BigBand Networks has launched an Early Adopter Program (EAP) that will seek out cable operators across the globe interested in taking an early run at downstream channel bonding.

BigBand, maker of the "Cuda" cable modem termination system, is set up to do as many as six EAP trials - two in North America, two in Europe and two in the Asia Pacific region.

BigBand has not disclosed which operators plan to join the program, but the company's list of customers offers up some possible candidates in the U.S. and abroad.

Doug Jones, the chief cable architect at BigBand, said those trials likely will test out a wide range of applications for channel bonding. Some might want to leverage it as a competitive foil in the residential sector; others may try out its commercial services mettle; and still others may want to see how channel bonding can deliver IPTV applications.

Jones said the company's 7.0 release software is already DOCSIS 3.0-compliant in the way it handles downstream channel bonding. BigBand expects to offer that release next year.

"The rest of the industry is waiting for upstream silicon," he added, noting that BigBand will offer that capability in its 8.0 software release. If current estimates hold up, sample upstream chips for the CMTS should come out in Q3 2007, with DOCSIS 3.0 reaching the field by the first half of 2008.

To date, BigBand announced pre-DOCSIS 3.0 downstream channel bonding integration deals with two modem makers: Netgear Inc. and Pace Micro Technology, which is embedding the technology at the set-top layer. Netgear's implementation uses silicon from Broadcom Corp. In this case, Pace is using a chipset from Texas Instruments. Both modem products, considered pre-DOCSIS 3.0 implementations, can bond up to three downstream channels. The DOCSIS 3.0 spec calls for a minimum channel bonding capability of four upstreams and four downstreams. At the CMTS level, BigBand's 7.0 release is capable of bonding up to eight downstream channels.

Jones said the EAP and other early pre-DOCSIS 3.0 work is not intended to slow down the DOCSIS 3.0 effort, but could actually speed it up, as it will allow operators to prepare for the full platform by getting their back offices in shape and gaining technical experience with downstream bonding and how the capability resonates with customers.