Denver -- Instead of certification stickers, most
cable-modem manufacturers trying to get the industry's interoperability seal of
approval got sticker shock last week.
Cable Television Laboratories Inc. issued the first of its
long-awaited certifications of digital modems, but seven of the nine vendors participating
in the seventh and latest wave of testing whiffed again in their attempts to comply with
the DOCSIS protocols.
DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) is
aimed at ensuring that modems and headends from various manufacturers work seamlessly with
each other, and it is a key element in cable's retail-modem strategy.
Meeting DOCSIS version 1.0 standards in the seventh wave of
testing were Toshiba America Consumer Products' PCX-1000 and Thomson Consumer
Electronics' RCA DCM105, which gained the right to sport green "CableLabs
Falling short for a variety of reasons were some of the
biggest names in proprietary and "DOCSIS-compliant" modems: Cisco Systems Inc.,
Com21 Inc., General Instrument Corp., Nortel Networks, Samsung Telecommunications America
Inc., 3Com Corp. and Zenith Electronics Corp.
Still awaiting DOCSIS "qualification" is headend
cable-modem-termination-system equipment submitted for testing in the last wave by 3Com,
Nortel, Cisco and Motorola Corp.
Rouzbeh Yassini, the DOCSIS project leader, said those
results should come in two to three weeks.
Vendors and MSOs view DOCSIS compliance as a key to
successfully moving modems into wide-scale retailing, getting MSOs out of the leasing
business and drawing broader consumer interest in high-speed data and Internet access.
"We're thrilled that Thomson was certified,"
said Susan Marshall, Tele-Communications Inc.'s senior vice president of advanced
product deployment. "Now that they're certified, we'll be more aggressively
deploying Thomson, particularly in our purchase-focused and retail emphasis."
The spin from the vendors that didn't make the cut was
disappointment mixed with confidence that -- based on their early assessment of voluminous
test results -- they would be able to make relatively minor software upgrades that would
enable them to get certified in wave eight. That phase begins March 15, and it should take
about six weeks.
"We believe that the improvements are in specification
orientation, as opposed to functionality types of issues," said Lindsay Allen,
director of marketing for GI's advanced-network and telecom-systems group.
"We're disappointed, but we realize what we need to do to move ahead."
CableLabs so far expects 15 companies to submit modems in
the next wave, with most of those failing wave seven planning to participate.
"We all expect more modems to pass in the next
wave," said Tom Cullen, MediaOne's vice president of Internet service and
chairman of the Cable Broadband Forum. "There's no excuse for more modems not
passing in the next wave."
Vendors and MSOs both downplayed the impact on retail
deployments from the dearth of certified products available so far. They characterized the
channel as developing slowly, while operators and manufacturers experiment with limited
retailing trials, hammer out still-embryonic distribution plans and agreements and await
deployment of DOCSIS-compliant CMTSs.
Cullen, for example, said MediaOne planned a somewhat
measured deployment of compliant equipment once it becomes available. The MSO will install
DOCSIS-qualified headends either in newly upgraded areas or as parallel systems for
serving new customers in areas already served by proprietary headends.
"In already upgraded areas, we do want to develop a
DOCSIS-migration plan that would allow us to begin operating them parallel," he said.
"I'm not going to roll 100,000 trucks" to overlay proprietary areas with
Mark Knudsen, vice president and general manager of
Toshiba's network-products division, agreed that retail rollouts will initially be
"They're still going to want to make sure that
the initial ramp-up goes well and that subscribers are satisfied. I think that they'd
like to retain some control over the rollouts for a while," he said.
Zenith spokesman John Taylor said the company had not even
planned to ship its DOCSIS-compliant model, the "HomeWorks Pro," let alone
moving it to retail shelves, until it was certified.
"It's not something that's approved one day
and on the shelves the next," Taylor said. "It's going to be an
evolutionary process at retail."
Disappointed vendors and some of their customers also
praised the grinding certification process, which was once expected to wind up last fall.
While some in the past have expressed frustration that they could not move more quickly to
retail, others called thorough certification a necessary step toward the consumer retail
"I think that it's a tribute to the fact that
this is a very thorough process," said James Chiddix, chief technology officer at
Time Warner Cable. "There are a lot of folks that are close [to compliance], but when
you're selling to the consumer, close is not enough."
Richard Green, CableLabs' president and CEO, said he
expected certification for subsequent DOCSIS generations -- -such as the upcoming version
1.1, supporting voice over Internet protocol and other enhanced services -- to move more
quickly than it did for DOCSIS 1.0.
Participants were also pleased that Toshiba and Thomson
achieved compliance with chip sets from different manufacturers: Broadcom Corp. and Libit
Signal Processing Ltd., respectively, the Nos. 1 and 2 cable-modem-chip makers.
"That should give comfort to the MSOs that a number of
design approaches can result in a fully certifiable product," Knudsen said.
As for the winners, expect an aggressive ramp-up of
production in the wake of their certification. Knudsen said Toshiba had put modems in the
pipeline in a gamble that they would pass the DOCSIS test.
"We're going to follow right behind the rollout
of the [certified] CMTSs," Knudsen said. "The floodgates are about to
Thomson should be well-prepared to ramp up production on
demand from its MSOs. It will produce the DCM105 at the same plant in Juarez, Mexico,
where it has already manufactured more than 5 million digital set-top boxes.