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Go for the Bronze!

Jeff Baumgartner

Which will be the first cable modem termination system (CMTS) vendors to win the coveted Docsis 3.0 bronze medal? We could have an answer by late this year, even though this sounds as if we're talking about a race for third place. But that's not really the case.

If you missed it, CableLabs made an important announcement this week that will speed up the development of the equipment that makes Docsis 3.0 tick. That means modems and CMTSs made to handle IPv6, faster data (in excess of 100 Mbit/s), IP multicast, and a laundry list of other elements, including enhanced security and network management. (See CableLabs Accelerates Docsis 3.0 Testing .)

In addition to participating in some coming interops, vendors will be gearing up in the literal and figurative sense for Certification Wave 57, scheduled to get underway in early October. Results should be known before year's end.

If things shake out as expected, we could see real 3.0 deployments that use CableLabs-approved gear by the middle of 2008, if not a shade earlier.

While modems based on 3.0 will be tested top to bottom, CMTSs, the more complicated component of the Docsis architecture, will have the ability to obtain 3.0 qualifications while other core and not-so-core features are phased in.

No one is willing to give an on-the-record account of the primary features covered by each "tier" of the new Docsis 3.0 testing regimen, but our MSO sources indicate that it looks something like this:

Table 1: Docsis 3.0 CMTS Testing Tiers

Level Key Features Supported
Bronze Downstream channel bonding and IPv6
Silver Upstream channel bonding; Advanced Encryption System (AES)
Full Everything else under the Docsis 3.0 sun
Source: Cable Digital News research

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) have confirmed they plan to submit their respective flagship CMTS products – the Cisco uBR10012 and Motorola BSR64000 – for "Bronze" testing in Wave 57. Other likely candidates that will be gunning for that wave include Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), and Casa Systems Inc. , an up-and-comer based in Andover, Mass.

The tiered system will make it easier for these vendors to obtain all-important CableLabs qualifications, ratchet up deployment cycles, and ensure that vendors eventually support the whole 3.0 enchilada

While this is a compromise, it's certainly a welcome one from the vendors' point of view.

Manufacturers have privately complained about the sheer size of Docsis 3.0, with some referring to it as a "kitchen sink" spec. For them, it's just too much to implement and still hit time frames that operators want. There are four published specs for 3.0. Combined, they add up to close to 1,800 pages of documentation.

I sifted through most of them late last year, and I am happy to report that, not only did I survive the exercise, but the eye bleeding that followed finally subsided on the first day of spring.

The other good news about this tiering compromise is its uniform blessing of CableLabs and its MSO membership.

This is an important, considering how well other Docsis-related compromises – and early, proprietary plays – have fared over the years.

Before approved Docsis 1.1 gear came on the scene, Cisco took a stab at what was then termed unofficially as Docsis 1.0 "plus." Docsis 1.0 is "best effort," but the "plus" included a proprietary piece that provided QOS for simple VOIP applications. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. dabbled with it, but "plus" didn't amount to much.

Terayon Communication Systems Inc. jumped the gun in the early part of the decade with what it referred to as Docsis 1.2, believing (and apparently leading others to believe) that its S-CDMA technology would be a key part of a spec that, as it turned out, was never to be. S-CDMA later became part of Docsis 2.0, but, following lawsuits over the 1.2 claims, the damage was done.

Then, more recently, there was Docsis 2.0b, which never gained formal acceptance at CableLabs. That concept, which originated with a set-top chip from Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) that bonds three downstream 6MHz channels (Docsis 3.0 calls for a minimum of four), isn't getting much support as a stand-alone cable modem technology because of fears that widespread adoption of it could slow Docsis 3.0 development to a crawl.

But, now, with harmonized support of the tiered approach, Docsis 3.0 development appears to be on a much faster track and should jump-start the industry's introduction of high-speed Internet services that will compete head-to-head with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and other fiber-to-the-home competition.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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