More than 11,800 cable industry technical personnel made the jaunt to Orlando to "Experience the Solutions" at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' annual Cable-Tec Expo, held last month. And on the show floor itself, as well as in seminars conducted by industry experts, Expo attendees had plenty of opportunities to explore the latest in broadband technology. What follows is a roundup of new product launches by category, as well as coverage of selected seminars.

Headend equipment

Viewsonics Inc. has unveiled its new Proformance line of products, which will ultimately include equipment designed for two-way, high bandwidth, multi-service networks. The company is launching products including a headend management system and a line of digital-ready drop passives. The Proformance Headend Management System is a modular system offering bi-directional coupler/splitter modules, as well as single and dual directional couplers in a high-density, space-saving design.

Quintech Electronics and Communi-cations Inc. conducted a live demonstration of its Q-Stack Frequency Stacking System. Q-Stack effectively quadruples return path bandwidth, enabling HFC networks to cost-effectively deploy high-speed Internet, telephony and enriched broadband two-way services without replacing their existing network infrastructure. The patent-pending system is a plug-and-play solution and is easily adaptable to new and existing optical nodes. The FSU 203 Frequency Stacking Up Converter module is a frequency stacking subsystem that simultaneously accepts the 5-42 MHz upstream signals from the input of any distribution or feeder port of a fiber node and frequency translates them into four separate "stacked" bands of frequencies (5-203 MHz). The FSD 203 Frequency De-stacking Down Converter module, located in the headend, downconverts the four bands back to 5-42 MHz.

Radiant Communications announced the availability of its Series VL7600, a high-capacity baseband video and audio multiplexer that is a solution for cable TV headend consolidation. The system comes with a number of options. Up to 40 baseband video channels and 80 audio channels can be multiplexed together onto one fiber and transmitted for individual hops of 80 km. Because this is a digital V/A multiplexed system, the signal can be repeated many times. Data can also be added as a component, 10/100 or Gigabit Ethernet. Channels can be added or dropped at any of the repeat points.

nStreams Technologies Inc. has released its new multi-channel, real-time encoder that digitally encodes and delivers multiple live video feeds over a cable network. The company has developed the encoder and other components to build a DVB-compliant digital media server that provides seamless MPEG file streaming with aggregate bandwidth up to 160 Mbps.

AM Communications Inc.'s Systems Integration Group has announced the availability of its new Universal Headend Consolidator (UHC), which supports the company's new NETApps family of network management solutions. The NETApps products are developed under a strategic partnership between AM and NeST Technologies Inc.

The UHC integrates primary functions such as data collection, performance correlation and alarm storm suppression. It analyzes the behavior of outside plant and subscriber premises equipment, and provides root-cause performance information.

Dolby Laboratories demonstrated new products designed to ensure the highest quality multichannel audio broadcasts for cable television facilities. The company's new handheld DM100 Bitstream Analyzer will allow audio system integrators and service engineers to quickly test the integrity and composition of Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby E, and PCM signals in a production facility, broadcast network, or cable headend. The DM100 also generates Dolby Digital, Dolby E, and PCM test bitstreams.

BarcoNet demonstrated a prototype video-on-demand (VOD) platform using Internet protocol (IP), jointly developed with Path 1 Video Products. The platform allows operators to offer DVD-quality video services over an IP backbone. According to Path 1, the two companies developed a gateway that delivers 90, 3.3 megabit per second MPEG channels routed simultaneously through a single IP link.

BigBand Networks Inc. has announced the availability of a broadcast grooming module for the company's Broadband Multimedia-Service Router (BMR), which provides cable MSOs with a multi-port, carrier-class grooming system. With the addition of the module, the BMR now allows MSOs to select any combination of incoming program networks from different sources and create new packages of program networks for their subscribers.

