Louisville, Colo. -- In some ways, the past is prologue for
Rouzbeh Yassini, who is wrapping up his role as leader of the industry's
cable-modem-interoperability initiative and focusing on the future.
For the cable-modem pioneer, that future is represented by
a broad vision encompassing not only imminent changes in how Cable Television Laboratories
Inc. oversees the industry's broadband-technology imperatives, but also the role
Yassini believes those advancements will play in the still-developing information age.
Right now, it's enough to provide fast access to the
Internet content and other data that are available over broadband networks.
But in five years, Yassini said, users will want access to
converged voice, video and data, along with products and features such as voice-activated
navigation; easily obtainable pay-per-view video or data content; effective parental
controls; and other tools for getting more sophisticated content faster and cheaper.
This will require a whole new infrastructure built on top
of the broadband video and data-delivery systems the cable industry has created so far --
a task with which Yassini and CableLabs will be deeply involved.
"What we have today is more than enough to handle the
cable-modem evolution," Yassini said in a recent interview. "What I'm
talking about is the whole information industry having the same type of impact on people
that the industrial-age industries had. We've built the access and the backbone
technologies, but you also have to create the back end to support it."
Although his entrepreneurial technology and consulting
business, YAS Corp., constitutes a significant interest, Yassini right now may be most
closely identified with his stewardship of the Data Over Cable Service Interface
The four-year-old, ongoing project was created to foster
interoperability among cable modems and cable-modem-termination systems from different
manufacturers, thereby making a mainstream retail market possible.
The small, cluttered office he uses at CableLabs is like
Yassini's museum, where small bookshelves are lined with cable modems the way another
executive might display reference tomes or golf trophies.
The gear evokes an archaeological dig, with sleek,
current-generation modems stacked alongside bulkier, older, "proof-of-concept"
prototypes and preproduction models, some from companies that have exited the cable-modem
Across the room, a new, off-the-shelf PC sits on a
conference table -- a machine Yassini purchased recently so he could replicate the average
consumer's experience with various modems brought in for DOCSIS testing, as he was
recently doing with a new universal-serial-bus modem.
Over the coming weeks, Yassini will complete his current
transition from project director of the DOCSIS initiative -- which is being merged into
CableLabs' PacketCable project, focused on Internet-protocol voice and data services
-- into his new role as executive adviser to the CableLabs board.
In that role, Yassini said, his focus is to help bring to
the marketplace the new technologies that build on the DOCSIS foundation created under his
watch by cable operators and equipment vendors.
DOCSIS created essential broadband-service technology and
the process for developing it and related products. But that is just the foundation to
support additional voice, video and data functionality enabled by major initiatives like
PacketCable, which, Yassini said, will make advanced broadband cable-delivered technology
as integral to the still-developing information age as the steam engine and railroad were
to the industrial age.
"That's when they'll say the job is
done," he added. "That's the vision. We're not quite there."
But there are plenty of changes afoot in the more immediate
future. Building on the years of work done by the DOCSIS crew, CableLabs is preparing to
distance itself from the role of testing and certifying cable modems and headend gear as
meeting the interoperability standard.
The reason: Cable hopes successful adoption of the DOCSIS
and PacketCable standards, along with broadband-cable platforms as data conduits, will
mean the integration of DOCSIS interfaces in a plethora of new devices.
Refrigerators, toaster ovens and other home appliances will
send and receive data over broadband networks, alongside modem-integrated televisions,
set-top boxes and other electronic gear.
That scenario will occur over the next year to 18 months,
partly because manufacturers will take the lead in ensuring that their goods meet
interoperability requirements. A home-appliance maker will need to be sure that its
DOCSIS-connected refrigerator works with all standards-based cable networks, or consumers
will shun it like a 15-year-old Betamax.
Essentially, products based on DOCSIS technology will be
built to pass the CableLabs technical specifications, but they will not undergo the same
rigorous certification testing required of early generations of DOCSIS modems to ensure
that they did not disappoint mainstream consumers, Yassini said.
"We have exit criteria so that as the market builds
up, we can open doors to transfer the repetitive work, like certification," he said.
"What we've learned over the last three years has all been put inside a
toolbox" for manufacturers to use in design and construction.
Strict certification will also make less sense because it
will be difficult to conduct it in timely fashion, due to the myriad permutations of
interfaces the new products will present.
"Our process -- being called certification,
qualification or self-approval -- is going to be dynamic enough to answer the needs for
new devices the consumer likes to have," Yassini said. "At the same time, the
technology is mature enough that it no longer needs the rigid [certification]
requirements. There will be de facto standards for each industry when there are millions
of DOCSIS products."
In the coming year, CableLabs will introduce its
"DOCSIS Inside" program, empowering various industries to use DOCSIS-development
tools to employ the standard in putting broadband connectivity in a variety of new
products, much as Windows software developers use tools created by Microsoft Corp.
Yassini said the shift, which will take about nine months
to prepare, will occur parallel to the current DOCSIS 1.0 certification testing and the
version 1.1 testing slated to begin in the second quarter.
"We [CableLabs] are not going to be a process
organization," Yassini said. "Testing will be farmed out, and it will be a
cash-positive business for an industry-standards organization to take over. But CableLabs
will continue to be a driver of the technology that enables things like PacketCable,
OpenCable, DOCSIS and home networking."
As an executive adviser, Yassini will work on several key
areas necessary to advance beyond the "last-mile" focus of DOCSIS.
A major initiative will cover the back-end and backbone
elements of the network, ensuring that they are powerful and manageable enough to handle
the 100 million or more users that cable wants to accommodate.
"Intelligent fiber needs to become the core of our
high-speed backbone to handle voice, video and data at the same time," he said.
"Right now, we have different backbones for video and data, and a managed IP network
Yassini also said billing and bandwidth provisioning are
crucial for managing 100 million-plus users to efficiently enable bandwidth and
Network management and security has to be taken to the next
level of scalability, and vendors need to finish developing high-density, carrier-class,
multioperator-access devices to serve voice, video and data services through a single box
at the headend or on a central switch.
"Those have to be brought into the industry before
cable modems can really be successful," Yassini said.
Although he sees lots of work ahead, Yassini is ebullient
about the ground the cable-modem business has covered since he was developing his own,
first such devices early in the decade at his then-company, LANcity Corp.
"[Going back] 10 years ago, people told me, 'You
can't put data over cable, you can't have the standards, and high speed would
not work over long distance,'" Yassini said. "Today, the cable modem has
enabled the whole new broadband industry, which is the doorway to the information age.
We've really created the third age of the human race because of the cable modem.
That's a phenomenal success."