Ops, Vendors Renew Status-Monitoring Try

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Vail, Colo. -- Efforts to establish a standard for
cable-network-monitoring equipment picked up July 23, when manufacturers and network
operators convened here to resume the long-dormant Cable Television Laboratories Inc.
project.

While representatives from only three MSOs attended the
meeting, which was mostly populated by vendors, attendees reported making progress toward
handing the status-monitoring-standards process off to the Society of Cable
Telecommunications Engineers.

At the same time, the group formed the OSP (outside plant)
Alliance to promote the development and adoption of a "suite of protocols" for
HFC (hybrid fiber-coaxial) network monitoring.

Nearly two years after the standards process first got
under way, the participants at the meeting here hammered out a new mission statement;
created and elected officers to an SCTE engineering subcommittee; and created four working
groups.

The working groups will address issues like MAC
(media-access control) and PHY-layer (physical) protocols; messaging sets; and the
electromechanical aspects of the standard.

Meanwhile, the new OSP Alliance created an annual budget
and formulated ways to push the standards effort along while keeping MSOs apprised of the
process.

Status monitoring is important because MSOs are seeking
inexpensive and reliable solutions to monitor various network elements manufactured by
multiple vendors.

To monitor a network with elements from various
manufacturers today "is very complicated on the software side," said Derrick
Hanson, equipment-evaluation engineer for Cox Communications Inc.

The intent behind the standards process is to deploy a
number of different manufacturers' equipment on the same system, said Tom Elliot,
senior vice president of technology projects at CableLabs.

"It's very important that you don't need a
different status-and-monitoring control system for each of those systems," he said.

Elliot noted that MSOs don't typically use status
monitoring because it costs too much. "And it costs too much because it's not
used," he added.

Hugh McCarley, director of engineering technology for Cox
and newly elected chairman of the SCTE, said the need for status-monitoring equipment is
sharpened by the rollout of enhanced services, such as Internet access, digital television
and telephony.

McCarley said pieces of hardware that connect to cable
plant need to be monitored around-the-clock, every day, but with status-monitoring vendors
currently producing only proprietary systems, "the need is there for a
standard." He added that status-monitoring equipment is a plant requirement before
Cox offers telephony services to its subscribers.

Kerry Sims, operator-support-systems architect for MediaOne
Labs, agreed.

"Status monitoring is the only way that you can
provide quality of service comparable to that of a CLEC [competitive local-exchange
carrier] or ILEC [independent LEC] in HFC," Sims said.

Esteban Sandino, manager of advanced-network technologies
for TCI Communications Inc., Tele-Communications Inc.'s cable-systems unit, pointed
out that management-information bases that already exist in cable modems can provide
useful information about signal input and transmit levels, but he noted that collecting
and analyzing that type of information is imperfect at this point.

Sandino, who was elected co-chairman of the proposed SCTE
engineering subcommittee, said the group must also establish the depth of monitoring on a
cable-system basis.

"We don't think that we have to go any deeper
than the fiber node and power supply," Sandino said.

He added that status-monitoring issues that must still be
resolved include costs, reliability of the systems themselves and the "body and
quality of information" provided by status-monitoring devices.

The CableLabs OSP standards group, which went dormant last
year, had already produced an interim physical layer, data-link layer and message-set
specification. It remains unclear how much of that work will be carried over to the
renewed standards effort.

A key issue, according to John Stephen, vice president of
sales for SilCom Technology Inc., is whether to retain frequency agility -- or the ability
for signals to move around within a defined spectral area -- in the physical-layer spec.
In an effort to keep costs down, full frequency agility may be sacrificed, he said.

At the same time, it appears that a type or subset of
simple network-management protocol will be utilized to send monitoring messages. Stephen
cited a "tremendous infrastructure of technology available" for SNMP-based
network-management applications that exist for the data and telecommunications industries.

Despite the significant amount of work produced by the
initial CableLabs OSP effort, it stalled for a number of reasons.

"The issue is that during these 18 months, I
don't think that there was as much customer input as there needed to be." said
Stephen, who is spearheading the OSP Alliance.

"The previous effort was too all-encompassing,"
Sims said. "The [new] focus on protocols lends itself more toward interoperability,
rather than trying to specify every detail" of a standard, he added.

The OSP Alliance, as proposed by Stephen at the conference,
was designed to push for the completion of a standard and to promote its adoption through
meetings, a Web site and participation in trade shows. The group expects to meet again in
September, and to rent booth space at December's Western Show in Los Angeles.

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