Vela has released an update to its FrontLine series of EAS products for multi-channel cable operations. All FrontLine EAS products are now available with -48 VDC power options. New digital headends "are going to -48 VDC power for the heat and space saving advantages," said Bill Robertson, president of Vela Broadcast/Systems. "We are accommodating that trend and allowing our users a smoother integration into the newer headend architectures."

SeaChange International's Interactive Television (ITV) System was on display at the show, hosting a variety of interactive services in concert with other vendors that include on-demand movies, electronic program guides and middleware applications.

The company's ITV System was demonstrated with Liberate Technologies' middleware for operators who have chosen Scientific-Atlanta's Explorer series set-tops. In addition, the two companies will leverage Liberate's TV Platform Compact and TV Platform Standard on Motorola's DCT-2000 and DCT-5000 to provide integrated VOD and a middleware solution on basic and top-end digital STBs.


Motorola Inc. Broadband Communications Sector unveiled its new, enhanced features for the company's FFT-XT/HSG extended tap housing unit. The upgrades are designed to enable the unit to deliver multimedia services, including voice, video and data, to consumers over HFC networks.

Motorola's new tap includes an optional nine-inch-wide housing extension for aerial applications, which eliminates the costly extension connectors that are traditionally required when upgrading cable systems using standard housings.

Additionally, the new chromated, 360-aluminum alloy housing unit is compatible with existing Motorola series faceplates, reducing replacement costs.

Quality R.F. Services Inc. developed a product around the QDAX indoor amplifier design that has up to a 12 dB output slope capability, particularly effective in MDUs with long drops, according to the company. Subscriber levels in the residential units can now be near flat in those long drop situations. In addition, the output capability can be increased as a result of the decreased power loading of the lower channels.

Lindsay Electronics introduced its new 1 GHz, two-way subscriber amplifier, which features LED RF verification; LED power verification; cylindrical precision, SCTE-compliant F ports; and a 3 dB noise figure. In addition, the amplifier is waterproof to 15 PSI, has a corrosion-resistant ZAMAK 3 housing tested to ASTM B117-90, and comes in 1-, 2- and 4-port models with optional equalization. Also, the amplifier features modem compatible intermod (-85 dB in the forward path, and -110 dB in the reverse).

PCT International, a subsidiary of Andes Industries Inc., introduced its Genesys II Series Digital Splitters and Taps, designed to operate in systems created for digital, two-way services. Features include -60 dBmV spurious signal and second order harmonic with +55 dBmV return input carrier after surge, improved loss and isolation within the return path, and 6 kV A3 surge protection on all ports.

Eagle Comtronics unveiled a new addition to its Eagle Elite Filter Series–the EZT. The new EZT filter is a multichannel negative trap that blocks groups or tiers of channels from non-paying subscribers. It features a hex nut that allows the installer to use a 7/16 wrench, and an F fitting installation tool for easy installation. The new EZT filter will also offer surge protection.

CableServ announced its new iNET Series Subscriber Drop Amplifiers, which feature improved RF performance and a power indicating LED. The two-way active iNET drop amps are suited for situations where the cable subscriber has multiple TV sets as well as cable modems, and/or digital set-tops where gain is often needed in both the forward and return path.

Electroline Equipment Inc. introduced its Multiple Provider Addressable Splitter, which company officials say can provide cable operators with an operational competitive advantage in an MDU (multiple dwelling unit) environment. Each subscriber drop is permanently connected to each addressable port on the unit, while the competing provider's passive connections are also hooked up as required. If a tenant chooses to be serviced by the owner of the addressable splitter, the provider can make the transfer immediately, without requiring the cooperation of a competitor. If a tenant is not taking the service from the addressable splitter operator, the port is automatically made available to another cable company. When a tenant decides to go with the competing company's service, a technician from that company must manually attach a jumper cable to the corresponding port on the addressable splitter in order to provide service.

dB-tronics introduced a way for operators to increase plant bandwidth, without respacing amp stations. The company says that the NEC/CEL gallium arsenide hybrids are the key to its new upgrades of 450, 550 and 750 MHz line amplifiers. The GaAs hybrids used in the output stage of the cable TV distribution amplifier lower distortions (CTB, CSO and XMOD), increase the crash point, reduce variations in gain over temperature and reduce current drain.

