Cable interests are taking a hard look at software products
from a company that they believe can offer them the core operations-system support and
other solutions that are needed to meet the full potential of broadband-data services.
American Internet Corp. of Bedford, Mass., is working with
other companies on initiatives tied to implementing and expanding the functionality of the
new cable-modem standard and of the operations-support system that is crucial to efficient
use of those new capabilities. AIC is working closely with Cable Television Laboratories
Inc. and with leading suppliers of high-speed-data services.
MediaOne Express, which is now joined with Time Warner
Cable's Road Runner, has been using a first-generation version of AIC's system
in its data rollouts during the past year, and it is now moving to put the newly released
second-generation version to work, said Tom Axbey, vice president of marketing and
business development at AIC.
He said the company has also been working with the Time
Warner side of Road Runner and with fellow high-speed-data service @Home Network, as well
as with MSO Adelphia Communications Corp.
Last week, AIC announced that cable-industry veteran David
Fellows -- interim chief technical officer for the Road Runner joint venture and vice
chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee at CableLabs -- has joined AIC's board
Fellows, who was unavailable for comment, also recently
took a position on the board of another Boston-area software venture, Arepa Corp., which
is providing technology to cable and other broadband interests that supports online access
and interaction with CD-ROM multimedia products.
OSS solutions are necessary to help MSOs provision new data
services, like those enabled by class-of-services tiers -- such as Internet-protocol
telephony and guarantees of fixed amounts of bandwidth to specific cable-modem users. OSS
systems are also critical in linking new data services to back-office billing packages and
other pieces of administrative software that network operators use to operate their
Along with working with cable-data-service providers, AIC
has also forged relationships with hardware vendors Cisco Systems Corp. and 3Com Corp., as
well as with Cambridge, Mass.-based software maker Kenan Systems Corp. Cisco and 3Com are
using the AIC software to enhance system control of their network devices.
Kenan, a supplier of next-generation Internet billing and
management systems, is also closely involved with cable interests.
"We've made a strategic decision to invest in
broadband in order to address the need for an OSS that provides the command, control and
integration that is commonly associated with OSS in the telephony world," said AIC
founder and board member Throop Wilder. "The great thing about IP is that you can
really capture a ton of information by being an element in the network."
AIC's system provides the linkages between the basic
IP-address information of each user and virtually any type of application, including the
initial installation and registration of a customer, the provisioning of specific
services, billing and the customer-care process, Wilder said. This integration allows
operators to more thoroughly automate operations and to scale their systems as the
customer base grows, he added.
Cisco and 3Com are both using AIC's "Network
Registrar," version two of which was released at the end of June, to add support for
feature-rich offerings through their gear. A key facet of the new AIC product is its
compatibility with the new Internet-directory standard, lightweight-directory-access
protocol. Over the past two years, LDAP has become a universal-access protocol for
obtaining directory information from the servers that store basic user information.
"Pretty much every directory that you want to get to
supports access over LDAP," said Tim Howes, directory-server architect for Netscape
Communications Corp. "And almost every platform supports the LDAP API [applications
program interface], including [Microsoft Corp.'s] Windows, Apple [Computer Inc.],
UNIX and [Microsoft's] OS/2."
With LDAP ubiquitously available to provide the means for
gaining access to server directories in the IP domain, the Internet industry has been able
to add ever more applications through the LDAP APIs in a way that assures standardized
means of managing networks. This, in turn, led to the Directory Enabled Network Initiative
spearheaded by Cisco and Microsoft, where products such as Network Registrar can be used
to integrate all of the functions of the network into an Internet OSS.
"American Internet has created an exceptional
IP-management tool from the ground up," said Joe Helscher, director of enterprise
marketing at Cisco. "We intend to provide enterprise and service-provider customers
with this solution, which now offers differentiated classes of service and scaleable
3Com is making use of the software to tie together the
operations and features capabilities of modems conforming to the new DOCSIS (Data Over
Cable Service/Interoperability Specification) standard, said Niraj Jain, director of
strategic alliances for cable-access products at 3Com.
"Our customers have found that Network Registrar
provides the robustness, scalability and flexibility necessary for commercial data
services," Jain said.
AIC moved into the broadband sphere on the strength of
MediaOne's needs for an IP-based tool that could be used to integrate the hodgepodge
of information that goes into adding a data customer in the headend-distribution scheme.
By providing a tool that links all of this information to
the user's IP address, AIC saw an opportunity to reduce personnel costs and the
margin for error in manual data inputting, Wilder noted.
Rich Woundy, chief technical officer at AIC, led the
DOCSIS-extension group at CableLabs that was responsible for defining the software means
by which quality of service can be added to the first-generation modem capabilities.
AIC's software is currently being used by CableLabs to certify compliance of
manufacturers' products with the DOCSIS specification, Wilder noted.
Another area of cable needs that AIC is addressing -- in
this case through its "Access Registrar" system -- is remote access to e-mail by
customers. Initial iterations of cable-data services did not offer this feature and, in
most cases, they still don't, making it hard to sell the service to people who depend
on e-mail when they're on the road.
MediaOne has begun using the AIC software to address this
problem, and others are looking at it, Axbey noted.
Basically, the Access Registrar provides a means of readily
identifying the user and his or her slot on the cable operator's e-mail server,
allowing the incoming data call from a remote location to be identified as coming from an
authenticated user and allowing it to be bridged into the cable network.
On the billing and feature-provisioning side, a key AIC
ally is Kenan, which has been working with Time Warner, @Home and other cable interests to
create a next-generation IP-based billing and customer-care platform for broadband-data
"We're using the Access Registrar as a means by
which ISPs [Internet-service providers] can assign new services and provide user-specific
billing features," said Betsy Campbell, marketing manager for Kenan's
For example, Campbell said, @Home's @Work division is
preparing to use the customer-care component of the integrated Kenan and AIC software
systems to add new types of services and functionality to the support that @Work offers to
its business customers. She declined to be more specific about the applications.