Cable Television Laboratories Inc. has begun its first
certification testing of embedded cable modems -- the product that many consider a key to
unlocking huge consumer demand for broadband-data services.
Along with external modems that 11 vendors submitted last
week for certification under the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification
interoperability standards, 3Com Corp. offered an internal modem card for personal
computers that it wants PC makers to bundle with their machines.
Because internal cable modems shipped with new PCs will
have lower price points than external modems, and they will eliminate some installation
steps, equipment makers believe that retail consumers are more likely to adopt the
embedded product, just as they have with internal analog phone modems.
Furthermore, while vendors and cable operators are still
edging their way toward creating a full retail channel for modem sales, the PC retail
channel represents a giant, established opportunity.
"We ship more modems inside PCs than outside of
PCs," said William Markey, 3Com's director of marketing. "That reflects the
tremendous growth of PC shipments, as well as the attractiveness to consumers of bundled
Direct-sales PC giant Dell Computer Corp. already has a
deal to customize its "Dimension" computers for @Home Network's broadband
Internet-access service with embedded 3Com cable modems.
Other modem makers have described the internal devices as a
cornerstone of their strategies for flooding the retail market with DOCSIS-certified
CableLabs was initially expected to begin certifying
internal modems once completing the certification process for the first external modems,
which occurred March 4. But at one point, CableLabs indicated that the process might not
begin for six months after the external process was wrapped up
Embedded equipment submitted to CableLabs for DOCSIS first
had to clear interoperability tests with PC makers and with Microsoft Corp., which makes
the dominant Windows operating system.
And 3Com said its modem got Microsoft's "Windows
Hardware Quality Labs" certification March 19 -- a requirement for any OEM
(original-equipment manufacturer) gear installed in a Windows PC.
Adding to the urgency for starting certification has been
the continuing development of embedded digital-subscriber-line modems.
Dell has been shipping PCs with integrated ADSL
(asymmetrical DSL) modems since November, in a marketing arrangement with U S West
Interprise Networking and its "MegaBit" services, and it also has a similar deal
with SBC Communications Inc.
"We're pleasantly surprised that CableLabs has
begun certification of embedded modems so quickly," Markey said. "Given the
success of the process, proven this month, I think that CableLabs is clearly eager to
accelerate certification and to expand the number of devices, whatever their form factor,
into the market."
While other manufacturers have signaled their intentions to
supply the embedded market, most must still get over the hurdle of DOCSIS certification of
their external cable modems.
In the eighth wave of DOCSIS testing, which began last
week, four vendors entered the process for the first time, joining seven others that
failed to pass the last round.
The new arrivals were Sony Electronics Corp., Motorola
Inc., Philips Consumer Electronics Co. and Taiwan-based Askey Computer Corp.
They joined Cisco Systems Inc., Com21 Inc., General
Instrument Corp., Nortel Networks, Samsung Telecommunications America Inc., 3Com and
Zenith Electronics Corp.
Results from the current testing round are expected by the
end of April.
Also entering testing last week was headend equipment from
Nortel, 3Com and Motorola, none of which passed the last qualification round.
Cisco alone had its cable-modem-termination systems
qualified as DOCSIS-compliant -- an achievement that CableLabs executive consultant
Rouzbeh Yassini credited to the company's already extensive field deployments of the
Although high-speed-service providers have installed
equipment from all of the four CMTS vendors, Cisco has been there the longest.
"They had more experience, so they had more test
results," Yassini said. "That enabled them to get the product more mature
faster, so that when they came here, they could pass our testing more rapidly."