Antec Telewire Supply demonstrated its Integrated Digital Drop System (IDDS). Anchored by Antec's proprietary Regal, Digicon and Monarch drop and subscriber premise products, IDDS consists of premium drop components, engineered and tested as a system to provide increased signal quality and reliability for digital voice, video and data applications. The program also promotes pre-installation planning, drop and subscriber premise testing, and proper installation techniques.

Filtronic Sigtek released its ST-280 Digital Return Path Concentrator for use in hybrid fiber/coax digital return path systems. The new unit demonstrates the company's Active Channel Tuning technology, which enables transmission of up to eight digital return paths on a standard 2.5 Gbps fiber link.

Fiber optics

Antec is incorporating a 2.5-GHz return digital transmitter into its Laser Link Proteus Scaleable Node. The Proteus Scaleable Node gives operators the ability to segment return path signals depending on customer penetration and homes passed, and provides a low-cost base configuration for initial network deployment.

By using the Proteus Scaleable Node in conjunction with the return digital transmitter, operators can push fiber closer to each individual home, and each customer can get more bandwidth coming back out of their house, according to Antec.

Multicom Inc. is offering the CATV Linx Model 2804T and 2804R, manufactured by The Force Inc. The 2804T is an 860 MHz transmitter available in three output options–10, 11, and 12 dBm–which allows for a full 110-channel loading over transmission paths exceeding 20 km of singlemode fiber. The companion 2804R receiver contains an adjustable optical attenuator and a built-in optical power meter.

Ipitek announced a new line of hybrid fiber/coax products, specially designed for use in metropolitan networks. Designated the Metro LS, the initial offerings in the line include a new high-density 1310 nm transmitter and a new return optical receiver system. unveiled its new Navicor Quadrant II NQ4 Series Node, designed to accommodate a range of new broadband services and service penetration changes.

NQ4 features include four active, high-level RF output forward receiver and return transmitter configurations that provide full 4 x 4 forward and reverse segmentation; modular optics for easier upgrades; forward and reverse redundancy capability; dual power supplies and redundant network powering.

Harmonic Inc. rolled out its GIGALight Dense Wave Division Multiplexing product, joining the company's baseband Ethernet-over-fiber platform. GIGALight was developed to deliver multiple Gigabit Ethernet, Sonet and/or ATM data streams over a single fiber. It is optimized to support many digital transport applications, including VOD, high-speed data and IP telephony.

Norscan introduced its optical monitoring system, the 4200 OAU (Optical Alarm Unit). The user-defined system is designed to save time and money during emergency restoration because of its capability for reporting the immediate location of fiber cuts. Capable of monitoring dark or active fibers, the system reports the location of fiber cuts, saving labor costs and downtime, according to the company.

Network management/monitoring

AM Communications Inc.'s Systems Integration Group unveiled its MapBOSS map data extraction and storage system, one of a series of software applications in the company's NETApps family of network management solutions. NETApps products are developed under a strategic partnership between AM Communications and NeST Technologies Inc.

MapBOSS is a Web-based storage system that allows secure, multi-location, remote access to HFC design map information across enterprise or worldwide data networks. It contains a collection of auto-extraction engines that intelligently "crawl" the maps, extracting the inventory data, the number of homes passed in any network segment, miles of plant in any segment, and detailed topology information.

C.I.S. announced FocusOne Web Cartridges, a series of applications that perform various functions on the data loaded into the FocusOne Warehouse. The cartridges allow access to the engineering maps and data from most computers by utilizing a Web browser. No software is required on the client, other than the browser.

One of the cartridges deals with locating network elements and customers; another Web cartridge deals with fiber restoration and network management.

