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CableLabs Equipment Testing Wave Produces Zilch

For only the second time that anyone can remember, CableLabs has come up empty after staging a testing round for new cable tech gear.

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. approved no cable modems, home networking gateways, embedded multimedia terminal adapters (E-MTAs), or any other broadband equipment during its latest certification wave, which concluded at the end of last month. Instead, the cable industry's R&D consortium rejected a cable modem from an undisclosed equipment supplier, which turned out to be the sole submission of the wave from the entire vendor community.

Known as Certification Wave #44 (CW #44), the testing round was the fourth of eight waves planned by CableLabs in 2006. In the three previous waves, the consortium passed seven, three, and two broadband products, respectively, to make it an even dozen for the year.

With such a lack of results, the almost nonexistent CW came close to setting an industry record for futility. The only testing round that made less of a mark occurred exactly a year earlier, when CableLabs didn't receive even a single product submission for CW #36.

As they have in the past, CableLabs officials shrugged off the paucity of summer winners as no big deal, given the increased number and frequency of equipment testing rounds these days. They have said that they expect product submissions and approvals to fluctuate wildly now that they are conducting eight certification waves in a year, twice as many as in years past.

Indeed, CW activity has bounced up and down like a yo-yo over the past year and a half. In 2005, for instance, CableLabs approved an unusually low three tech devices in the sluggish first wave, a hefty 17 products in the bustling second wave, and then just two devices in the quiet third wave, before receiving no vendor submissions in the fourth. The consortium then passed six, 16, three, and 16 new tech products, respectively, in the four latter rounds of the year.

But look for stronger results from CW #45, which started early last month and runs into mid-August. That's because this testing round covers devices seeking to comply with OpenCable specifications for digital video products, as well as gear aiming to meet PacketCable standards for voice-related gear, DOCSIS standards for high-speed data products, and CableHome standards for home networking equipment.

With the cable guys under increasing pressure from both satellite TV providers and telco TV players, vendors are scrambling to produce new, more advanced video products to aid the MSOs. Likewise, with many cable operators rolling out VOIP services right now, vendors are scrambling to produce new voice-related gear for the industry's growing deployment.

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