Advent Can Take 'Share' Out of Cable Connection

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For Advent Networks, cable data plants don't have to share and share alike, particularly when MSOs are hunting for business customers.

The Austin, Texas, startup is trying to gain traction these days with a product that runs counter to the common notion that cable's hybrid fiber-coaxial architecture requires a shared bandwidth setup between users. Instead, it has come up with a way to offer dedicated, switched Internet protocol connectivity over cable for business customers who don't want to suffer in the ebb and flow of cable-network traffic.

Advent's Ultraband technology is aimed to compete directly with telcos' T-1 and digital subscriber line offerings for small to medium businesses.

"The business customers make a lot of sense for the cable operators now that they have done a great job in penetrating the residential market space," said Advent's CEO, Geoff Tudor. "But businesses are different animals and they require guaranteed services and higher bitrates, so they really need a different platform."

Advent's product line includes the switched router, management software and a consumer device that resembles a cable modem. While Ultraband has a flexible connection scheme, standards-based Ethernet configuration has been the de facto method of choice among potential customers.

Using Ethernet, dedicated bandwidth can be parceled out in subchannels, so operators can sell dedicated access that does not mix with other customers' traffic. Ultraband can offer tiered service in 5-mbps segments in the downstream and 500 kbps in the upstream with a maximum of 40 mbps in the downstream. That outperforms the standard T-1 connection, which offers 1.5 mbps symmetrically.

"We call the platform the unfair advantage for cable operators," Tudor said.

More importantly, because it is configured via software, it can be altered to meet a customer's changing bandwidth needs.

"The cable operator can do that, and in just a few seconds can have them go from a 10-mbps connection to a full 40-mbps connection," said Tudor. "So it is very dynamic in your ability to take this channel and widen it."

The technology also offers better pricing. A T-1 based service controller costs $500 to $1,000 per line, not including the installation of a repeater to extend its reach. Advent's product costs about a third the price for three times the bandwidth, he said. The cost structure is very similar to that of DSL, which can range from $200 to $300 per end, according to Tudor.

"That's why we are the unfair advantage," Tudor added. "We can provision much more bandwidth than DSL but at about the same price points as DSL. So the cable operator knows that they will have a cost structure which is less than the telcos."

Advent is currently negotiating with a top MSO to conduct a field trial some time in the first quarter of 2002. Tudor said he couldn't yet name the operator.

In late 2000, the company landed its first customer, Everest Connections, a competitive cable provider that is competing against Time Warner Cable in Kansas City, where it is building out a 870 megahertz system. In January 2001, it started signing customers up to its bundled, voice, video and data offerings.

Everest is planning to use the Advent gear for business and residential offerings, although "we think the early application certainly is business," according to Ken Johnson, Advent's senior vice president of technology. But businesses demand dedicated service, and even improvements coming with the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 1.1 don't answer all of that market's needs.

"The quality of service in 1.1 is still managed across the board, across all connections, which makes that QoS very complex and difficult to manage," Johnson said. "An Advent solution, being a dedicated Ethernet solution, can do in-channel QoS, which makes it very simple."

Everest has been using Advent in closed filed trials this fall, and it has started up a test with a live customer since November. It also has the Advent gear in a small number of residential homes.

"It's our intention to continue expanding our field trials through the quarter of next year and then going to product launch immediately after," Johnson said. "The early impression we have gotten from our customers has been very good."

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