Providing outside plant administrators with expanded capabilities to document innerduct and splice trays, and associate individual fibers within rings and backbones, Advance Fiber Optics recently released a new version of the OSP Insight network management system. Designated OSP Insight 5.0, the "point & click" Windows-based system offers several new capabilities that enable network administrators to expand their voice and data services to new customers by documenting additional network elements, even down to individual fibers.

Acterna announced a new line of transponders. The company's Powercept Transponder is a highly integrated, modular transponder solution for status monitoring applications and is fully compliant with all proposed SCTE HMS standards.

Powercept allows remotely downloadable firmware and expandable MIBs, which enable custom applications and modems that are frequency agile over the full HMS specified transmit and receive frequency range.

Unified messaging

ADC launched its new Unified Message Portal (UMP) application, which gives subscribers the ability to access voice, fax and e-mail messages over the Web using any e-mail client or using the touch-tone buttons of a telephone. The UMP application is part of its Broadband Services Platform.

While subscribers are on the phone, UMP's Text-to-Speech service enables them to listen to e-mail and send e-mail attachments (such as Word, Excel and other file formats) to another fax number. While using a PC, subscribers can record a message using the UMP reply-to-voicemail plug-in and send it back to the caller via their Internet connection. This feature eliminates the need for the user to hang up and make a call.

Subscriber equipment

Scientific-Atlanta Inc. introduced two new set-tops–the Explorer 4100 and Explorer 3100HD–fleshing out the company's overall digital roadmap. S-A is tagging the 4100 with the "home gateway" label. That box can handle wired and wireless links to televisions, PCs, PDAs and other Internet appliances. It also features two tuners and a DOCSIS modem and will become S-A's "flagship" digital set-top box, a company official predicted.

Meanwhile, the 3100HD will harness high-definition television signals. S-A's 2000HD also handles high-def, but was more of an interim solution.

Pioneer demonstrated technology featuring the Voyager 3000 set-top and Passport 3.0 Application Suite in its booth at Expo. The Voyager 3000, integrating Broadcom's system-on-a-chip single-chip MPEG processor, was on display. With 16 MB (32 MB option) of memory and up to 8 MB of Flash memory, the 3000 offers dedicated processing for graphics and advanced session-based applications. The set-top is also designed with a built-in, real-time RF reverse path transmitter to enable a range of two-way applications including VOD, data-on-demand, network gaming, Web browsing, direct purchase merchandising and local information services.

Also on display was the Passport Application Suite, with features including an easy-to-use interactive program guide with advanced program scheduling and detailed program information, channel banner browsing and parental control features.

Contec Corp. introduced a new digital remote control, the RT-U27, a simplified, three-device remote that supports the basic functions of digital set-tops, TVs, VCRs and DVDs. The RT-U27 was developed after market research identified major causes of subscriber confusion with remote controls, including small size, hard-to-see buttons, confusing operating modes and loss of TV and VCR setup codes after battery changes.

As a result, the RT-U27 is large in size with big, brightly colored buttons. It can be used without codes with Contec's Point and Press Programming method. With Memory Guard, users don't have to reprogram the RT-U27 after battery changes. It also has an illuminated keypad and supports analog set-tops.

Test equipment

Trilithic Inc. has enhanced its 860 DSP Multifunction HFC Analyzer with two new return test options. The unit now performs the functions of the Guardian RSVP Installer's Return Tester (Option VP1) and the Guardian SSR Reverse Test Field Unit (Option SR1). Test capabilities and displays have also been enhanced, allowing RSVP-type testing of eight frequencies at once.

The company also announced the QA1 Digital Analyzer Option for the 860 DSP. Option QA1 transforms the unit into a digital signal analyzer. Equipped with the new option, the unit analyzes QPSK and all common QAM formats from 4 QAM to 256 QAM, presenting constellation diagrams, MER and calculated BER, both pre- and post-FEC.

