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The Ultimate Cable Modem

Jeff Baumgartner
10/27/2009
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5:40 PM -- DENVER -- CTAM Summit -- The CableLabs Docsis 3.0 specs call for a modem to be capable of bonding, at a minimum, four upstream channels and four downstream channels. There's not much actual upstream channel bonding occurring in the wild yet, but that 4x4 configuration ensures that MSOs can offer burst speeds of more than 100 Mbit/s in both directions.

Not lame. But not where things are heading.

These days, vendors are working on modem configurations that bond eight or 16 downstream channels, while maintaining a four-channel upstream, Carey Ritchey, general manager of Microtune Inc. (Nasdaq: TUNE)'s cable unit, mentioned to me yesterday. At full burst, a 16-channel downstream (using 6MHz-wide channels) would generate something like 640 Mbit/s.

Definitely not lame. But also not where some see this all going... at least among the mad scientists out there.

Ritchey said he's already seen some requests for Docsis modems that can bond 32 downstream channels. My cable math suggests that would put a burst speed in the neighborhood of 1.2 Gbit/s.

"But that's been the extreme," Ritchey says. It's the type of extreme Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) openly conceptualized in January 2008 at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Conference on Emerging Technologies with a presentation titled "A proposal for Docsis 4.0."

Seems as though that vision has since taken a few steps closer to reality.

Of course, the question is what sort of extreme would require such a massively wide speed pipe. If I had to guess, it would have to be for something along the lines of a QAM-IP gateway that can do everything today's digital set-tops can now, but also help MSOs pursue a unicast video model in a big way. Someday.

Or maybe it's about something completely different. But what? I'll do more asking around here. Got an idea? Please share it on the message board.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:05 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


The point is that Fiber OSP builders being treated like PV Solar businesses would likely be  a good thing.  In the CA PV model the incumbent and regulated monopoly (PG&E) is forced to effectively subsidize *new* entrants.  State legislation requires PG&E to implement net metering (reimbursing at retail price sto PV system owners.)  On top of that both the Federal and State governments provide direct economic subsidies via rebates and tax writeoffs.  This is all done to stimulate PV investment.


 

paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:53:05 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


rj,


Nobody is subsidizing Verizon or AT&T.  About the only relief they get is the fact they will not have to unbundle their fiber plant, but they receive no funds from the government to roll out FiOS or U-verse.  By the way, the rollout of U-verse should require unbundling in most cases because it does not meet the FTTC limits so they don't even qualify for that.


seven


 

rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:06 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


Seven,


Most people of the 6.6B on the planet don't own a computer today in 2009.


Another example:  Look at PV Solar panels in CA.  If these could be justified by only simple ROI economics they would be installed on everyone's homes and paid for by PG&E.  Now the market is in its nascent phase so both the CA and Federal government have stepped up with both regulatory support as well direct economic subsidies.  In my opinion, fiber OSPs deserve the same considerations and arguably have a better overall net value to society.  Sadly, subsidizing FiOS and VZ is like pouring more money into GM.  We need to raise the bar a bit.


 


 


 

paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:53:06 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


 


rj,


Actually most people did not even OWN a computer in 1986.  So, again you need to rethink that bit of it.  Where you get these whacky notions is beyond me.


Businesses do ROI analysis of their networks - especially large operations that run extensive enterprise networks.  Also, back in the days many enterprises DID do leasing models of equipment to manage their network costs and convert large upgrade cost cycles to payment over time. 


So, what your saying - as I think I read it correctly is that the only way that anything ever works is an open and free market.  Government intervention is a really bad idea.  I agree with that wholeheartedly, surprised you have come around to that view.


And the innovations on the business side came from cost reductions and operational simplfication of modems.  Most business modems were equalized leased line modems plugged into IBM mainframes.  In the old days (late 60s) these modems were hand equalized.  Later (70s) they became auto-equalized from hardware strapping.  In the 80s, they became processor based.  So, yes in the 1960s you could buy a 9600 bps leased line modem that did the same job as the 9600 bps modem that you bough in the 1980s.  The prices had declined and the capability had increased through vendor competition.


seven

rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:08 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


Seven,


I was buying MODEMs for my friends and family when setting up PCs from about 1986 or so.  Most people were playing around with bulletin boards, prodigy and compuserve.  Also, businesses buying the MODEM fits into the churn model, ie. customer owned equipment where the rationalization for purchase isn't really an ROI from leasing the equipment.  That, in my opinion, is the big lesson for technology policy - bulid a market system where the technology either is consumer purchzsed or rationalized by "productivity" (a la the PC.)  If the network providers own the equipment (like is done for set top boxes) there really is a big drag prohibiting upgrades and innovations.  Think of it kinda like the ownership sociecty (cars, houses) applied to communications infrastructure.  With that ownership comes a lot of potential.  Without it were doomed to the least common denominator with things like FiOS - a repackaged video network where none is needed pushed by the  FCC, unneeded because these broadcast networks are already built and work fine.  Talk about a waste of money.

paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:53:09 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


rj,


Sir, you have your history wrong on this.  Prior to 1994 (WWW introduction), the vast bulk of all modems both dial and leased were bought by businesses.  The bulk of dial modem "innovation" and churn occurred before this date - with only the introduction of 56K modems (both X2/K.56 followed by V.90/V.92) occurring later.  But the progression of dial modems from 300 bps - 33.4 kpbs proceeded any significant consumer market.  There was a significant Enterprise market with customers like Visa and Mastercard dominating the space.


seven


 

rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:09 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


Another thing that seems relevant in this discussion is that consumer markets played a significant role in enabling MODEM churn.  These pieces of equipment were an end user purchase.  Also, MODEM banks were purchased by "startup" ISPs (that could only exist due to common carriage regulation.)  When all this equipment is owned by the "network provider" the business will have to justify the purchases based on a ROI analysis (or maybe some hopes for Wall St. hype).  Consumers and early ISPs really never did this analysis and hence these markets were conducive to technology churn which enabled these technologies to evolve.  PC technology had a similar boot strap.


Note:  I did buy my cable MODEM but I think that's rare.  It wasn't something the cable co advertised and supported well (nor was my user purchased TIVO and cable card.)


 


 


 


 

paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:53:11 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


 


Stevery,


You and I probably have a different view of DSP cost reductions over time.  As I said, I came originally out of the leased line and dial modem business - I worked for Racal-Milgo back in the day.  We used to be able to charge (and the margins were very good) $1 per bit per second for Leased Line modems (lets say this is the early 80s).  This is pretty much before off the shelf DSPs were available (TI 320 series being first iirc).  These 2400 baud, 9600, 14400 or 19200 bps modems were QAM and DPQSK based (they contained a very slow side channel FSK modem as well for management).  So, I see DPQSK and QAM as having been implemented in DSPs for a LONG time.  Telebit (iirc) built the Trailblazer 19.2 Kbps dial modem based on DMT in the mid-80s (maybe late 80s).  The advent of Fax machines created a broad based modem market to get commericial silicon makers (back in the day Rockwell) to build devices.  Derivatives of these eventually got built into dial modems with the advent of the web


The consumer devices (Dial Modems, Cable Modems, DSL Modems, ONTs) all have to trend to $100 per home or so - and they all have or become much cheaper (even indoor ONTs can be built for well under $100 for diplexer built system).


So, the ongoing drop in DSP prices has created the ability to run higher rates with more complicated DSP algorithms for about the same price.  At the price of 40G fiber transport, the DSP costs are not the issue as you have pointed out.  So, from my simple Access mentality I see that there is a progression based around the ability to build devices that sell for $100 (or thereabouts).


seven


 

Stevery
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Stevery,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:14 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


The channel noise itself - which is why fiber uber alles


And so, we come to the conclusion that "The Ultimate Cable Modem" is to rip out your cable and install fiber! I couldn't agree more, but we're not going to pick up lots of hot marketing cable babes with that line.


I think the quest for the "The Ultimate Cable Modem" is much like the DSL evolution. No one believed that twisted-pair was the "best" means of transmission, but there was a huge installed base, so everyone was stuck with it for a while.  Cable modems and FIOS continue to drive twisted pair into irrelevance, but still some DSLAMs get sold.


2 - The cost and power of the DSP engines


My take is different:  DSP and silicon is cheap.  Unfortunately, all of the mod schemes you list require phase, and coherent photonic receivers are not suitably priced for the consumer market.  In fact, DPQSK (which is really 2xQAM4) is just beginning at the high end market (40+ Gbps) where the economics is plausible. Will it continue and improve to QAM8 etc?  I think so.


@RJ:  I'm afraid I don't see anything fundamental in that analysis.  Maybe I'm not getting it.


The bigger issue:  I assert that there is unused SNR in current cable systems.  Please tell me why I should not go raise $10M to build The Ultimate Cable Modem, the TUCM model QAM65536.

rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:53:14 PM
re: The Ultimate Cable Modem


I should note that I don't totally buy into Frankston's rhetoric here but I do think that the technology case for a better cable MODEM may not align with a cable cos revenue incentives.  VZ "copying" HFC with FiOS is a sign that the revenue and regulatory models are the challenge more than the technology.


 


 

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