National Cable Television Cooperative gave U.S. Robotics preferred vendor status in a move that gives the cable modem newcomer a leg up in a tough industry, a spokesman says.

The company's DOCSIS cable modem landed an A+ rating — one of two companies to score that high in NCTC's testing, says Christopher Browne, product manager for U.S. Robotics' cable technology group. The other modem to rank that high was Motorola's SURFBoard SB4100.

Brown says U.S. Robotics, which recently entered the market, applied for NCTC's qualification last summer as a means of building a customer base. The company already had an established retail brand name, Browne says, and a home-networking product line.

"The cable modem industry in general is a very tough business," he says. "Because we just entered the market, we don't have the existing customer base that we can promote to."

The company is working with large cable operators, as well, he says, but that's a "very long and arduous" process. "It's difficult to get that first customer," he says. "Smaller MSOs (are) much nimbler in their ability to choose a vendor."

Browne says USR submitted the modem, which was certified by CableLabs in Wave 18, to NCTC's technical staff. The four- to six-week testing series included basic DOCSIS connectivity and interoperability with local CPE. Technicians tested the durability of the device and the documentation. "It was an all-inclusive look at the total package," Browne says.

NCTC's rating system consists of letter grades and USR's came back with an A+, he says. "They indicated that our raw performance was on top of the competitive pile," transferring more packets per second across the cable device than others, he says.

"It represents our first legitimate win in terms of acceptance," he says. "Being set up as a preferred vendor means all the member of that cooperative have access to negotiated pricing between U.S. Robotics and NCTC, and essentially consolidated ordering."

Likewise, USR plans to help the smaller cable operators tap the retail industry, where it's already established with home networking products and other brands. The cable modem business will complement that, he says.