Tempo is now offering new signal level meters and TDRs, recently acquired from Tektronix, and specially designed to address various cable TV application requirements. Included in the batch of new products are the RFM151 Signal Level Meter, TV220 and TV90 TDRs. Tempo has also introduced the new Sidekick VOC (Voice Over Cable), which was specifically developed for broadband applications to solve premise twisted pair wiring problems.

Acterna, a cable network test and management solution provider, introduced its high-speed data (HSD) troubleshooting system for DOCSIS and Euro-DOCSIS-based networks. The HSD performance ToolWare helps carriers increase revenue and efficiently manage HSD service by gathering, correlating and presenting data from multiple network elements from the RF access and IP backbone networks into a single system for network operation center (NOC) technicians.

The system's simplified GUI (graphical user interface) reduces the time needed to identify, isolate and repair HSD problems by detecting all types of HSD problems such as provisioning errors for individual cable modems and groups, network congestion, RF ingress and violations of service level agreements.

Sunrise Telecom Inc.'s Hukk Engineering Division announced four new software options for the CM1000 Cable Modem System Analyzer. The CM1000 will further enable cable technicians to test and maintain the performance of DOCSIS cable modem and digital systems on both the downstream and upstream paths.

The feature set of the CM1000 now offers these additional options:

  • PING and trace route, which enables the user to choose any server to PING beyond the CMTS and provides the option of mapping the network path for data transmission.
  • Throughput test, which allows for measurement of the downstream data transfer rate of the network, verifying the bits per second available for data downloads.
  • Return signal generator, which supplies test signals to be injected into the return system for testing signal level and attenuation in the reverse path.
  • PC software, which provides the ability to download stored screens, manage unit setup information, and copy setup files to clone units, all from a Windows-based PC, making it simpler and more flexible to collect data and manage a pool of test sets.
High-speed data equipment

Terayon Communication Systems added support for Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to its BE 2000 second-generation broadband access system. MPLS is a new Internet technology designed to enhance cable operators' network efficiency as they deliver broadband voice and data services. In particular, cable operators can use the BE 2000 and MPLS to allow multiple ISPs to operate over their networks. MPLS will also enable operators to deliver new services, including Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

MPLS employs label tagging and switching to streamline how data is sent through a network. Data packets are tagged with a label, which can be swapped at each hop of a packet's route across a network without having to look deeper into the packet itself.

Cadant Inc. released an element management system to support the company's carrier-class C4 Cable Modem Termination System platform, the G2 IMS Intelligent Management System. The G2 IMS software is designed to simplify provisioning and management of the Cadant C4 CMTS, enabling MSOs to quickly provision and manage the system. Operating on a Windows NT/2000 platform, the G2 IMS software provides easy-to-use, GUI-based menus for operation and configuration. Management is accomplished via standard Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).

RiverDelta and Internet infrastructure supplier Nomadix are developing broadband services for hospitality locations and multiple dwelling units (MDUs). RiverDelta's BSR 1000 cable modem termination system (CMTS) connects hospitality facilities and MDUs to optical, satellite or cable access networks, while implementing its SmartFlow Quality of Service.

The BSR 1000 CMTS includes a Fast Ethernet uplink and uses a 1U "pizza box" chassis suitable for space-constrained locations. Cable modems deployed in dwelling units or hotel rooms can be connected to a BSR 1000 in a utility closet, which can operate as a Layer 2 bridge or secure router. The CMTS connects to the access network through the Nomadix Universal Subscriber Gateway, which allows the operator to control billing, authentication and other services. The gateway enables online credit card authentication, tiered data services, and home page redirect services.

DAQTron Inc. unveiled its automated testing tool for DOCSIS design verification and its Cable Modem Manufacturing Test System (CMMTS). The DAQSIS testing tool combines state-of-the-art computing hardware with graphical, menu-driven software that allows designers to verify their designs and pretest products before certification testing. It stores results in CSV format, importable into many database programs.

