Yassini's Quest: Operator-Vendor Harmony

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Everything old is new again is an often-used saying about the cyclical nature of things.

It might be an apt description for the view Rouzbeh Yassini holds for the cable industry.

Yassini, whose pioneering work on cable modems at LANCity propelled him into the Cable Television Laboratories Inc. orbit — and years of standardization efforts across all manner of new technologies — is on a new mission.

It involves his YAS Ventures venture-capital firm and a new cross-industry effort.

Yassini is looking at a landscape today that somewhat mirrors the late 1980s, when cable modems were on the cusp of development. Like then, he sees gaps between vendors and operators, and technology and business models.

"The gap is to work with operators to help them to deploy new services," he said, just like in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and "and to work with the vendors to be profitable."

"It's more than just the Internet," he continued, ticking off a list of potential new services: home networking; voice-over-Internet protocol telephony; tiered data services; Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification capability in set-tops; and personalized channels.

Yassini's 15 years' experience tells him that new-service development is not an overnight process, and that technology, standards and business plans take time to develop.

Vendor-Op Forum

In order to help close some of the gap between vendors and operators, Yassini is leading an effort to draw the parties together in a Vendor and Operator Executive Advisory Forum, under the auspices of The Cable Center.

The group met Oct. 15 in Denver and plans a day-long roundtable seminar Feb. 5, again at The Cable Center.

Topics could include VoIP, video-on-demand, HDTV, OpenCable, backbone networks, provisioning, bandwidth spectrum management, home networking and all-digital platforms.

The goal is to drive innovation and partnership without demos, marketing or sales pitches, Yassini said.

A forum advisory council includes David Fellows, chief technology officer at Comcast Corp.; Dallas Clement, senior vice president at Cox Communications Inc.; Mark Coblitz, senior vice president at Comcast; Marwan Fawaz, chief technology officer at Adelphia Communications; Chris Bowick, chief technology officer at Cox; Wayne Davis, vice president at Charter Communications Inc.; and Mike Lajoie, executive vice president of Time Warner Cable.

What Yassini hopes to achieve is similar to what cable has achieved in the past, as he looks at the 15-year history of the cable modem, whose origins can be traced to the late 1980s.

Five-Year Plans

Yassini breaks that history down into three- to five-year increments.

From 1988 through 1993, computer companies first started talking about local area networks and linking buildings via the Ethernet. Yassini founded LANCity during that time, with an eye to taking broadband to the masses.

"Broadband was trying to compete with [local area networks] but the fiber was too expensive," he said. "We were trying to bring broadband to everyone's home."

But intially, cable-modem prices were $18,000.

Still, enough cable engineers began getting intrigued with "broadband."

From 1993 through 1996, the Internet appeared with Web browsing, two-way cable systems were being built, and operators began testing high speed data service worldwide.

From the 1996 through 1999, the heavy-lifting lab work, done under the auspices of Cable Television Laboratories Inc., pushed broadband to mass market status, with standardization and certification efforts.

From 1999 through 2002, the vendor community contributed $130 million to what's now a $12 billion a business with 50% margins, Yassini said.

"We have now DOCSIS 1.1, 2.0 and CableHome 1.0" as a result, and Yassini can envision the same cycle all over again.

But there are new issues operators have to deal with. An inevitable shakeout among equipment vendors, coupled with the telecom meltdown over the past few years, has cut deeply into vendors' ranks.

Vendors' Role

Cable operators need healthy vendors to handle the research and development efforts for new services, like putting DOCSIS modems inside set-tops, he said.

"No one grabs it and makes it happen," Yassini said. "You have to create four to five specs, build a prototype, and have field trials."

Yassini warns operators against lurching from one product to another without adequate planning, given his cable-modem experience, even with VoIP.

"Be patient and buckle up," he said. "You can bypass some milestones," he added, but too many shortcuts and "it will all catch up with you when you do a commercial launch."

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