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DOCSIS: The Next Generation

Wed, 06/30/2004 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, Editor

New York–Although operators are still in the early stages of deploying equipment based on the upstream-dilating DOCSIS 2.0 specification, the people at CableLabs are already tinkering away on a new version that will blow today's cable modem speeds out of the water.

In April, the trade and consumer press learned of that–and several other significant developments that are at various stages of deployability–during CableLabs' annual media briefing here.

"Cable has only scratched the surface of its bandwidth capacity," said Ralph Brown, CableLabs' senior vice president, broadband access.

And how.

DOCSIS 3.0, which would likely require a silicon change at the modem and at the CMTS, could offer downstream bandwidth of 200 Mbps per channel, and 100 Mbps per channel upstream. Today, DOCSIS 2.0 delivers up to 40 Mbps down/30 Mbps up. The 3.0 version would give operators enough bandwidth to offer a wide range of IP-based, entertainment-quality media services.

The faster pipe could also help cable operators stay a step ahead of DSL in the Internet data service speed race.

"Three Mbps is something that helps differentiate our services [today]," noted Tom Cullen, Charter Communications' senior vice president of advanced services. "Is there room to grow? Absolutely."

Brown acknowledged that CableLabs is "fairly early" into the DOCSIS 3.0 process. "It's difficult...to predict the timeframe on that. It will depend on how quickly members want to move ahead on it," he said.

But well before DOCSIS 3.0 becomes a reality, CableLabs and its members are already working on a 2.x version of DOCSIS that would nail on features such as roaming, committed data rates, MAC layer improvements, and better commercial service capabilities.

Brown said CableLabs has already sent out a formal inquiry to suppliers for their suggestions on features to be added to 2.x. He also does not anticipate a silicon change for DOCSIS 2.x, though it might require additional 6 MHz channels.

Doorway to DSG

Despite all of the talk about new versions of DOCSIS, the platform isn't just about speed. It's also about shoring up other platforms that can ride on top of it.

"Deployments of PacketCable and CableHome are beginning," Brown says, noting that cable is applying DOCSIS to many services and applications beyond just Internet access. Among them: new applications to monitor the health of the cable plant, including power supplies and amplifiers, and a communications pathway for digital set-tops.

Chief among that group is the DOCSIS Set-top Gateway (DSG), a capability that gives operators a standard method to deliver messages, guide data and more advanced streaming applications via a DOCSIS channel to the digital set-top box.

Operators could also leverage DOCSIS to pre-provision game consoles and activate DVD "extras," Cullen said.

"You're going to see DSG and other DOCSIS roadmap enhancements through the end of 2004 and into 2005," he said. "We have to keep our eyes wide open and stay flexible in these markets. No one can tell us what's going to be hot at the end of 2005."

CableLabs issued the DSG spec in February 2002, though a new version is expected later this year. If all goes to plan, CableLabs hopes to conduct DSG interops in Q3 2004, and follow with official testing in Q4.

PacketCable update

On the testing front, the near-term goal is to get more products into CableLabs for qualification for PacketCable 1.1, a spec that includes everything in PacketCable 1.0, plus CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) requirements, said Glenn Russell, director of multimedia applications and advanced network systems at CableLabs.

CableLabs this year and into 2005 will be working on qualification requirements for PacketCable 1.2, which describes how cable operators hand off calls to other cable operators, and PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM), a new spec that adds QoS capabilities to a raft of IP-based services and applications.

PCMM "controls latency and resizes the pipe for a particular service," Russell explained.

CableLabs held a PCMM interoperability event in March, usually the precursor to more formal qualification. Russell anticipates more interops in Q3 and Q4, but wasn't ready to say when official qualification testing would begin. "But we're already creating a test plan and test tool development," he said.

MSOs also aren't ready yet to discuss specific PCMM plans.

"We're beginning to look at PacketCable Multimedia as a next step from the current PacketCable deployments we have for telephony," said Liliane Zreik, Time Warner Cable's vice president of technology, voice.

TWC: OCAP + IPG = Freedom

Thanks to advancements brought on by OCAP (OpenCable Application Platform), Time Warner Cable plans to strip out existing interactive programming guides (IPGs) from Scientific-Atlanta and Pioneer Electronics and replace them with guides and TV navigation software originally developed at MystroTV, Time Warner Inc.'s former TV-on-demand project.

Time Warner Cable Senior Vice President of Strategy and Development Kevin Leddy discussed the IPG transition plan at the briefing.

He noted that the short-term goal is to create "mirror images" of the widely deployed SARA guide from S-A and Passport IPG from Pioneer using OCAP.

"The objective is to make a pretty clean break from their [guides] to an OCAP-based system," Leddy said.

The move would give Time Warner Cable complete control of its IPG and TV navigation technology, provide it with a uniform IPG across its digital footprint, and give the MSO the ability to speed up interoperability requirements for set-top-based applications.

Although the guide technology developed at MystroTV was created in-house, Time Warner Cable appears to be on firm legal footing anyway thanks to a long-term licensing deal the MSO struck with Gemstar-TV Guide back in October 2003.

Time Warner Cable is also creating an OCAP licensing business in order to create traction and momentum for the OCAP market, Leddy explained. Interested parties can license the operator's OCAP implementation directly from Time Warner Cable or from the MSO's non-exclusive OCAP technology partner, Vidiom Systems.

The MSO is creating its first OCAP implementation for the S-A Explorer 3250 HD set-top. Time Warner plans to go into beta testing of its OCAP implementation and new navigator by year-end 2004 or early 2005, Leddy said.

Comcast HSI products
Comcast’s retail high-speed data sales have grown year-over-year,
but that growth has been enhanced by Go2Broadband.

Go2Broadband gooses retail

CableLabs also provided an update on Go2Broadband (G2BB), a messaging platform for broadband services. G2BB "allows cable to compete with a national footprint," said project Vice President Jenifer Cistola.

She said 69 percent of the leads coming through G2BB are originating from ISPs, with the balance coming from retailers.

The G2BB effort has helped out members such as Comcast Cable. The automation of G2BB has "enabled us to take [retail] to the next level," said Chris Caffrey, Comcast's vice president of retail sales.

Although Comcast's high-speed data retail sales grew 249 percent from 2001 to 2003, sales of cable modem services in G2BB-enabled stores jumped 582 percent over a longer timeframe (2001-2004).

DOCSIS roadmap
DOCSIS version DOCSIS 1.0 DOCSIS 1.1 DOCSIS 2.0 DOCSIS 2.X DOCSIS 3.0
Services
Broadband Internet · · · · ·
Tiered services · · · ·
VoIP · · · ·
Video conferencing · · ·
Commercial services · · ·
Roaming services · ·
Entertainment video ·
Consumer devices
Cable modem · · · · ·
VoIP phone (MTA) · · · ·
Residential gateway · · · ·
Video phone · · ·
Mobile devices · ·
IP set-top box ·
Downstream bandwidth
Mbps/channel 40 40 40 40 200
Gbps/node 5 5 5 5 6.3
Upstream bandwidth
Mbps/channel 10 10 30 30 100
Mbps/node 80 80 170 170 450
Source: CableLabs

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