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Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is coming out with a next-gen Docsis 3.0 chipset that targets maximum speeds of 960 Mbit/s downstream and 320 Mbit/s upstream and has signed Hitron Technologies Inc. as one of the first customers for the silicon.

Intel's been a bit cagey about how many channels its new D3 platform, called the Puma6, can bond. And apparently there's more than one answer. There's a regular version that can bond 16 downstreams and four upstreams and an amped-up MG (media gateway) iteration that can bond 24 downstreams and eight upstreams. Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) confirmed that it's using the 16x4 Puma6 chipset in a new voice gateway called the TG1672. (See Intel Goes Deeper Inside Docsis 3.0.)

Hitron, one of Intel's Alpha customers, is jumping right to the Puma6MG for the CDA-32372, a stand-alone cable modem that the vendor will be showing off at The Cable Show next week in Boston. The company is also hopeful that a Wi-Fi-capable gateway device might be ready for the event, says Hitron CTO Greg Fisher, noting that the vendor is about two months away from finishing another gateway model, called the CGBV, that also supports cable voice services. Hitron also plans to develop a video gateway that could factor into cable's IP video transition and take full advantage of the Puma6MG. (See Intel's New Set-Top Chip Packs More Punch.)

The Puma6 family represents the first new Docsis 3.0 products to come out of Intel since it bought the cable modem assets of Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) in 2010 and represents a big leap over current state-of-the-art for D3 silicon that's capable of bonding eight downstream channels and four upstream channels. Intel's expected to announce more details about the Puma6 next week. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Intel's chief competition in this area, has yet to announce what's next on its Docsis 3.0 roadmap. (See Intel Snares TI's Cable Modem Business and Broadcom Dips Two Chips in 800M 'Prototype' .)

Intel's 24x8 configuration would get Docsis 3.0 downstream burst speeds within shouting distance of 1Gbit/s (viewed as the next major milestone for Docsis 3.0) when used for the 6MHz-wide channels that North American cable MSOs employ. In EuroDocsis systems, which use wider 8MHz channels, a fully-loaded Puma6MG could pump out downstream speeds bursts of about 1.32Gbit/s.

Hitron's strategic decision
Fisher says Hitron is skipping over 16x4 because the vendor believes the configuration will represent a "footnote in the history of Docsis" and have a relatively short market window of nine to 12 months. And Fisher's drawing on some recent history, recalling that Texas Instruments entered the Docsis 3.0 market with a 4x4 chip, only to see Broadcom blow by it with an 8x4 version.

"We thought the same thing would be likely with the 24x8," Fisher says, noting that the price on the Puma6MG isn't terribly more expensive than the 16x4 chip. He says of at least one MSO "has pretty firm plans" to be ready to bond 16 downstream channels by the end of 2012, and to be positioned to bond 20 to 24 by the end of 2013.

But Hitron has yet another reason to max out. It's trying to make some noise in the market as its resets its sales strategy for North American cable. Hitron has historically served as an OEM for cable gear vendor SMC Networks Inc. , but it will now try to sell directly to MSOs and mirror the model it's using in Europe and Asia. (Fisher and Hitron Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Todd Babic are former SMC execs who joined Hitron last fall, by the way.)

And Hitron is making some progress; Babic says Hitron is about to launch product with one North American MSO and is in certification with at least three others.

The vendor hopes to have its new stand-alone D3 modem ready for general availability by this August or September, with the data gateway to follow in September or October. The timing partly hinges on when Intel is ready to enter mass production on the Puma6, as well as when Hitron can obtain Docsis 3.0 certification from CableLabs . Hitron plans to enter the modem in CableLabs cert wave 93, which gets underway in mid-July, and the gateway in wave 95, slated to start in late September.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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