CABLELABS REPORTS STEADY PROGRESS ON DOCSIS, OPENCABLE, PACKETCABLE

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Louisville, Colo. -- A daylong briefing on thetechnological status of broadband here last Wednesday showed steady progress on severalcritical industry projects.

At a press briefing at Cable TelevisionLaboratories Inc.'s headquarters, coordinated with Tele-CommunicationsInc.'s annual conference for financial analysts, executives with TCI, TimeWarner Cable, MediaOne, Comcast Corp. and CoxCommunications Inc. described the status of the OpenCable, PacketCable andcable-modem projects to a room crowded with reporters and analysts.

CableLabs CEO Richard Green kicked off the meeting withword that the DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service/Interoperability Specification) cable-modemspecification was accepted by the International Telecommunications Union as an officialstandard at a meeting two weeks ago in Geneva.

"It's extremely useful ... to the manufacturers,especially ... for this to be recognized as an international standard," Green said ofthe ITU decision, which the ITU will call J112.

On the OpenCable front, the publication of applicationprogram interfaces should be completed in time for the National Show in May, said DavidBeddow, senior vice president for TCI's National Digital Television Center.

Beddow described OpenCable as a continuum of advanceddigital set-tops based on existing and standardized technologies that will emerge inprototype form as early as November.

With a retail model to follow in 1999, OpenCable is alsoreadying a "point-of-deployment" module, or POD, that looks like a PCM-CIAcomputer card and that holds set-top configuration information specific to anoperator's system, Beddow said -- the idea being that when consumers buy set-tops ata retail outlet, they get the POD card that fires up the box along with their cablesubscription.

"It's an important element for the retailmodel," Beddow said.

Michael Adams, senior project engineer for Time WarnerCable, said the MSO's OpenCable plan is to conduct beta-tests of Scientific-AtlantaInc.'s Explorer 2000 and other digital set-tops in May, with commercial launches inlate summer.

"We hope to ramp up [with digital video] quickly,division by division, after that," Adams said.

Also in May or June, CableLabs hopes to issue the firstbatch of "certification seals" for cable-modem vendors that meet all of thenecessary tests to comply with the DOCSIS standard, said David Fellows, senior vicepresident of engineering for MediaOne Express.

The announcements will likely dovetail with the NationalShow or the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' annual event in June, headded.

Fellows also said the first two major additions to theDOCSIS standard are being formulated in its second version. One adds "alternativemodulation" techniques, like those from Terayon Communication Systems and UltraComInc.; and the other adds "quality-of-service" parameters that are necessary forselling differentiated, performance-based tiers of data services to customers.

Mark Coblitz, vice president of strategic planning forComcast Corp., closed the technology-crammed day by describing the PacketCable initiative,which he chairs.

Described as a way to leverage broadband plant for justabout any flavor of IP-based (Internet protocol) service, Coblitz said the PacketCablegroup is currently studying IP voice and video telephony.

Coblitz, admittedly no fan of market hype, was quick toemphasize that PacketCable services will likely not be seen for another two years.

He said the key to PacketCable's success is notnecessarily the advantage of broadband's inherent data speeds, but more the notionthat data services based on IP will run on "engineered, managed networks," like@Home Network and the merging Road Runner/MediaOne Express service.

What makes an "engineered network" different fromthe overall, public Internet is the fact that data packets carrying important information-- such as part of a live telephone call -- don't arrive in a manner that isdifficult to sort out and put in order at either end of the network.

"This is something that I'm passionate about --this is the next wave" of broadband-data communications, he said.

Given the publicly acknowledged end of merger discussionsbetween @Home and Road Runner/MediaOne Express, a burst of activity from a relatedCableLabs "backbone" task force is likely, as the players move away from abusiness-induced unification and toward an arm's length technical arrangement.

"We're working at that [backbone] projectdirectly through PacketCable," Coblitz said.

Technically, to link the data backbones of @Home andMediaOne Express involves sorting out data signaling and determining the physicalconnection of packets without introducing "jitter," or latency, Coblitz said.

"Interconnecting the backbones is prettystraightforward, from a pure technology perspective," Green said of theproject. 

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