Cable Tech

Broadcom Stirs Up Trouble for Entropic

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) is keeping the pressure on Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR) after a reference design for set-tops and "broadband access products" scored certification for Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) 1.1, a version of the high-speed home-networking platform that's becoming central to some whole-home DVRs and video gateways. (See Broadcom Nets MoCA Cert.) Broadcom notched certification for the 1.0 version of MoCA in the spring, but those chipsets can be upgraded to 1.1 via a software download, according to Stephen Palm, technical director for Broadcom's Broadband Communications Group. The new chips will enable Broadcom to support higher usable throughputs -- from about 100 Mbit/s with MoCA 1.0 to roughly 175 Mbit/s with MoCA 1.1. MoCA presently supports a theoretical PHY rate of 275 Mbit/s, though a new 2.0 version underway is expected to support even higher rates. (See MoCA 2.0 .) Palm says the better throughputs of 1.1 are required if service providers expect to support four to five high-definition video streams on the home network and provide enough headroom for trick modes (pausing, rewinding, fast-forwarding, etc.). Some HD streams running on MoCA need 25 percent to 50 percent more throughput to support those modes, he adds. MoCA 1.1 also doubles the number of supported network "nodes" -- from eight to 16 -- with each node on the network capable of serving as the "control node," giving the larger network some added redundant features. Another key feature of MoCA 1.1 is Parameterized Quality of Service (PQoS), a technique that lets service providers reserve some throughput for their own hi-def streams (streams without PQoS status don't have the same priority). Gearing for a MoCA battle
For Broadcom, gaining MoCA 1.1 certification further cements its commitment to a market that has so far been dominated by Entropic. Broadcom got into the MoCA game in 2007 when it acquired Octalica for $31 million. (See Broadcom Jump Starts MOCA Strategy.) Broadcom's approach with a MoCA 1.1 SoC (system on chip) is coming along as cable operators finally get ready to deploy whole-home DVRs, and bring to bear a service that's already offered by video rivals such as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). (See AT&T Jabs at Cable With More Perks .) Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cox Communications Inc. have already announced intentions to use MoCA. Of those two, Cox has confirmed that its use of Entropic's technology is non-exclusive. (See Cox, Entropic MoCA Deal Not Exclusive and Cox Stirs In Entropic MoCA Chips.) Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), meanwhile, has not announced its tech plans, but it's believed that the MSO, a MoCA founder, will eventually go with MoCA too, once it's able to negotiate the pricing it wants. Broadcom, meanwhile, is saying very little about its MoCA trial and deployment activities, though Palm says the company has some wins with undisclosed partners. We're pretty far down the path with a number of folks," he says. Outside of cable, Broadcom's been rumored to be working on GPON-plus-MoCA chips for Verizon. (See Broadcom Breaking Into GPON?) Even if it does get someone the size of Verizon or Comcast to bite, Broadcom will have some work ahead if it's ever to catch up to the lead established by Entropic. Entropic won MoCA 1.1 certification last fall, and is now sampling its third-generation MoCA 1.1 platform (the EN2510), with expectations that it will be commercially available at the end of the current quarter. (See Entropic Goes Gold.) With the earlier chipsets factored in, Entropic says it has shipped more than 20 million "MoCA-complaint" chipsets as of January 2009, but has not released any milestone figures since then. Verizon, however, remains its biggest customer, using an average of three MoCA chips for every FiOS TV customer. And it's pretty clear where Entropic sees some MoCA growth opportunities. "Comcast and DirecTV are MoCA members and key targets for us," Entropic president and CEO Patrick Henry said on the company's second-quarter earnings call on July 30. Both Entropic and Broadcom are targeting their chips at set-tops and advanced gateways, but it appears that Broadcom has no plans to develop a retail strategy centered on Ethernet-to-coax bridges that use MoCA. "Broadcom tends to focus on the SoC solutions," Palm says. Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) recently gained certification for a MoCA 1.1 bridge that uses Entropic's EN2210 chip. Entropic is also trying to branch out by integrating its MoCA tech with other silicon providers -- Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) (for cable residential gateways), Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM) (for high-end home routers), and Sigma Designs Inc. (Nasdaq: SIGM) (for IPTV and cable set-tops). (See Entropic, Cavium Connect on MoCA, Entropic, TI Team Up , and Entropic, Sigma Team on MoCA Boxes.) — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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