Last week's Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers Cable-Tec Expo may have been staged a few blocks from the famed Alamo, but the mood among cable engineers was hardly that of an industry under siege.
Cable is still dealing with hard economic times, but the show floor provided good evidence that cable operators are interested in new tweaks that can make their operations more profitable and capable.
And it wasn't an OD on VOD (video-on-demand), like May's National Show in New Orleans. Instead, SCTE's technology parade was more evenly distributed among voice, data and video.
While the show had a busy feel, attendance was down somewhat. It dropped from a little more than 11,000 in 2001 to about 10,000 this year.
There were 378 total exhibits and 52 new exhibitors, according to the SCTE.
Cisco Systems Inc. kept busy by showing a design concept that upgrades its UBR 10012 cable-modem termination system to incorporate advanced time-division multiple access (TDMA), laid out under the new Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 2.0.
This prototype upgrade blade will be available "sometime in the near future," said Cisco senior manager products and marketing for broadband systems technology service providers Ben Stanger.
A few booths away, Terayon Communication Systems director of product marketing Elisa Camahort was quick to argue that synchronous code-division multiple-access (S-CDMA) — which is also part of the DOCSIS 2.0 scheme — is not going to fall in favor of advanced TDMA.
Terayon has been the primary driver behind S-CDMA, but so far, other vendors have favored creating their initial DOCSIS 2.0 products around A-TDMA.
At some future date, when DOCSIS 2.0 certification begins, vendors will have to support both transmission schemes to pass the test, Camahort noted. She said the early herding around A-TDMA — and the stated view of some vendors that S-CDMA will not see any great deployment — is a catch-up tactic.
"They hope that they can delay the market to catch up with us," she said. "If they can cast that fear and delay it a year, then they can compete on more even ground."
On the video side, Terayon also showed off its new DM 3200 Network CherryPicker, which begins shipping to several unnamed U.S. MSOs this quarter. This second generation multiplexer adds rate shaping for high-definition TV signals.
Com21 Inc., which recently revamped its cable products to emphasize a full lineup of gear and provide a migration for older systems to the DOCSIS networks, was showing off its new XB System, a cable modem management line that includes the DOXcontroller 1000 cable modem termination system a beefed up version of the Network Management and Provisioning System XB. The XB System is DOCSIS 1.1 compatible and upgradeable to DOCSIS 2.0.
The "pizza-box" sized DOXController 1000 is designed as an entry product for cablers wanting to switch from legacy to DOCSIS systems. It is set for volume shipments in the third quarter.
"Most MSOs eventually want to go to DOCSIS 1.1 or even DOCSIS 2.0; they want to go incrementally up. In a lot of their headends — particularly their smaller ones, there is a shortage of real estate," said senior vice president of marketing Eshan Rashid.Motorola Inc. didn't just show off its BSR 64000 HD high-density CMTS unit, it also explained its latest reorganization announcement.
The cable-gear giant will realign its Internet-protocol products, effectively separating its access gear from its central systems offerings. Up until now, access-equipment development has been isolated into voice, video and data silos and matched with the corresponding control system. The realignment puts all access-device development under one roof, aligning Motorola with the industry trend toward multitasking devices.
"By combining on the CPE side the voice and data, we are going to drive convergence of those platforms," said vice president and general manager for transmission-network systems Charles Dougherty.
Startup BigBand Networks Inc. was busy telling cablers why they need to optimize their video-channel bandwidth.
New BigBand chief operating officer Jamie Howard said cablers' comfort with their rebuilt network capacity may be short-lived, given the rise of high-definition television and VOD.
"It's not like it's in front of you right away," he said. "They recognize today that I'm OK, but they realize they are more quickly filling up the pipe than they did four years ago when they started with their upgrades."
Jedai Broadband Networks saw strong traffic to its broadband-enterprise connectivity product. Jedai is hunting for business in the that market, offering access-switch routers able to deliver bundled voice and data services using a single connection.
"The show has been incredible for us," said cofounder and vice president of marketing and product management Tony Pierson. Cable operators "are getting very serious. You see the top three MSOs doing more with business than they were 12 months ago."