Despite word from Cable Television Laboratories Inc. that
cable-modem certification won't be completed until early March, MSOs are preparing to
deploy standardized modems on a fairly large scale after the first of the year.
"This is the way that we always intended for it to
go," said Rouzbeh Yassini, executive consultant to CableLabs. "We don't
think that there's any reason to wait for certification to begin deploying DOCSIS
[Data Over Cable System/Interoperability Specification] modems."
Until now, however, MSOs and vendors had held off from
going to commercial deployments because there were too many uncertainties surrounding the
arcane technical details that determine whether a modem is compliant with the standard.
Those issues are now resolved, Yassini said.
Certification that a modem is compliant with version 1.0 of
the standard -- and, therefore, interoperable with all other compliant modems and headend
systems -- is vital to winning retailers' support for off-the-shelf distribution.
Now, vendors said, they know enough about the details to
move forward with large-scale production, confident that any tweaks needed to bring
deployed modems into compliance once they are certified can be accomplished with software
upgrades in the field.
"We have moved to mass-production, and we have several
customers that are planning to deploy our DOCSIS modems after the first of the year,"
said Dan Maloney, senior vice president and general manager for advanced network and
telecommunications systems at General Instrument Corp.
"The scope [of deployments] isn't all that deep
in terms of numbers of systems within any one company, but it's fairly broad across
the base of MSOs," Maloney added.
Indeed, said David Berman, director of integrated-video
solutions at Nortel Networks, his company is "surprised" at the ongoing volume
of shipments of its proprietary Bay Networks Inc. modems.
"People just launching service are beginning to move
to DOCSIS, but in systems where services are already in operation, operators are waiting
for the standard to mature before cutting over," he said.
The broadest-based precertification DOCSIS launch so far
can be found in the Canadian province of Ontario, where Cogeco Cable Canada Inc. has
deployed more than 10,000 units supplied by Samsung Telecommunications America Inc.,
according to Michael Foley, vice president of telecommunications at Cogeco.
"We have just shy of 14,000 [data-service] customers,
and all but one of our systems are going to DOCSIS," Foley said. "Our view is
that the hardware is in place, and certification is now down to a few small issues that
can be readily resolved with software uploads."
Cogeco, like other MSOs, is anxious to get the modems into
retail distribution, and it will hold a conference with retailers "somewhere in
Ontario" around the end of February to prepare for that eventuality, Foley said.
Once modems are "stickered" as certified, Cogeco
anticipates strong support from companies like Sony Corp., Samsung, Thomson Consumer
Electronics and 3Com Corp., which have strong bases in retail electronics, he added.
"DOCSIS-compliant products are definitely ready for
primetime," said Mark Stubbe, vice president for network products at Samsung. He
noted that Samsung's modems are working with the headend CMTS
(cable-modem-termination system) supplied by Cisco Systems Inc., following efforts by both
companies to ensure compatibility between their products.
"We're also working with other customers to
demonstrate compatibility with other vendors' CMTSs," Stubbe added.
"We're in tests with 15 other MSOs in North
America," he said. "It's clear to us that the industry now has the
confidence to move forward with DOCSIS equipment."
3Com, too, has begun shipping DOCSIS modems for deployment
to Tele-Communications Inc.'s Spokane, Wash., system, where the units are being sold
at CompUSA outlets and through TCI's sales office.
But for 3Com, the big play in cable is retail, which means
that getting the stickers is vital, said William Markey, director of marketing for the
cable group at 3Com.
"Given our position in the marketplace, we can provide
maximum assurance to retailers that the modems will be supported by the services offered
by cable operators," Markey said. "Getting those stickers will make life a whole
lot easier for us."
There's no avoiding the fact that the delay in
certification has slowed the industry's rollout of data services.
As Maloney noted, many MSOs with plans for broad-based
launches that were slated to begin in September and build into the holiday season put
everything on hold, rather than trying to get started late in the holiday season.
"The industry has been extremely cautious about new
modem deployments over the past six months," Maloney said.
Yassini -- who, earlier this fall, had cautioned that the
"product has to do the talking" in demonstrating DOCSIS compliance at CableLabs
-- offered assurances that it was safe to move forward with deployments now, despite the
longer-than-anticipated timetable for certification.
He added that he was confident that certification of many
vendors' products would be completed by the end of the next testing cycle, which runs
from Jan. 18 to March 2.