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CableLabs Accelerates Docsis 3.0 Testing

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Cable operators appear to be putting Docsis 3.0 deployments on a fast track after CableLabs unveiled a plan seeking to speed up the testing process for cable modems and headend gear based on a platform that promises to push Internet speeds well beyond 100 Mbit/s.

If all happens as anticipated, operators could begin to deploy Docsis 3.0-based services as early as the second quarter of 2008, according to cable engineers familiar with the effort. That's well ahead of earlier predicted timelines that saw Docsis 3.0 equipment reaching deployable levels by late 2008 or sometime in 2009.

The more ambitious plan will also give operators earlier access to the technologies and services required to stay competitive with telcos that are rapidly deploying fiber-to-the-home networks.

Under the accelerated test plan, vendors are expected to submit Docsis 3.0-based equipment to CableLabs as early as the fourth quarter of 2007. That would point everything to Certification Wave 57, now considered a "rallying point" for cable modem and cable modem termination system (CMTS) suppliers. If those manufacturers want to be considered for testing in Wave 57, they must submit products by the first week of October, according to a schedule posted on the CableLabs Website.

In the interim, the Louisville, Colo.-based cable R&D house will conduct Docsis 3.0 interoperability tests, with two to three slated for the rest of 2007, according to CableLabs chief technology officer Ralph Brown.

The new test plan gives CMTS vendors the most wiggle room in terms of the features they are expected to support in order to obtain a passing grade from CableLabs. It also lets them prioritize which features to support in the earlier phases of testing.

While modems will be required to reach a uniform level of certification to be considered compliant with Docsis 3.0, the new plan will allow CMTS vendors to phase in features under a tiered approach. Those three tiers are: "Bronze," "Silver," and "Full."

CableLabs officials declined to disclose the specific features that will be required for each phase, citing a non-disclosure agreement. Brown, however, did point to some core capabilities handled by Docsis 3.0, including channel bonding, IPv6, and advanced security. He also stressed that CMTS vendors, despite the tiered testing approach, will be expected to support the full 3.0 specs eventually.

"The CMTS is always more complicated," Brown says, noting that it usually takes CMTS vendors longer than their modem counterparts to implement all of the features of a specification.

"We're really trying to encourage the manufacturers to bring in product that they've developed…and to give them some recognition on where they are in the development process," Brown says. The tiered testing system for CMTSs will allow those vendors "to get in there early and often."

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