Cable Tech

MSOs Eye Triple-Play Gear

PHILADELPHIA -- Equipment aimed at the special requirements of cable multiservice operators (MSOs) surfaced at the Cable-Tec Expo 2003 tradeshow here today. And the range of gear shows the variety of options taking shape in that market.

Prominently featured were products built to help MSOs meet their two present goals: namely, to compete against satellite providers on one side and traditional data- and voice-providing ILECs on the other.

Here's a rundown of selected announcements, in vendor alphabetical order:

  • Appian Communications Inc. released a set of new products called Service Termination Units (STUs) that let MSOs offer Ethernet and TDM services to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) without deploying expensive Sonet/SDH add/drop multiplexers (see Appian Eases Migration). Appian has also enhanced its larger Optical Services Activation Platform (OSAP) to work with the STUs. In addition, the vendor struck an agreement that lets ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) resell Appian gear within its large customer base of MSOs.

  • Aurora Networks Inc. added an EtherMux module to its EtherTransport line of Fast Ethernet switches (see Aurora Muxes, Demuxes and Aurora, Path 1 to Sell Together). The module gives up to 24 100-Mbit/s links from one EtherNode -- something Aurora says gives MSOs more options to reach SMB customers. Aurora also announced a demultiplexer for aggregating broadband links, which is equipped with the ability to remotely adjust power as configurations change.

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) unveiled VOIP, video-on-demand (VOD), and management products aimed at supporting MSOs' "triple play" combination of voice, data, and video services over one link (see Cisco Unveils Triple Play).

  • Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) unveiled a "cable ready" version of its Flashwave 4500 multiservice platform, outfitted with interfaces supporting digital video transport (see Fujitsu Targets MSO Market).

  • OpVista Inc. launched its first product, an optical transport system for cable MSOs, which deploys a "WaveGrabber" feature enabling one wavelength carrying gigabit Ethernet traffic to be broadcast to multiple hubs, eliminating the need for extra gear (see OpVista Unveils Metro System ). OpVista uses DWDM, CWDM, and even ultra-long-reach DWDM to give MSOs more bandwidth between head ends and hubs that extend coaxial services to end users. OpVista competes against the likes of Internet Photonics Inc. and Optinel Systems.

  • Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (NYSE: SFA), which, along with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), is a leading supplier of MSO gear, unveiled enhancements to its Prisma IP multiservice transport platform and its BroadLAN access gear. The Prisma IP, developed with Luminous Networks Inc., uses Resilient Packet Ring technology to set up MSO networks. The added features are meant to strengthen the vendor's ability to help MSOs go beyond serving only residential customers to expanding their range of business offerings (see Scientific-Atlanta Has a New Suite).

These and other announcements showcase the growing importance of the MSO market, particularly among some optical players. They also highlight new opportunities for cable suppliers turned MSOs.

"Traditionally, MSOs have not served business customers with voice and data. They have offered video, but not all three together," says Paul Connolly, VP of marketing at Scientific-Atlanta. The chance to compete against ILECs and other service providers with bundled options of their own is compelling.

Digital TV, in the form of video-on-demand services that replace the corner video store or dial-up one-off delivery of videos, also loom large on MSO wish lists. "Satellite services can't talk back," quips Brian Drachman, director of product marketing at OpVista. Cable connections, in contrast, do offer interactive options for end users, making them key to offering services MSOs can use to keep from losing customers to Direct TV or satellite.

Despite the emergence of these apps, there are signs that their actual adoption is spotty and limited. "There are a lot of real specific implementations in fairly small deployments," says Sterling Perrin, senior research analyst at IDC. Nothing he's seen will change his forecasts for slow growth in MSO rollouts.

Still, the variety of products and options that have emerged just today is impressive and could merit some interesting followup.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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