Cable-Tec Expo '09: The Hot List
This year's show, for the first time, will be tied into a larger week-long event, Cable Connection - Fall, collocating several other cable-themed conferences, including the annual Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) Summit. (See Down in Denver? and Cable-Tec Expo Tries Something New.)
So there will be plenty of sessions and events to keep everyone busy (or distracted). To help cut through the noise, here are the topics we think will be hot, and some items that will be on our to-do and to-see lists in the Mile High City, where it's expected to be sunny and 70 degrees (Fahrenheit).
Gateways to IPTV
The Expo will likely include early versions of cable multimedia gateways, which are QAM-IP, Docsis 3.0-powered set-top hybrids delivering both MPEG- and IP-based digital video streams. Thanks to technologies like the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) standard, these devices will also be capable of shuttling high-definition video streams throughout the house for display on IP-capable video displays. (See Gateway to (Video) Heaven? and Will Intel Go Inside Cable Multimedia Gateways? )
These über boxes aren't expected to deploy until 2011, but vendors will likely be giving showgoers a taste of what's to come.
Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) showed off its cable "transport gateway" at the IBC show in Amsterdam. No doubt we'll see it in action in Denver, too. We also won't be surprised to see something from other suppliers such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) , and Ubee Interactive .
Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) says it plans to develop a multimedia gateway after snapping up set-top box and software specialist Digeo Inc. , but the deal's not even closed yet, so we probably won't see anything until sometime next year. (See Digeo Gives Arris Multimedia Gateway Potential and Arris Digs Digeo .)
The gateway could give cable operators a way to gracefully migrate toward IPTV. Of course, there's already plenty of other work going in that direction.
Some vendors, including BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), are advocating cable modem termination system (CMTS) "bypass" architectures that feed IP video through dense edge QAMs. Others, including Arris, say it's quite possible to deliver it all through an integrated CMTS architecture. RGB Networks Inc. is also pushing for a do-it-all, centralized device. (See RGB's TV Everywhere Offer: A Video God Box , BigBand Pushes IP Video Convergence, and BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork.)
MSOs, meanwhile, are weighing all of those possibilities now (and we may see a new class of network edge product emerge from all these discussions... much more on that soon).
In the meantime, all these vendors are sure to be waving the cable IPTV flag at this year's show, trying to grab the attention of the operators and explain why their wares offer the best option. And, who knows? Maybe we'll even have a domestic cable IPTV deployment deal or two to report.
Docsis 3.0 heading upstream?
So far, the vast majority of Docsis 3.0 deployments have been about downstream channel bonding. Casa Systems Inc. remains the only CMTS vendor to gain Docsis 3.0 qualification for a product that does upstream channel bonding, though Arris has an upstream channel bonding deployment underway in Japan.
Those examples remain rare, but it's likely that all the CMTS players, including Cisco and Motorola, will want to show they're closing in on these capabilities, in anticipation of more upstream channel bonding tests, or even deployments, in North America next year.
In the meantime, we're still waiting for Javelin Innovations (what used to be Vyyo Inc.) to re-emerge with its new upstream-boosting product strategy. Cable-Tec Expo offers Javelin the obvious venue to make its big reveal. Hint, hint. (See Vyyo's New Name & Game and Vyyo Gear Lives On (at Arris).)
PacketCable 2.0: ready for its closeup?
Cable's getting the urge to converge services, and it's expected that many of the major MSOs will get there with PacketCable 2.0, a platform that borrows heavily from the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).
Comcast is already moving that way, with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) reportedly on board to help. (See Huawei, Ericsson Get a Piece of Comcast's IMS Action .)
And recent activity in home products and provisioning support suggests that cable's getting ready to advance the IMS ball. More cable vendors, including some well entrenched ones, are expected to announce renewed support for PacketCable 2.0 later this month, so there could be signs at the Expo that major MSOs are starting to get serious about IMS. (See Incognito Provisions PacketCable 2.0 and PacketCable 2.0: Back on the Front Burner.)
MSOs have long said that hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) still has legs. But cable operators have been pushing fiber deeper into the network, and it's obvious they're headed towards fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP).
A big cable FTTP push is still years away, but the industry already has RF over Glass (RFoG) infrastructures that let MSOs offer FTTP in greenfield deployments while preserving their headends, cable modems, and set-top boxes. RFoG on its own doesn't give operators much of a speed boost, but versions that add PON capabilities will.
RFoG and cable FTTP still represent a small market, but many vendors, including CommScope Inc. , Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), Aurora Networks Inc. , Alloptic Inc. , Arris, Motorola, and Cisco (and so many, many others) have bought tickets to this budding deployment sweepstakes. They'll be at the show demonstrating the kinds of gear that could fit into a future FTTP spec. Docsis 4.0, anyone?
Speaking of specifications, the SCTE has been working on an RFoG standard since March 2008. We'll be on the lookout for a progress report. (See SCTE Moves on RFOG.)
Whether teaming up with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) for WiMax or opting to go it alone with WiFi or Long Term Evolution (LTE), some of the largest MSOs are keen to get wireless strategies off the ground. (See Cox Wireless: Soup to Nuts , TWC Pinpoints Two WiMax Markets, and Comcast Maxes Out in Portland.)
Deployment news mght be hard to come by at a technology show (though we can hope Cox Communications Inc. might share something new about its big project). But vendors new to the cable scene could be there to show what they've got -- including gear for wireless backhaul.
At least 52 Expo exhibitors are first-timers, according to SCTE organizers. There's little doubt that several from this group will be of the wireless persuasion.
The SCTE will include technical workshops on tru2way and Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), two platforms that promise to bring new levels of interactivity to the cable industry. While the tech-heavy Expo might not include much deployment news, it could be a good place to get updates on those technologies. Likewise, the CTAM Summit could include updates on Canoe Ventures LLC , the cross-MSO advanced advertising project. (See Canoe Preps ITV Ad 'Template' and Canoe Mothballs Targeted Ad Product .)
What's up with Huawei?
Finally, everybody's favorite vendor will be at the Expo. We already know Huawei is primed to sell optical and wireless gear to cable MSOs, but it's evidently chasing cable set-top business, too. (See Huawei Takes On US Set-Top Market.) How grand are Huawei's cable ambitions? We'll be there, cameras and notebooks in hand. Just try to run us off.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News