Staking a claim to part of the cable-modem-termination-system market, start-up RiverDelta Networks Inc. is offering a carrier-class, "content-aware" Internet-protocol switch router that can partition a cable network into zones and let rival Internet-service providers access and manage part of a network independently.
Dubbed the "Broadband Services Router (BSR) 64000," RiverDelta's new platform integrates access aggregation and carrier-class local-area-network routing with a Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification CMTS, all in one box, the company said.
Based on DOCSIS-1.1 specifications, the BSR 64000 employs a virtual-network-routing technology called "SmartFlow" that lets cable operators wall off portions of their broadband networks and sell a range of bandwidth service tiers to rival ISPs.
That arrangement, the company added, ensures that competing ISPs will pay premium prices if they want to tap cable's fat pipe for high-quality video streaming and other bandwidth-intensive applications.
"We partition the system into virtual routers that will enable the different service providers to manage their own domains," said Jeffrey Walker, RiverDelta's vice president of marketing and a former Motorola Inc. executive.
Using quality-of-service elements, he added, the BSR 64000 can police a cable network's traffic and determine whether an ISP is eating up bandwidth beyond its service agreement with the cable operator. If that occurs, only traffic flowing through the ISP's segment of the network will suffer any data-speed cutbacks.
RiverDelta's new box also bears the carrier-class label, which means it adheres to the proverbial "five 9s" (99.999 percent) availability and reliability. That capability is expected to grow in importance as cable takes a stab at the business-class IP arena-a sector currently ruled by digital-subscriber-line providers.
RiverDelta-which was founded in June 1999, and which just closed a $36 million financing round-won't name which cable operators have agreed to begin BSR 64000 field trials this June. But it said it was not averse to establishing partnerships with larger, more established equipment makers.
"There may be situations where RiverDelta may sell directly to an operator, and there may be situations where RiverDelta will partner with another company," Walker said.
Potential partners could include Lucent Technologies and Ericsson Inc.-two companies in search of an integrated CMTS solution-said Patti Reali, a senior analyst at Gartner Group's Dataquest Inc.
While Ericsson has touted its own platform, Lucent struck a deal with Motorola last year to create an end-to-end IP-telephony and data solution for cable operators by marrying its "PathStar" IP digital switch with Motorola's CMTS system.
Lucent also has a cable-data play in Europe via an agreement to purchase DeltaKabel TeleCom BV, a Netherlands-based maker of proprietary and DVB-based (Digital Video Broadcasting) cable modems and CMTS wares.
While some CMTS vendors might be loath to tap RiverDelta's technology, others are expected to piece together their own solutions.
"Companies like Nortel [Networks], 3Com [Corp.], Cisco [Systems Inc.] and maybe Motorola are all looking to migrate to carrier-class," added Reali, whose firm believes the CMTS-equipment market will explode from $350 million in revenue last year to between $2 billion and $3 billion in 2004.
Cisco, meanwhile, continues to be the CMTS-equipment leader, owning more than 60 percent of the market.
Although RiverDelta can tout its workable, all-in-one box, carrier-class solution, it still must pass a rigid set of tests at Cable Television Laboratories Inc. before it wins DOCSIS-1.1 qualification.
CableLabs is "hopeful" that its first DOCSIS 1.1-certification wave will begin in June, according to senior vice president of communications Mike Schwartz.
If all goes to plan, RiverDelta should see BSR 64000 deployments in the fourth quarter, Walker said, adding that the company expects to weather two certification waves before it gets the thumbs-up from CableLabs.
Considering the fact that RiverDelta must not only lock horns with the market leaders, but also with a host of fellow newcomers, DOCSIS qualification should help a company that is trying to breach the CMTS arena.
Cadant Inc., a start-up based in Chicago, is another CMTS vendor that analysts are watching. That company has been tinkering away quietly on its own carrier-class DOCSIS-1.1 platform.
According to a Cadant spokesman, the company's system is currently undergoing field trials. A commercial launch will follow in the third or fourth quarter, he added.
Broadband Access Systems Inc., another start-up, has affixed the carrier-class label to its "Cuda 12000" IP-access switch, supporting best-effort data services, IP telephony and tiered data services.
As equipment vendors integrate access aggregation and carrier-class routing into their headend boxes, the plain-vanilla CMTS is quickly becoming just a small piece of a much larger, more complex puzzle.
Next-generation headend equipment will include a router and an IP-switch router with cable-data capability, Reali said. "It's essentially becoming another class of equipment. In general, the price is fundamentally getting more expensive. But on the reverse side, the capacity is improving and cable operators are getting a lot more for their money."
For example, Walker said, RiverDelta's new device, which will carry a price just south of $50,000 per unit, also employs a content-aware element that can immediately distinguish and classify different types of traffic-voice, video and data-flowing across a network.
That's important because cable operators have to allocate enough bandwidth for voice-over-IP packets, which must maintain a latency threshold below 200 milliseconds. Latency above that mark will cause delays to reach intolerable levels, Walker said.
One RiverDelta device can accommodate as many as eight receiver ports-enough to pass 200,000 homes, Walker said. Take rates for voice and data services on a particular node could affect that figure.
Jeff Baumgartner is senior editor at CED magazine, a sister publication to Multichannel News.