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DOCSIS

CableLabs Preps for Docsis 3.0 Tests

Though school just started back, it's already time for some big tests in Cableland.

CableLabs is getting ready to start the first official tests on modems and cable modem termination systems (CMTS) based on Docsis 3.0, a new spec that supports IPv6 as well as channel bonding techniques that will produce shared data speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s.

Certification Wave 56, as it's known, is set to get underway by the second week of October. Results of the wave could be known by mid-December.

While modems must conform to the entire set of Docsis 3.0 specs to obtain certification, the same is not necessarily true for vendors that will seek qualification of their CMTS gear. Under an acceleration program, CMTSs may be submitted for one of three tiers: Bronze, Silver, and Full. People familiar with the program say Bronze will test against downstream channel bonding and IPv6, while Silver will add upstream channel bonding and the spec's Advanced Encryption System (AES). This tiered CMTS testing model is scheduled to sunset in March 2009. (See CableLabs Accelerates Docsis 3.0 Testing and Go for the Bronze! )

CableLabs execs say they will be ready to test for all three tiers. So far, it's believed that Casa Systems Inc. , a startup (See profile) based in Andover, Mass., is the only supplier that could seek Full 3.0 qualification in Wave 56. Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have already said they plan to seek Bronze qualification. Little is known yet on which modem models vendors expect to submit, but a Motorola blog this week disclosed the company will put in the SB6120.

"We've been preparing for over a year for this, so I think we're in really good shape," says CableLabs Chief Technology Officer Ralph Brown.

To help CableLabs and vendors prepare for the upcoming wave, CableLabs presently is conducting a three-week Docsis 3.0 interop that allows suppliers to test against the spec's acceptance test plans (ATPs) and with equipment from other manufacturers.

CableLabs declined to say who is participating in the interop, other than to note that all of the "major players" are involved. In addition to Motorola, Cisco, and Casa Systems, there's a strong likelihood that the likes of Ambit Broadband , Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT), Scientific Atlanta , Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), and Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) are there as well, getting ready for Wave 56.

And don't expect CableLabs to disclose who is in the wave come October. At the behest of vendors, it halted that practice years ago. In the late 1990s, suppliers generally wanted it known that they were in a given certification wave, because their respective stocks usually got a bit of a bump on the news. But some suppliers, particularly smaller public players, later soured on the idea when the opposite would happen if their equipment did not come through the test with a passing grade, and investors would punish them for it.

Although Docsis 3.0 is much more complex than Docsis 2.0 and the other preceding versions are, CableLabs believes its past experience and the fact that it is not starting from ground zero will ensure a smooth transition for testing against the new specs. In the early going, CableLabs, as well as vendors, encountered significant challenges making the jump from Docsis 1.0 to QoS-capable Docsis 1.1, due in part to the added complexity.

"It [Docsis 3.0] is more complicated, but nothing outside what we've done before," says Craig Chamberlain, the vice president of systems evaluation at CableLabs. "With our experience, it's just an add-on from our 2.0 experience."

"It's a huge amount of work. I don't want to minimize that in any shape or form," Brown adds. "[But] this is Wave 56. We've done 55 of these before. We've probably dealt with every possible scenario."

To provide some historical perspective, CableLabs awarded its first Docsis 1.0 passing grades in March 1999 following Wave 7 -- stamping modems from Thomson and Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502), and a CMTS from Cisco. Vendors did not break the Docsis 1.1 barrier until the fall of 2001 and the conclusion of Wave 19. Wave 24, concluded in late 2002, was the first to award certifications and qualifications for the upstream-dilating Docsis 2.0 platform.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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