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Cable/Video

Cable Winks, Giggles at TR-069

Cable is flirting heavily with TR-069, a Broadband Forum remote management protocol standard that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and other telcos are already using today to remotely manage their own range of DSL gateways. In fact, Cox Communications Inc. is the first to confirm to Light Reading Cable that it's deploying a new line of gateways and plans to monitor them using TR-069.

TR-069 is a technology standard born out of the DSL world that's poised to help MSOs monitor and manage an expected flood of powerful Docsis 3.0 residential gateways. These gateways will have home networking, firewalls, voice services, and other broadband-fueled apps and services baked in.

Cable interest in the standard has gained steam as MSOs get ready to introduce advanced Docsis 3.0 gateways that do much more than standalone modems or even embedded multimedia terminal adapters (E-MTAs) can do with IP voice and straight high-speed data services.

With home networking becoming more commonplace and the number of devices that can hang off them, including broadband-connected TVs, proliferating, MSOs plan to use gateways as a demarcation point and help customers manage those networks. Oh, and as a side benefit, that work might also produce a new revenue stream for MSOs.

"2010 is the year of the gateway and it's really being catalyzed by Docsis 3.0," says Derek Elder, SVP of product management and technical marketing at Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), one of the industry's top suppliers of D3 modems and network gear. "There will be millions of Docsis of 3.0 gateway devices that get deployed in 2011. It's going to be impossible to manage them without TR-069. It makes sense for cable not to reinvent the wheel."

Arris, he says, intends to support TR-069 in all its D3 gateways, including the initial product in that category coming out of the shoot: the TG852. That model will sport a high -powered, integrated 802.11n radio, four ports of GigE, two ports for voice, and a battery backup. A future version will also incorporate Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) . Arris expects to have its TR-069 firmware release available later this year, probably before MSOs have the infrastructure in place to support it. (See Arris Launches 8x4 Wideband Gear.)

And TR-069 will be useful to cable for devices other than D3 gateways, including IP set-tops and boxes tailored to serve small and mid-sized business customers, says Chris Busch, chief technology officer of provisioning specialist Incognito Software Inc.

Busch says Incognito has its provisioning system outfitted with TR-069 for customer trials, and is on track for a full product release for later this year.

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), meanwhile, says its NBBS Service Assurance Software Platform already supports the TR-069 protocol. A Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) spokeswoman says the company is looking at ways to support TR-069 in all its broadband gateway products, but that the work is "in the mere planning stages now."

Vendors that are new to the cable sector, including ClearAccess Inc. , stand to benefit from the industry's interest in TR-069 and are actively evangelizing its adoption. ClearAccess makes a TR-069-based help-desk portal for service providers called ClearVision, as well as a portal product that subscribers can use to make adjustments and add services. It has more than 60 customers for its servers, the majority hailing from the telco world.

But it's already got a foot in the cable door thanks to a partnership with Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) that calls for the chipmaker to drop in ClearVision's TR-069 management capability into its D3 gateway silicon. Hood says ClearVision can also work with any TR-069 implementation from Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), the other major D3 silicon player. It's also created a licensing program for D3 CPE vendors, but hasn't named any yet, though they're among "the usual suspects," Hood says.

"We're going to support any device with TR-069 out there regardless of the chipset," he adds, noting that ClearVision expects the D3 gateway era to get started in the second half of 2010, and "scale up quite a bit in 2011."

Several major MSOs, including Cox and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in the US, and some in Europe are said to be getting behind TR-069.

A Cox spokesman confirmed Thursday that the operator has recently begun to roll out broadband gateways and does intend to use TR-069 for remote diagnostics. "We hope that this represents a new way to help our customers get the most out of their home networks and their home Internet connections," the official said, via email.

What happened to CableHome?
But, wait a minute. Didn't cable already solve the gateway-remote-management riddle with CableHome, a CableLabs specification that emerged about a decade ago? (See MSOs Issue CableHome Residential Gateway RFP via CableLabs.)

CableHome, which addresses some of the aspects of TR-069 using Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), didn't get a lot of uptake largely because there wasn't a strong business case at the time that could offset the additional costs required by operators and vendors to support it.

And Docsis 2.0 CableHome deployments, largely relegated to the Latin American cable market, never reached enough volume for those incremental costs to drop much and become more attractive to other cable regions. MSOs also didn't have a back-office in place at the time that could even deal with it, Elder says.

But the work that went into CableHome lives on. CableLabs CTO Ralph Brown says the bulk of CableHome has since transitioned to the OpenCable Home Networking initiative, which is focused on multi-room DVRs and moving other media around the home network. "There's a strong business case for that," Brown says.

CableLabs and Cable Europe Labs have not done any formal spec work on TR-069. CableLabs's current specs use SNMP and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards to handle device management. TR-069, by comparison, uses a different set of protocols, and adoption of it in Docsis-based devices is unnecessary and would add in another layer of management protocols, Brown says.

Brown notes that CableLabs is looking at a higher level of abstraction, using a more "generic" approach that could improve device management regardless of the underlying transport protocol. That could open the door to TR-069, but it likewise wouldn't preclude operators from using other options.

"We're looking at a method of abstracting the management data models away from the underlying protocols," Brown says.

But vendors are shifting their focus to the Broadband Forum standard on their own because it's almost a foregone conclusion that many major MSOs will be using TR-069. "It's pretty straightforward," Arris's Elder says. "The TR-069 stack is not a heavyweight driver that sits on the product."

And there seems to be little cable industry concern about TR-069's DSL origins, or the industry has at least set aside its "not invented here" pride for the sake of the greater good the standard can deliver. The standard, Busch says, has evolved into a "network agnostic toolset" that applies to WiMax and native Ethernet, too. "It's a more open standard," he says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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