The company's CMMTS, an integrated multi-station rack solution, has a single database/software server which stores configuration files, logs results to a database, contains MAC addresses, and controls the CMTS. The CMMTS software allows test coverage of tuner AGC calibration, upstream frequency accuracy, power rail voltage verification, network traffic testing and MAC address verification and label printing, among others.

Motorola Inc. Broadband Communications Sector introduced its new DOCSIS Cable Module, the DCM 2100, which the company says is one-third the size of existing CMTS modules with a 1-rack-unit height, supporting more cable customers in the same footprint.

The DCM 2100 is DOCSIS 1.1-feature complete, and supports advanced applications including high-speed data, VoIP and video. It interoperates with all existing Motorola CAS 2000 modules, including the RFM 2000, DCM 2000, IPM 2000, IPM 8000 and CMM 2000. All of the modules are stand-alone elements and can be combined in a range of configurations to meet the needs of different size systems.


Alpha Technologies announced a new Multi Dwelling Unit (MDU) Step-Down Power Supply, which has been designed to provide a tightly regulated 60-volt output from a coaxial input voltage range between 67 VAC and 90 VAC. The MDU is a strand-mount power supply which allows MSOs to utilize 90 V powering, allowed within the public right-of-way, and also comply with the NEC limitation of 60 V powering within multi-dwelling units. The 60 VAC powering requirement allows compliance with existing NEC code, and the RF section is designed to provide minimal losses.

The new MDU incorporates several features, including: fully integrated RF passing 90 V to 60 V power supply switch-mode technology, input surge protection and automatic bypass (90 V).


Silicon Wave Inc. unveiled its SiW1200, a fully integrated, downstream, high linearity cable tuner IC. The company developed the IC for mixed analog and digital systems, including OpenCable set-top boxes. The SiW1200 offers low power consumption in an integrated solution for OpenCable-compliant set-top boxes, using just over one watt in full operation in worst-case conditions.


CommScope Inc. is introducing a new product line-up that includes Subscriber Access Cable, Community Access Cable and Media Access Cable products. From the tap to the set-top box, Subscriber Access Cables carry video, voice and data signals within the last few hundred feet to the end users of an HFC plant. These products range from NEC 830-compliant products to custom hybrids, optical composites, cable in conduit and the UltraHome cable.

CommScope's Community Access Cable is geared toward the primary trunk and distribution ring of an HFC network. The company's Media Access Cable product includes Bundled Headend Cable.

NHC Communications has announced its newest VideoEase cable TV Balun for the broadband/RF/CATV audio/video cabling environment. Company officials say the Balun eliminates bulky and costly RG6 cable in point-to-point applications, allowing broadband services to be connected via Cat 5 twisted pair cable.


Thomas & Betts' Cable Communications Division introduced a Snap-N-Seal "F" connector for use with CommScope QR 320 cable. The connectors feature the company's patented Snap-N-Seal technology, with a precision auto seize center contact and an integral ferrule for a more secure connection.

The CommScope QR 320 cable is used extensively in MDU (multi-dwelling unit) residential applications and in many resort installations because the narrower diameter cable (0.320 inches) is easier to fit into crowded trays and conduits.


Launching VOD

Cable operators have to consider several things when it comes to getting their plant ready to deploy video-on-demand (VOD) past the trial stage. These include: space, power and networking considerations; selecting a server interface; and selecting the middleware, according to speakers at a Cable-Tec Expo workshop entitled "VOD: Ready, Set Launch."

Speakers included: Jason Shreeram, manager of transport network applications engineering for Scientific-Atlanta; John Carlucci, architect for BigBand Networks; Fran Helms, director of Liberate Technologies' PopTV partner program; and Sherry Warbuton, senior director of product management and solutions marketing for Liberate.

