Western Show exhibitors are eager to show
operators that they can build a better mousetrap
The hosts of the upcoming Western Show 2001 are imploring operators and vendors to "See Change!" at this year's annual West Coast cable confab. But whether or not operators see enough change in network product technologies to start gobbling up vendors' wares for deployment in their current systems is the question most industry watchers are anxious to answer.
Data services. VoIP. Open access. Video-on-demand. Business services. High-definition television.
Each of these next-generation services poses its own specific technological challenges, and vendors at this year's Western Show are eager to prove to their operator customers that their latest-and-greatest are meeting and exceeding operator concerns. And as the cable marketplace grows more and more muddled with competition for the consumer dollar, MSOs that successfully roll out one or more of these revenue-generating services can realistically secure a successful and prosperous future.
"What's really interesting about our show is that the centerpiece is becoming the technology that enhances the competitive nature of the broadband industry. Before, it has been programmers and content that have been the guiding force of the show," says show spokesperson Paul Fadelli, the director of public affairs for the California Cable Television Association, which hosts the show. "While there still is a great amount of content at the show, our show is really at the forefront of broadband technology."
Fadelli insists that the technology is quickly catching up to the promises vendors have made to provide solid service solutions to operators; demonstrations at this year's show should reflect some trial-tested, real-world applications that operators can deploy in their systems in the near term. Whether the timing is right for operators to start deployment is the $64,000 Question this year.
"Our cable broadband operators are looking for ways to make their delivery of services better and get those customer demands met in a way that suits them. And that's through technology," Fadelli adds.
Established players like Cisco Systems are promising demonstrations of their network technology in almost all of these new arenas. According to company spokespeople, a major focus of Cisco's will be on VoIP, and it'll be showing solutions in both the circuit-switched and IP realms. It's planning a full-scale, live demonstration of PacketCable technology, for starters. It also plans a demo of H.323 IP telephony, which will include a softswitch from NetSpeak, for ops who want "to get their feet wet in the voice area," according to Cisco's cable business unit's Manager for Product Marketing, Ben Stanger. He adds, "We see (voice) as the next big thing as far as a service that providers can launch and really make some money on."
Another area Cisco is focusing on is open access, and it'll run an open access demo showing off some of its capabilities. Cisco has been in extensive open access trials with Time Warner and others, and will show operators solutions for provisioning, switching ISP providers, and management of address spacing.
Other demonstrations from Cisco will show enhanced security features to its workhorse 7200 CMTS line, as well as a convergence model of the platform running voice, video and data simultaneously. Still other product demos will show commercial service capabilities, like VPN, telecommuting and MDU application services.
Broadband equipment vendor Terayon is looking ahead as well, so to speak. While specific plans for products weren't finalized as of press time, Terayon spokespeople were bullish about new network products that will include advanced physical layer capabilities. Specifically, it'll be showing new products that utilize the advanced S-CDMA and A-TDMA physical layer technologies. Terayon has been blazing S-CDMA's trail since 1994, and as Diane Saunders, Terayon's director of public relations, explains, the forthcoming DOCSIS 2.0 specification (which includes both S-CDMA and A-TDMA) is the impetus behind the evolution of Terayon's newer products.
"(CableLabs) is really aggressive in pushing the advanced physical layer technologies that'll be in DOCSIS 2.0," she says. "It's going to allow (operators) to offer services that we just can't offer right now, because we don't have the symmetry in the upstream and the downstream, and these advanced layer services will give us almost near-symmetrical services."
Terayon's Multigate system for voice-over-cable is one of its products that incorporates S-CDMA technology; the company has already shipped 70,000 units, and it will likely be aimed at international operators looking to do voice-over-cable sooner, rather than later. Terayon will also be featuring its well-known CherryPicker video product, which can provide operators an opportunity to get some revenue from digital video deployment, either by digital ad insertion, grooming or interactive TV services.
Over at Motorola, expect to see many of its network products in demonstration as well. But in advance of the show, Motorola spokespeople were revealing a focus with a considerable bent toward consumer electronics.
Back in June, Motorola's Broadband Communications Sector launched a new consumer electronics product category in an effort to drive retail growth for digital cable. Look for Motorola to be running demos of its Digital Convergence Platform (DCP) 5000 series, which integrates an interactive digital cable receiver with home entertainment technologies like DVD players, CD audio, digital home theater receivers, and personal video recording devices. They're hoping that operators are ready to offer entertainment services beyond the cable receiver.
Motorola also will be showing another product with a particular CE bent–a Web Pad that aims to converge elements of Web access with interactive TV. The Web Pad is a wireless, hand-held touchscreen device that displays Web access via the set-top terminal and a wireless connection. Users can access Web content on the pad, while another viewer continues to watch general or enhanced cable television content. It's sort of like interactive TV without the clutter of on-screen applications, with the added bonus of an untethered wireless device to access Web content.
For network equipment and set-top box maker Scientific-Atlanta, consumers are on their mind as well.
S-A will be at the Western Show displaying set-tops with some of the advanced functionality that operators are anxious to get into their systems. The next generation of the 4000 class of Explorer set-tops is the 4100, which has technology for high-speed data services built in. At the show, S-A will be showing off the 4100's flexibility of connection via multiple interfaces–including connection via PC, through the wireless 802.11b interface, and with HomePNA-compliant phoneline technology.
