without the need for a separate cable plant, telephone return, or an upgrade to an IP STT.

The company's LMSR technology "allows seamless upgrade of an HFC plant to a next-generation FTTx plant, since service providers do not have to bear the cost of end user transition to newer, more expensive IP set-tops and a new headend control system," according to Jim Farmer, Wave7's Chief Technical Officer. "In a new-build scenario, this technology alleviates the need for deploying a completely separate network, whether copper or cable, just to transport a very low data rate signal upstream."

FIBER OPTICS

Aurora Networks introduced a line of dual channel digital return transceivers and receivers, which allow twice the amount of information to be transmitted over the same fiber cable, effectively doubling the available bandwidth per user in the upstream, according to the company.

Suited for use in hybrid fiber/coax and fiber deep architectures, Aurora's "2-fer" digital return path product line supports cost-effective growth in high-speed data and telephony penetrations by increasing the usable return path bandwidth, according to the company. Twice as much data is effectively placed onto the same fiber through two discrete return channels of upstream data from the optical node. Each channel is received independently by the dual channel receiver and routed through discrete RF return outputs. This provides fiber availability for additional return path bandwidth and rack space for additional return path receivers.

The dual channel digital return product line includes the DT4200 Series Digital Transceiver modules for Aurora's NC4000 series optical nodes; the DT5200 Series Digital Transceiver modules for Motorola's Starline series optical nodes; and the DR3021 Digital Receivers for the Aurora CH3000 universal chassis.

TELEPHONY

Broadcom Corp. unveiled BroadVoice, a modular, two-line voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony solution that can deliver near CD-quality voice service using standard plain old telephone service (POTS)-based customer premises equipment (CPE).

Broadcom's VoIP technology consists of the BroadVoice BCM3341 VoIP digital signal processor (DSP) system-on-a-chip, and BroadVoice software-based voice compression codecs. Differing from existing, highly complex compression codecs, the BroadVoice solution can improve the clarity and quality of telephony voice service using 50 percent less bandwidth than standard 64 kilobit-per-second (kbps) G.711, or standard telephone solutions, according to company officials.

As a result, BroadVoice provides a cost savings to service providers by allowing them to provision more calls, with equivalent or better voice quality, on the same network infrastructure without the cost of upgrading or adding new equipment.

The BroadVoice BCM3341 integrates seven commonly used, general-purpose chips into a single integrated circuit (IC) that reduces the size and power of the system while providing increased performance and better voice quality. Included in the chip are a dual multiply and accumulate 200+ MIPS digital signal processor, a DSP memory system, a FlexiVoice POTS codec, a PacketSync packet synchronization processor, a telephony phase lock loop (PLL), a battery voltage sensor, an internal voltage regulator, a high-efficiency, high-voltage telephone ring generator controller, and a time-division multiplexing (TDM) expansion interface. The BCM3341 also has a flexible expansion interface that enables cascading four or more lines for multi-dwelling unit (MDU) applications, as well as VoIP POTS telephony solutions across an entire line of broadband modems, residential gateways and set-top boxes.

Completing the system is Broadcom xChange, a suite of "carrier-class" VoIP DSP software.

Lemur Networks Inc. showed off its I-Fabric software suite, designed to provide MSOs with a standards-based, intelligent IP service activation architecture that requires minimal operator intervention for service delivery. Beyond voice-over-IP transport provisioning capabilities, I-Fabric provides a suite of tools for intelligent, pure soft-switch driven IP telephony for cable MSOs.

Features of I-Fabric include DOCSIS 1.0/1.1 based service activation; IP telephony provisioning; advanced IP address management; tiered bandwidth; rich SNMP 3 monitoring and reporting features; and Business Logic Design. The package also allows users to custom bundle specific services, when needed.

InnoMedia showcased a multimedia terminal adapter that also serves as a videophone. InnoMedia unveiled the MTA 3368 IP Video-Phone at CableNET this year, the latest addition to the company's MTA 3000 Series of next-generation, IP-based multimedia customer premises appliances. The new video-enabled MTA looks like a regular telephone, but adds a large four-inch TFT color LCD for displaying real-time video images, supporting bandwidth rates as high as 768 kbps. Other features of note: remote automatic firmware upgrade, IP address management, and QoS via VLAN and ToS.

TEST EQUIPMENT

The path toward fully-automated bi-directional test equipment is one that Sunrise Telecom Broadband is on, and its new Installer Profiler Series of analog and digital instrumentation is indicative of that trend.

Sunrise showed off the new family of meters, which combines analog and digital measurement and cable modem testing capabilities right into the meter.

With added SMART (Selectable Measurement Automated Routine Tests) functionality, installers can qualify both the upstream and downstream network in combination with automated testing to get quality results generated each time.

Within the new Install Profiler family, Sunrise first offers the CM100 IP, which delivers a suite of analog signal level measurements including spectrum scan and digital signal power levels. The CM250 IP adds the ability to test for digital signal impairments by measuring MER, pre-FEC BER, and post-FEC BER. Up the line, the CM500 IP provides automated DOCSIS modem testing plus the analog and digital video channel measurement features of the CM250 IP.

Seizing on the "lower costs or die" trend that now dominates the cable TV industry, Acterna introduced TechSync, a portfolio of interactive communications test instruments, software and services aimed at helping network operators maximize profitability and flexibility while reducing operating and overhead costs.

The company also formed a new division, called WorkFlow Solutions, which will develop customized automated workflow solutions that support the communications industry's aggressive efforts to improve operational efficiency, an area that is attracting more than $500 million in investment annually.

The TechSync-enabled tools–including instruments, software and services–can be combined to meet specific business objectives for telecommunications and cable network operators.

–Karen Brown of Multichannel News also contributed to this story.

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