Some of the key issues operators have to consider when it comes to design, space and powering options for dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) deployment in an HFC network include what levels of redundancy to include in the network and node size. "MSOs want a cost-efficient network that can evolve as services are deployed and traffic demand increases," says Shreeram.

Shreeram discussed the pros and cons of several architectural options for a VOD network, including a centralized architecture where the video servers are located en masse at the headend, or a distributed architecture, where the video servers are dispersed throughout the transport ring.

"Centralized DWDM is a good way to get out there, although a decentralized architecture is also a viable alternative," says Shreeram.

Besides planning the kind of network a cable operator needs for VOD, the type of server interface for the VOD network is another important decision. Issues include cost, service level, whether to have multiple services on a single transport and component availability and selection, says Carlucci.

"Recently, it has become obvious that support for multiple services on a single transport like VOD, broadcast video and interactive services must be added to the roadmap to achieve operational and network efficiency and scalability," says Carlucci.

When it comes to choosing VOD middleware, a couple of challenges include how to make it all fit, since there is only so much space on a set-top box, and managing the complexity when there is a market need for an interactive platform, says Helms. "A middleware platform is beneficial because it provides a single application environment that runs seamlessly across multiple set-top boxes," says Helms.

An important part of authoring standards is writing to recognized Web standards, like HTML or Java, says Warburton. Using an HTML standard middleware platform encourages more applications, she says.

In order to provide a rich VOD experience, an operator needs a broad two-way network where the middleware is pushing the application from the set-top back through the network, she says.

—Angela Langowski, Associate Editor

Tending the return path

Higher levels of performance, cost efficiencies and reliability are key factors in cable's drive to the return path and the growing revenue opportunities they present to operators, said a group of speakers at Cable-Tec Expo 2001. However, getting to those levels will require some creative engineering and return path innovation, they admitted during the workshop: "Techniques for Improved Performance and Bandwidth Management in the Return Path."

"There are an increasing number of return path applications that will require fiber counts and penetration problems to be addressed," says Niranjan Samani, senior project engineer for ADC.

One of the solutions, he maintains, is a single return digital link. "It can co-exist with analog return equipment, and compared with block conversion, you get less degradation and quadruple the bandwidth. It's also expandable on an as-needed basis," Samani says.

Passive hub architecture, he adds, can also provide "significant cost savings" by reducing circuitry costs and preventing degradation.

And costs count. "Everything we do is based on them," insists Bob Collmus, director of product line management for Scientific-Atlanta (S-A). Baseband Digital Reverse (BDR) is one technology of choice for S-A and is being widely used on a steep return path cost curve, Collmus notes. "It (BDR) enables the use of proven cost-efficient technologies, so we can take advantage of TDM and DWDM. As throughput increases, that's very important."

Cost-savings using BDR technology can be significant, too, he points out.

For example, at a typical headend location, analog solution costs could include a headend at $54,000; hub, $285,000; and node, $18,000, for a total cost of $357,000.

Using BDR technology, however, the costs plummet, Collmus says. A headend is $67,000; hub, $15,000; and node is $75,000, for a total of $157,000, a savings of $200,000, or about 60 percent.

With increasing capacity needs and new revenue streams now crucial to an operator's business plan, experts agree the return path must be addressed. "If you look at the return path today, a full load of 16 QAM gets you 120 Mbps, so there's significant under-capacity. There are hundreds of megabits per second available, and we're only using a hundred of it. Using return path to effectively use that is important," says Rob Howald, director of systems engineering for Motorola Broadband Communications.

—Craig Kuhl, Contributing Editor

Home networks still in their infancy

Home shopping, data and Internet services driven by smart set-top boxes are expected to key the home network market, with set-tops morphing into home gateways which will enable multi-service providers to differentiate their networks from other services.

"Analysts believe the set-top will be the key Internet appliance by 2002, when TV appliances will overtake PCs. We've added the ability to add Interactivity to the set-top, which is the focal point and well positioned to leverage home network appliances," said Kuldip Johal, strategic business development manager for Pace Micro Technology plc, during the "Home Networks: I Want One....What Is It?" workshop.

