A Western Show Gibberish Codebook


If the currency of any big trade show is buzz, then there's going to be some heavy spending at this week's Western Show. Perhaps even heavier than the issue you're holding in your hands right now.

Buzz brings its own baggage, usually in the form of new lingo. And since we're now witnessing an industry giving simultaneous birth to three new heirs-all of which need somewhat different care and feeding-the lingo list in L.A. will assuredly be long.

The intent of this column is to be educational, so I will stop short of a Dennis Miller-esque rant about burned-out words, like "robust," "space," "end-to-end," and "solution," which sorely need a sabbatical. There's little point in translating what's essentially become the hyperbolic equivalent of "new and improved." Besides, there's plenty of gibberish to go around, in each of cable's three new service areas.

Some span all three, like "provisioning."


means doing electronically all the administrative stuff that comes with a new customer, like tapping into existing databases and linking to billing systems. Let's use high-speed data service as an example. A customer signs up. Let's say you already know she's not bad money.

During installation, software on an install CD-ROM fetches her an IP address, installs a fresh browser, sets up her electronic-mail account and alerts a subscriber-management database that she's on board. Links are built between that database, and whatever billing system you use. That's provisioning.

These days, provisioning is a matter of one customer (her) hooking to one ISP (you) for one service (high-speed data). Soon, though, it becomes a matter of one customer hooking up to any of several ISPs, and picking from a potential suite of service tiers. That's when provisioning systems will really cook. Best to pay attention to it now, because you'll need it later.

Which brings up another piece of lingo that will be in full force in L.A.: "DOCSIS 1.1-based" cable modems (translated in the Oct. 16 edition). DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 1.0 is what you use now. DOCSIS 1.1 is what's coming next, to let you handle different tiers of service: Maybe nailing up a chunk of bandwidth for a specific period of time, to assure a good-quality PC streaming event, for example. DOCSIS 1.1 is the bedrock of a lot of the new stuff that's coming next year, including IP telephony.

The important thing to remember is that nobody is yet Cable Television Laboratories Inc.-certified for 1.1 equipment. The tests just started.

But if trade-show history repeats itself, there will probably be some suppliers who stretch the truth, and use the fact that they're 1.0-certified to imply that they're 1.1-certified. At press time, nobody was 1.1-certified, but many suppliers of 1.0 equipment are using chip sets that can be upgraded to 1.1 with a software download.

(That's the hope. I still go back to a wry comment from Alex Best, retiring CTO of Cox, who once quipped: "Every time somebody tells me it's 'just a software download, 'my knees knock.")

You'll see a lot of Internet-protocol phone stuff at the show. Because IP telephony essentially mirrors in software and signaling the way the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) now works, it brings with it 101 years of telco terms. I'll address five today.

The first is "carrier-class." Boiling it all the way down, phone equipment billed as "carrier class" means the phone stays on when the power is out.

Alternatively, "voice grade" phone means the phone works great, unless there's a power outage. The savvy question to ask makers of carrier-class IP telephony is this: Can I do it without having to change out my CMTS gear? CMTS is DOCSIS parlance for cable-modem termination system, the headend-based handshake to the cable modems themselves.

Recall that DOCSIS 1.1 is the foundation for IP telephony. At the other end of the 1.1-based CMTS is the device that connects to the phones in a house. PacketCable, the CableLabs arm working on IP phone, defines that device as a "multimedia terminal adapter," or
. AT&T Broadband calls it a "broadband
telephony interface
," or
. Others call it a "gateway
." The three terms are roughly synonymous: Picture a cable modem with RJ-11 phone jacks on the back.

What makes MTAs, BTIs and gateways interesting is that they represent the first true signs of a bundle. Data and voice, one box. They use the signal path you already bought and paid for when you upgraded for cable-modem service. This makes accounting types nod appreciatively.

This is but a sampling of the terms that will be flying around the show. I'll be keeping a list. You keep one, too, and send along anything requiring translation.

Stumped by gibberish? Heard a term that makes you glaze over? Send it to ellis299@aol.com, with "Translation Please" in the header.