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RF-Over-Glass on Deck?

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable Opinion
Jeff Baumgartner
6/18/2007
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Scientific Atlanta , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have long served as the vendor bellwethers of the cable industry. Although smaller suppliers tend to spin products faster and often do so with more innovation, we tend to look to this trio to see where the trends are and where the technical gravity is strongest.

Considering recent product news from the Motorola and SA (and, therefore, Cisco) camps, we can declare with some confidence that cable's use of (or consideration of) fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) in new-build situations is a bona fide trend. (See Moto Intros Cable PON and SA Pitches Cable PON.)

With those vendors in the game, it's safe to say that this is no longer a passing fancy, but a legitimate business interest, since a growing number of master housing developers are requiring an FTTP solution. Although cable operators can talk up the benefits and extensibility of the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network until they are blue in the face, it's hard to argue the point if the builder can't be shaken from a conviction that FTTP gives it an advantage – perceived or real – in selling homes connected to a strand of glass.

SA and Motorola, however, are far from the first to stake their claims on this still small, but apparently burgeoning, market for cable operators. CommScope Inc. , in quiet tandem with Aurora Networks Inc. , has a similar product called "BrightPath." Although CommScope was showing this technology last year (under a working label of "Epiphany"), the firm acted as if the platform was in stealth mode, clamming up whenever a press type came calling to ask about it.

It was almost comical to see CommScope being flushed out of the pocket today, announcing it has "successfully deployed" BrightPath with three major cable operators. Of course, all three are unnamed, but our inside sources indicate Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) is among them. I asked CommScope to clarify, but (surprise, surprise) my call hasn't been returned yet. I asked TWC this question several months ago and got a no comment in return, so I believe that speaks volumes.

CommScope may be ahead of some of its competitors in this area, but methinks the company is starting to hear the heavy footsteps of Motorola and SA, so the announcements are finally starting to fly. Then again, I could be wrong. This could be part of its master plan. Maybe there's something to be said about a master plan that allows the competition to catch up with product announcements and, therefore, steal your well-deserved thunder. But, alas, no one consulted me on it.

I expect the oxymoronic "Cable FTTP" greenfield topic to be a big one this week in steamy Orlando, Fla., at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo. But not just because there will be product to see on the floor, coupled with a paper titled "CATV Centric, FTTH Network Architectures" that will be presented Friday by David Pangrac, the president of Pangrac & Associates Inc., whose work includes systems integration and network design for cable operators.

No, there's apparently other, more clandestine stuff afoot. The cable industry is so interested in pursuing these greenfield opportunities that, according to our sources, some top cable engineers who are part of a special committee plan to meet this week in Orlando to discuss how to develop standards around FTTP architectures for cable MSO new-build situations. The SCTE is the standards-setting body of U.S. cable, so getting this off the ground at the Expo makes sense.

Now that multiple vendors are throwing hats into the ring, you can also bet that cable MSOs will do everything in their power to keep this effort – and the overall architecture – as "open" as possible.

They're still working on a name for this project, but one label under consideration is said to be RFOG, for "RF-Over-Glass." Descriptive? Yes. Catchy? Not really.

Docsis is not exactly what I'd call a marketing term, but we still use it today, so maybe RFOG has at least a fighting chance.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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