CableLabs says it's frozen PacketCable specs and will start testing vendor products for qualification next year. The organization also has worked with vendors to set up a working prototype of PacketCable's architecture in its Louisville, Colo., labs.

CableLabs says it plans four PacketCable certification waves next year.

"They are on an identical schedule as DOCSIS," since PacketCable's multimedia terminal adapter and cable modem termination system components must pass DOCSIS 1.1, says Director of PacketCable Testing Tom Thompson.

Other components that will be tested for PacketCable compliance include media gateways, the media gateway controller and the signaling gateway — pieces of the puzzle that connect to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). CableLabs will also test PacketCable's "back-office" portion for service provisioning and record-keeping, notes PacketCable Director Glenn Russell.

Thompson says schedule dates will be posted on CableLabs' Web site in the next couple of days. Registration for modem testing starts Jan. 15 and Jan. 17 for CMTSs.

Tests will last a full quarter, just as the DOCSIS ones do, but a price hasn't been determined. Thompson says there are 10 components involved and each will be priced based on the level of effort. The organization likely won't be charging for the first quarter, although costs could go as high as $30,000 for MTA tests, he says. DOCSIS testing fees remain at $95,000.

CableLabs listed a late 2002 to 2003 date for first commercial deployments, but Thompson says his talks with cable operators indicates they have plans to roll out by the end of 2002, with "significant commercial rollouts in 2003." Some are conducting trials this year, and some plan trials for next year, he adds.

Thompson adds that there "may be some degree of proprietary stuff in the solutions" at first, because the organization would not have certified or qualified all of the 10 components involved by the time rollouts occur.

More than 40 vendors have submitted products to the organization for experimentation and assessment, CableLabs says, and more than a dozen MSO technical trials with components based on the specs are underway.

The prototype is an advanced interoperability test bed with products with common elements of Packet-Cable-specified functionality, the company says. Vendors who want to participate submit a checklist of their "implemented functionality for assessment by PacketCable," then go to CableLabs to demo the functionality as part of a system-wide integration effort, CableLabs says.