CableLabs Goes Global

Flexing its tech spec muscles, CableLabs has expanded its reach across the planet, signing up more than a dozen new MSO members in Europe, Asia and South America and annexing Cable Europe Labs into its growing R&D empire.

In addition, CableLabs is taking over the development and management of DOCSIS standards throughout the world, instead of splitting that role with Cable Europe Labs in Europe and government regulators in China. As a result, CableLabs will be the sole arbiter of the current DOCSIS 3.0 specs and the forthcoming DOCSIS 3.1 specs, although it will continue to work with the Chinese authorities on the Chinese version of DOCSIS.

"So there will no longer be a forking of the standards," said CableLabs President and CEO Phil McKinney in a conference call Tuesday. "DOCSIS is back with CableLabs."

Previously, Cable Europe Labs and China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (known as SARFT) had been in charge of drafting and overseeing the various DOCSIS specs in their respective regions. In particular, the Chinese version of DOCSIS, known as C-DOCSIS, differed in key ways from the North American standard developed by CableLabs. For instance, C-DOCSIS, unlike DOCSIS 3.0, pairs DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0 modems with a more limited version of a cable modem termination system (CMTS) known as a coax media converter (CMC).

Announcing the news from their annual summer conference in Keystone, Colo., CableLabs executives said they made the moves to bring cable operators and equipment suppliers together on "alignment and strategy" throughout the world. "The industry needs to come together and work on a global scale," McKinney said.

Specifically, CableLabs has expanded its membership base from 38 MSOs, mainly in North America, to 51. The new members include nine major European MSOs that formerly belonged to Cable Europe Labs:

One or two other former Cable Europe Labs members are expected to join as well.

McKinney said CableLabs has already integrated Cable Europe Labs into the larger organization, switching Cable Europe Labs' research and testing activities over to the North American group. In addition, CableLabs has signed a memorandum of understanding with Cable Europe, allowing it to serve European MSOs.

CableLabs has also added four large cable operators from Asia -- J:com (Japan), PT Link Net (Indonesia), and Topway and WASU (both China).

In addition, the R&D group picked up a major South America MSO, Cablevision from Argentina.

With CableLabs' total MSO membership now up to 51, McKinney said the group now serves MSOs covering nearly 121 million cable subscribers, up 50 percent from about 81 million before. Although he noted that "it's not a numbers game," he expects other cable operators from around the world to sign up as well.

"This is not a 'we ring the bell when we hit a certain number' [game]," he said. "But we do anticipate brining on additional members in the foreseeable future."

Despite the influx of new members, McKinney said CableLabs' focus will not change much from the vision he outlined after taking over the organization last year. Under his direction, CableLabs has cut down the number of active R&D projects from 69 to 28 and tightened its emphasis on 11 themes, such as "better pipes."

If anything, CableLabs will be focusing even more closely on such key projects as DOCSIS 3.1. McKinney said European cable operators, who have widely deployed DOCSIS 3.0 to deliver downstream data speeds of 100 Mbit/s, 200 Mbit/s and up to customers, have also been "very vocal" about accelerating the development of the next-gen broadband spec. In fact, he said, the Europeans may start deploying DOCSIS 3.1 before their North American counterparts in some cases.

CableLabs may also step up its pace on ultraHD research and development efforts, given the keen interest of such new members as J:COM in 4K and 8K HDTV, McKinney said. In addition, the organization may focus even more on next-gen user interfaces.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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