New Firm to Light Up Dark RF


A group of cable engineering and marketing executives has sewn together a new San Jose, Calif.-based start-up with technology that will mine for bandwidth languishing deep inside existing cable networks.

Pacific Broadband will essentially "light up" all of a cable operator's dark fiber by enhancing the capabilities of the electronics on both ends of the network, said company president and CTO Alok Sharma.

If 2000 was the year of fiber, 2001 will be the year of RF, Sharma said at a recent press briefing.

That's because the demand for bandwidth is expected to jump a thousandfold over the next few years, as peer-to-peer networking and advanced applications come of age, Sharma added. He noted that first generation DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification)-based infrastructure can't unclog those potential "last-mile" bottlenecks.

While fiber-optic backbone bandwidth is offered at pennies on the megabit at wholesale, last-mile bandwidth-which can plummet as low as 100 kilobits per second-costs consumers about $39.95 at retail, Sharma said. His company hopes to level out that inequity.

Pacific Broadband plans to unclog that problem by placing its "ultra-dense, highly noise-immune" broadband technology inside just about every component of a last-mile network-from headends to hubs and fiber mininodes to consumer-premise equipment. That combination, which will cobble together DOCSIS Media Access Control (MAC) and physical-layer (PHY) building blocks, will generate better bit error-to-noise ratios, and foster data speeds loftier than the 40 megabits per second bursts provided by first-generation DOCSIS set-ups, Sharma said.

Speeds twice as high as OC-48 (2.5 gigabits per second) are currently buried in a fiber node that serves 500 homes, he added.

"We want to give cable operators more bang for its megahertz buck with a more scalable and dense [infrastructure]," Sharma said.

Cable operators that opt for Pacific Broadband's technology won't have to throw away legacy DOCSIS gear like yesterday's garbage, however, because it operates on existing upgraded cable plant.

"Our focus is standards-based, not proprietary," Sharma said. "Our technology can provide common transport for voice, video-on-demand and PVR [personal video recorder] functions on top of DOCSIS."

Pacific Broadband will also focus on providing a platform for video-over-Internet protocol.

"IP video needs only QoS (quality of service) in the data flow, which is handled in DOCSIS 1.1," Sharma said. Pacific Broadband's technology, he added, will support native MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group) compression standards and MPEG-over-IP.

"There's a lot of interest in doing video over DOCSIS channels," but the required broadband core is still lacking, Sharma said.

The idea has already attracted some strong financial backing. Raza Foundries provided Pacific Broadband with a good head start in the form of a $10 million Series A investment. A much larger Series B investment is currently in the works, the company said.

At the same time, Pacific Broadband has won the attention of some well-known cable veterans, providing it with the credibility it will need when the company goes knocking on MSO doors.

Two, in particular, have joined the company's board of directors: Aurora Networks Inc. president and CEO (and former AT&T Broadband CTO) Tony Werner, and Cox Communications Inc. CTO and executive vice president of engineering Alex Best, who plans to retire from that MSO at the end of the year.

Following its demonstration at last week's Western Show in Los Angeles, Pacific Broadband plans to submit its technology for Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s January 2001 certification wave. Initially, Pacific Broadband will seek the green light for the DOCSIS 1.0 spec, with a future eye on 1.1.

The company is also conducting interoperability tests at its own facility. If all goes according to plan, Pacific Broadband hopes to roll out products commercially and strike equipment-vendor partnerships sometime in the first quarter of 2001.

The Starting Lineup/The starting lineup: With its focus honed on boosting bandwidth, Pacific Broadband has tapped a host of cable industry veterans to serve on its board or as full-time employees

<p> <span class="small" id="d9e51-22-small">Who</span> </p><p> <span class="small" id="d9e56-26-small">Pacific Broadband involvement</span> </p><p> <span class="small" id="d9e61-30-small">Recent former cable experience</span> </p>

Alex Best

board director

chief technical officer of Cox (retiring Dec. 31)

Tony Werner

board director

chief technical officer of AT&T Broadband; now president and CEO of Aurora Networks

Hikmet Sari

chief scientist

chief scientist, Alcatel

Georges Karam

vice president of broadband systems general manager

productline director and technical director, Alcatel

Paul Gordon

vice president of multimedia platforms

executive vice president of engineering, Com21

David Solomon

vice president of marketing

director of product management, Excite@Home

Jay Rolls

vice president of business development

vice president of network engineering, Excite@Home; director of multimedia technology, Cox