The home network is still in its infancy, however, and questions remain about its role in the home and just who will fill the role of provider(s). "There are still lots of questions about wireless networks, power line, standards and no new wires. Once those questions are answered, operators can become the gatekeepers in the home," Johal says.

The growth of the home network market is challenging set-top box suppliers to raise the bar for innovation and product uniqueness. "With falling margins, competition and little differentiation, a real dilemma for suppliers is how to differentiate the boxes," says Jarvis Tou, VP of marketing and business development for Silicon Wave.

Tou believes the Bluetooth standard, which he supports, could be the answer. "It's wireless connectivity, low cost and easy to use for mobile devices. It's real and it's coming," he says.

"Customers are asking us to build the Bluetooth module directly into the plastic on computers. No new wires and cost-efficient devices resonated as keys to the growing home network market, and the pieces to the home network are there. The challenge is to bring them together and take them the consumers," Tou says.

Taking home networks into the home will require more than just devices, however. "Home automation, appliances, security, entertainment and phone clusters take lots more bandwidth than just a light switch, so gateways will need to operate clusters in the home. Set-tops could be the glue to tie those clusters together," says Rich Annibaldi, senior manager of technical research for Pioneer New Media.


The envelope, please...

During the course of Expo festivities, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers elected Keith Hayes as its new chairman. Hayes, the chief operating officer of Gibson Technical Services, takes over for Terayon's Jim Kuhns, who held that slot for two consecutive years.

In the new role, Hayes said his tenure will focus on two primary goals: seeking ways to enhance the financial stability of the Society, and collaborating with cable operators and other industry partners to build and share new and reusable training materials for SCTE members.

Rudy Niznansky was named this year's SCTE Member-of-the-Year, and long-time cable pioneer Wendell Woody is the newest member of the organization's coveted Hall of Fame.

Woody, who literally began his career in electronics at age 9, has been an integral part of the SCTE and cable industry for more than 20 years.

Carlos Lopes of Charter Communications in Worcester, Mass. won first place in the Field Operations category for his idea of testing ingress and forward level with the touch of a button. Marshall Kurschner of Adelphia in Bad Axe, Mich., won second place; and Robin Eccleston of AT&T Broadband in Concord, Calif. was third.

The Milton Jerrold Shapp Memorial Scholarship, a $20,000, four-year college scholarship, went to Kosma Sniezko.

Marshall Kurschner, technical operations manager for Comcast/Lake Huron North, stormed the annual Cable-Tec Games and came away with four medals, scoring a win in every category, except meter reading. In the MTDR competition, he came in second. In the splicing contest (aka the slicing and dicing sprint), Kurschner earned a gold medal. When it came to matching his on-the-job wits in a lively game of "Cable Jeopardy," Kurschner landed in first place again.

By the time it was all over, Kurschner came out on top with the gold (and an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's Cable-Tec Expo in San Antonio, Texas) as the overall winner of the games.

Of course, that doesn't mean Kurschner didn't have competition. Other winners included: MTDR-1st place/Brian Madrid, Comcast Corp./Albuquerque, N.M.; 3rd place/Mike Smith, Cedar Falls Utility; Meter Reading-1st place/Jaime Rodriguez, Cox Communications/Las Vegas, Nev.; 2nd place/Joel Hutchings; 3rd place/Steve Carlon, Cox Communications/Oklahoma City, Okla.; Splicing-2nd place/Ervin Lange, Charter Communications/West Bend, Wis.; 3rd place-Doug Truhe, Cox Communications/Salinas, Kan.

Overall runner-up winners included: 2nd place/Brad Hutchens, AOL/Time Warner, San Antonio, Texas; and 3rd place/Todd Lubbers, AT&T Broadband, Laramie, Wyo.