Operators are also anxious to incorporate the increasingly popular PVR functionality that consumers are becoming more comfortable with. S-A will show the Explorer 8000 set-top box, which adds a hard drive to the box for PVR and time-shifting capabilities. It will be showing a prototype of the box at the show, but company spokespeople assure that it will closely resemble the upcoming commercial product. Time Warner apparently has seen the PVR light; it has already placed an order for 100,000 of the Explorer 8000 set-top boxes.
Other potential highlights to look for in the S-A booth include the high-definition enabled 3100HD box, and the DOCSIS-compliant WebSTAR line of cable modems.
Vendors are eager
And S-A will have a late addition to its product lineup–an OEM CMTS product manufactured by newcomer Pacific Broadband. The Prisma G10 CMTS rounds out the company's line of network products, and the new CMTS boasts an ultra-dense box with 32 downstream channels and 128 upstream channels, enabling cable operators to support more cable modem traffic with less bandwidth.
For Pacific Broadband, this will be the company's first foray onto the show floor, and it'll be showing multiple demos intended to showcase some of the competitive advantages of its CMTS product, branded for Pacific as the Kodiak G10.
Pacific plans multiple demos of the CMTS product, intended to highlight its unique features. One demo will show the CMTS performing 16 QAM in a 3.2 MHz channel, with six of those channels operating on a single port. Another demo will deal with spectrum analysis, showing the CMTS's capability to analyze return spectrum. Both will be important features as operators roll out DOCSIS 1.1 gear, which allows quality of service to be controlled by users.
Pacific will also be hosting an open access demonstration, which will be done in conjunction with Juniper Networks and open access provisioner Alopa Networks. It'll also be partnering with Big Band Networks on a video demonstration that combines Pacific's CMTS with Big Band's BMR video and data manipulator. It should provide a glimpse into the possibilities of mixing DOCSIS and video for services like video-on-demand, high-speed data or interactive TV.
"By combining the two products, we can show that you can have all of those services mixed across a 6 MHz channel," explains Michael Capuano, senior director of product marketing for Pacific Broadband.
Another newcomer to the 2001 Western Show, Red Bank, N.J.-based Jedai Networks, has developed a broadband solution aimed at small- and medium-size business customers that MSOs can offer over their current fiber networks. While business customers haven't always been a focus for operators, Jedai's scalable IP Wavefront architecture is intended to leverage the fiber already built in to operators' networks, by adding distributed IP intelligence to the edge of the network.
Jedai's architecture has been in development over the past year, but at the show, it'll be displaying its first released product, an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) now available for field trials. The Jedai ONT supports 10/100 Mbps Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet data applications, and features bandwidth control and management, multi-layer prioritization, QoS and traffic classification. Operators looking to roll out services like high-speed Internet, VoIP, VPN, teleconferencing or video streaming will want to check out this robust new technology.
For Santa Clara, Calif.-based TollBridge Technologies, its focus continues to be voice. In addition to showing the highly interoperable TB300 voice-over-broadband gateway product, TollBridge is working to put together a demonstration that combines new voice-over-cable service with interactive television. Its conceptual On-Screen Telephony demo will show how MSOs can use a CableLabs IPDT, along with a simple softswitch, to offer a form of computer telephony integration that uses the TV screen as an iTV interface. The interface plus special handset would control new telephony service in terms of making and receiving calls, dialing people using call lists, and could feature advanced services like voice mail, call waiting or three-way calling–all from the user's comfortable seat in front of the TV. It also will be showing some self-provisioning features in a Western Show demo.
"The idea is that there's a simple user interface that allows you to purchase an incremental single-line telephony service from the MSO, all through simple on-screen menus," says TollBridge Vice President of Marketing Kevin Woods.
There should be some movement in voice at the chip level as well at this year's show, and newcomer SiGe Semiconductor hopes equipment manufacturers will be looking to make their cable telephony products more efficient by including its chipsets in future telephony products. SiGe (pronounced SIGH-gee; the name references silicon germanium chip materials) will be showing its integrated circuits with reference boards, as well as actual boards with ICs on them.
The company's cable tuner minimizes size and design space by combining discrete components onto a single IC, which should translate into lower cost and better performance, according to SiGe's Marketing Manager for Broadband Andrew Parolin. He also points to the advantages silicon germanium can provide in cable telephony CPE, where powering, performance and operation in the elements are key issues facing operators rolling out residential technologies. Silicon germanium is already popular in wireless handsets because of its low power characteristics, its advanced heat dissipation capabilities, and its stability in high and low temperature environments.
The Western Show 2001 is likely to bring operators one step closer to rolling out the new services and technologies that people are hanging their hat of future viability on. Show organizers have worked hard to bring disparate industry elements into the Western Show fold–they've partnered with CTAM and SCTE, and they'll be hosting a gala event celebrating The Bandies awards. They're also taking a proactive role in getting major MSO decision makers to the show by facilitating meeting and conference services for them while the show is going on.
But this year's show, as CCTA's Fadelli explains, is more about regrouping as an industry, and charting a future course for the industry to follow.
"This year, more than ever–with the troubled economy and the events of (Sept. 11)–there's going to be a need to regroup. To come together and to network, to see new technologies, to summarize where we've been over the past year…and to talk about where this industry is going this year," Fadelli says.