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Cable/Video

TI Flexes Docsis 3.0 Muscle

AMSTERDAM -- IBC2008 -- Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) has unveiled a new cable modem silicon platform that can bond up to eight downstream channels, but is also agile enough so that upcoming "video gateways" and advanced digital set-tops can "extract" some of those channels for the purpose of piping in high-quality video services.

TI's latest iteration of the Puma 5, the TNETC4840, complements the company's original Docsis 3.0 chipset, which is capable of fusing together four upstream and four downstream channels -- the minimum configuration required by CableLabs Docsis 3.0 specifications. So far, all 3.0 modems certified by CableLabs are based on TI's silicon. (See Docsis 3.0 Gear Tracker IV .)

Puma 5

Peter Percosan, executive director of broadband strategy for TI's Digital Connected Home business, calls that original 4x4 configuration the "meat and potatoes version" of the Docsis 3.0 platform, because it's supporting the near-term wideband requirements for MSOs in United States, Canada, and parts of Europe.

While that version should meet those needs for another 12 to 18 months, the new eight-channel version is more likely to play a broader role in 2010 and beyond.

"We're working with companies on their [product] roadmaps and working with MSOs on the idea," Percosan says of TI's 3.0-powered service convergence entry.

The new chip can bond together eight downstream channels, creating one giant IP wideband channel. Each 6 MHz channel offers roughly 40 Mbit/s of throughput, so the chip theoretically can produce speeds of 320 Mbit/s if the operator uses all of those channels for an ultra high-speed Internet service.

Video options
However, thanks to an analog front end and an extension TI calls "Quad QAM," the same chipset can also also accomodate the cable operator's legacy digital video services, essentially creating a broadband-powered "video gateway." TI is adding that function through the integration of silicon tuners from Microtune Inc. (Nasdaq: TUNE).

In yet another "intermediate" configuration, the new Puma 5 enables operators to "extract" up to four of the eight downstream channels flowing into the device and tune them to a specific frequency in the cable operator's spectrum for the delivery of the MSO's legacy video service. In that scenario, the chip performs as a QAM/IP hybrid.

Percosan holds that the new chip is smart enough to take in an MPEG transport video stream (how most cable operators transport digital video today) and convert it to IP. That's helpful, for example, if a customer wants to watch a broadcast channel via a PC on the home network. Conversely, that same gateway/advanced-set-top can ingest IP video and reconstitute it as MPEG, making it viewable on a traditional television.

At the IBC show this week in Amsterdam, TI is demonstrating how the new chipset works in a set-top box environment, delivering both data and video applications.

Although all configurations are powered by TI's baseline Docsis 3.0 silicon and software, each has its own designation in TI lingo. The TNETC4820 is the advanced set-top/multimedia configuration; the TNETC4830 is the data-only cable modem platform; and the TNETC4840 is for data and video apps that require more than four downstream channels.

But which configuration option is expected to hold sway? In Europe, operators are trending toward an architecture that combines the modem with the video decode function, Percosan says. Telenet of Belgium, for example, already uses an architecture that pairs a set-top with a stand-alone cable modem.

If the price is right, some U.S. MSOs are looking to use it in advance set-tops with support for IP-based devices hanging off the home network.

"It's kind of a mix right now," he adds. "But everyone who wants to be serious in this converged legacy digital video/IP space needs to embrace this approach."

However, the mid-range configuration might come in particularly handy in Korea, where regulatory laws force cable MSOs to operate as ISPs and are likewise forbidden from ingesting MPEG video into their networks. The mid-range configuration could enable them to use four tuners for regular high-speed Internet access, while the others "sub-tune" to video channels delivered via IP connections, Percosan says.

But first things first. TI will have to get the chip through certification testing at CableLabs. But the company doesn't expect to submit it until sometime next year. TI also declined to divulge pricing on the new silicon or how costs differ based on the configuration options.

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), TI's Docsis chip rival, is shipping a pre-3.0 wideband chip that can bond up to three downstream cable channels, though an eight-channel solution is in the works. (See Betting on Broadcom .) However, Broadcom has yet to publicize a roadmap for its plans involving silicon that will comply with the full set of Docsis 3.0 specs. (See Broadcom Shrugs Off Docsis 3.0.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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