First Cable-Modem Vendors Go for Stickers

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The first two cable modem vendors bellied up to the
standards certification bar last week, just as Cable Television Laboratories Inc. and its
member company MSOs shored up the going-forward standards testing process.

Last Wednesday at noon was the deadline for cable-modem
manufacturers to state their intent to become DOCSIS (Data Over Cable
Service/Interoperability Specification) certified, and two did: General Instrument Corp.
and Cisco Systems Inc.

Four other unnamed vendors are expected to request
certification next month.

Several MSOs said they were surprised by the early vendor
submissions, but doubted that any could pass the rigorous and lengthy tests on the first
pass.

"I suspect something will happen that causes [vendors]
to fail this first time through, " said David Fellows, interim chief technical
officer for Road Runner and a member of the DOCSIS certification board, explaining that
part of the interoperability tests makes competing vendors " try to break each other
's product."

Executives with GI and Cisco were not available for comment
at press time.

Richard Green, CEO of CableLabs, said he was still
"encouraged " by the swiftness of GI 's and Cisco 's readiness to get
DOCSIS stickers.

But their moves to submit more than 800 pages of
documentation in pursuit of certification also highlighted a bigger question for CableLabs
and its member-company MSOs: Who manages what will surely be a complicated, ongoing
process?

In short, some MSO companies think that CableLabs should
handle ongoing modem certification, but CableLabs wants to farm the process out to an
independent third party because of legal and resource issues.

On the resource side, Bob Cruickshank, the CableLabs
executive who was running the DOCSIS project, announced  plans last week to leave and
join Road Runner as vice president of engineering-program management.

Rouzbeh Yassini, a consultant to CableLabs on DOCSIS and
the founder of what was called LANcity (now a subset of Bay Networks Inc.), will handle
the project in the interim until a replacement is found, executives said.

"We're grappling with the fact that we've
won," said Fellows, referring to months of rigorous test developments that culminated
in a finalized "acceptance-test plan" three weeks ago.

"We got the bear into the cabin, and now it's a
question of who skins it," Fellows said.

It probably won't be CableLabs, Green said, adding
that the group will issue a request for proposals "in the fall" to identify an
independent third party to conduct and enforce the DOCSIS-certification process going
forward.

"Right now, certification is a CableLabs process that
is well-defined and well-ordered," Green said. "The question of who physically
does it [certification], especially enforcement, is not answered. We're working on an
RFP that will address all of those things."

To pass the certification, vendors must: supply an
affidavit saying that they've checked off every box on a 2,300-item
"protocol-interface-conformance statement"; submit an "acceptance-test
plan"; and show participation in the equipment-interoperability "waves" of
tests.

Yassini said that after a vendor requests certification, it
will take the DOCSIS-certification team about four weeks to sift through the data, to
check the results of any field tests and to decide whether to issue a sticker.

"There will be some tough decisions in terms of
whether or not we certify [a vendor] that may not have passed 100 percent of the
tests." said Susan Marshall, vice president of engineering for TCI.NET, the Internet
services arm of Tele-Communications Inc.

Marshall said the certification board is already bracing
itself for vendors to request waivers for some tests.

"The vendors will be daring us to blink, and I
personally refuse to blink," she said.

She, Green and Fellows said they remained optimistic that
the hiccups associated with certification will pass, and that cable modems will be
available on the retail market in time for the holiday buying season.

Other operators were also concerned last week about how to
avoid a chicken-and-egg scenario, where vendors are wary of the certification process
until they have MSO orders, and MSOs are reluctant to issue orders until vendors undergo
certification.

"It's a potential problem that we're going
to have to really stay close to," said Steve Craddock, vice president of new-media
development for Comcast Corp.

"We want as many vendor choices out there as
possible."

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