DOCSIS Branches Ahead; Ops Begin Deploying Gear

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After a few unanticipated delays in cable-modem chips
earlier this year, the DOCSIS-certification process now appears to be back on track,
prompting some operators to begin deploying gear on the assumption that there won't
be any last-minute surprises.

Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. were among a few
MSOs deploying headend equipment from Cisco Systems Inc., hoping that the early hiccups
that prevented Cable Television Laboratories Inc. from certifying modem equipment as
DOCSIS 1.0-compliant (Data Over Cable Service/Interoperability Specification) are finally
over.

This spring, disagreements arose between vendors about how
they interpreted the DOCSIS modulation specifications.

Specifically, the snag concerned how upstream channels were
handled, and it led to a reconfiguration of the upstream chip from Broadcom Corp. -- the
first and largest supplier to deliver DOCSIS chip sets.

While early moves to deploy DOCSIS gear appeared to be
fairly safe bets, there's no guarantee yet that any new chips will pass muster,
cautioned Rouzbeh Yassini, executive consultant to the CableLabs high-speed-data project.
"We're almost there, but the product has to do the talking," Yassini said.

But before Yassini's team begins certification tests
on individual cable modems made by the seven vendors that are now in queue, it must also
conduct a full battery of tests on the chip components used in these vendors' headend
approaches, known as "cable-modem-termination systems," or CMTSs.

Those tests will assure that high-speed-data systems --
both headend devices and cable modems, in an end-to-end configuration -- "hold
integrity at the fundamental level," Yassini said.

While Yassini doesn't see any "showstoppers"
at this point, he declined to speculate on when the certification process will be complete
and on when vendors can deliver certified product to market.

Such uncertainties are becoming increasingly hard to live
with among MSOs. Some, in response, will move ahead with headend and modem deployments,
because they've been assured by vendors that any equipment changes that become
necessary to bring gear into DOCSIS compliance will be performed at no cost to the
operator.

"We've deployed a DOCSIS [headend] in New
Orleans, but we're making vendors commit to covering costs of compliance as part of
our contracts," said Jay Rolls, director for multimedia technology at Cox. The system
is in beta trials, with plans for commercial introduction during the fourth quarter.

Paul Bosco, general manager for cable products and
solutions at Cisco, confirmed that his company was making such commitments to Cox, Comcast
and other, unnamed customers that have begun deploying Cisco's 7246 CMTS.
"We'll upgrade [circuit] cards that we have in the field with conformant
cards," Bosco said.

Still, operators and the vendors that support them said
they had not expected to be waiting for DOCSIS certification at this point.

"If you had asked me at the beginning of the year when
we'd be certified, I'd have said late spring or early summer -- certainly not
that we'd still be waiting for certification in late September," said John
Mattson, product-line manager for cable products and solutions at Cisco.

Indeed, anticipation that DOCSIS modems were around the
corner caused many operators "to put the brakes on deploying a lot of proprietary
modems," said Henry Nicholas, president and CEO of Broadcom, in an appearance at a
Kagan Seminars Inc. conference in New York last week.

"We'll see the floodgates really open in the
first- or second-quarter time frame," he added, noting that some deployments would
begin earlier.

Others at the Kagan conference saw a downside, because some
operators have delayed rollouts in anticipation of early delivery of DOCSIS systems.

"The standards issue has really frozen a lot of
decision-making," said Steve Adams, president and CEO of Online Systems Services
Inc., a supplier of turnkey high-speed-data support to cable operators.

ISP Channel, another such supplier, "is feeling the
crunch" from operator hesitation, said its president, Ian Aaron.

But Rolls made it clear that Cox and other more aggressive
MSOs haven't let the issue stand in their way. The move to the DOCSIS headend in New
Orleans is right in stride with the MSO's fast rollout pace, which has reached the
40,000-subscriber level, he said.

Mattson said the crucial factor giving MSOs some room for
comfort in moving ahead with DOCSIS CMTS deployments is the fact that there are now seven
cable-modem vendors waiting for certification. In the previous certification cycle, which
ended Sept. 20, there were only two: Cisco and General Instrument Corp.

Along with GI and Cisco, the companies hoping to be
certified in the current 30-day cycle are Samsung Telecommunications America Inc., Thomson
Consumer Electronics, Bay Networks Inc., Toshiba America Consumer Products and 3Com Corp.

Assuming that there are no more glitches, certification of
these vendors' products would permit operators to push ahead quickly with DOCSIS
rollouts as the new year gets under way.

But another area of uncertainty concerns operator
expectations regarding what has become known as DOCSIS 1.1 -- an emerging draft
specification that adds mostly software and some hardware extensions to the baseline 1.0
spec.

Broadcom last week announced that it was shipping sample
quantities of its BCM3300 chip, which "cuts the price in half by combining three
chips into one," said Rich Nelson, the company's director of marketing for cable
TV. "We've also added the quality-of-service and fragmentation features that
match the draft recommendations for 1.1."

The DOCSIS 1.1 spec is meant to support packet telephony
and other QOS-sensitive services, including various guaranteed bit rates and
"push" capabilities built around IP (Internet-protocol) multicast.

However, there's a catch: Broadcom's 3300 chip is
moving ahead of the actual 1.1 spec, which Yassini said will be ready for draft review by
DOCSIS vendors by early October. The draft spec is expect to move into an interim spec by
mid-December.

"You're going to hear vendors claiming to have
1.1, and even version 2 and 3 products, coming out ahead of the draft and certification
process, but it's all vaporware until we go through the proper steps," Yassini
said, adding, "Right now, we need to focus on completion of the baseline 1.0."

Future draft-to-certification processes should move faster,
he said. But in the interim, operators have no assurance that vendors claiming 1.1
compliance will actually be in conformance with the final spec.

Moreover, noted one key supplier executive, speaking on
background, previous history with Broadcom chips should make everyone wary about assuming
that the new 3300 is in compliance with 1.1.

Not surprisingly, Nelson took strong exception to claims
that Broadcom was responsible for the slowdown in completion of DOCSIS certifications.

"We supplied 16 QAM [quadrature amplitude modulation]
chips that complied with 1.0 to CableLabs last spring, but other vendors had other
interpretations of the spec, so we had to add flexibility to ours just so those concerns
would go away," he said.

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