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Carrier WiFi

Cisco Meshes With Cable

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has introduced a WiFi-based mesh system designed to give cable operators the tools they need to offer mobile Internet services wherever they have plant installed.

The platform, called the Cisco Cable ServiceMesh, will target MSOs that are looking to offer such services in municipalities, tourism centers, and small businesses and universities. Cisco says the Aironet 1520 gear can be strand-mounted, meaning operators can install it without acquiring additional pole access rights.

In addition to providing Internet access to subscribers, Cisco says the system is also capable of supporting wireless backhaul applications.

Key components of the dual-band 802.11a/802.11b/g platform include the 1520 Series outdoor mesh access point, which houses a Docsis 2.0 interface, as well as a software-based control system that gives MSOs centralized access to WiFi network management and troubleshooting features. The Intelligent Services Gateway (ISG), meanwhile, handles "subscriber awareness" and other provisioning elements. The system, slated for commercial deployment in July, also incorporates Cisco's 7600 Series edge router.

Cisco, which will compete for cable dollars in this area against companies such as BelAir Networks Inc. and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), has secured tests with about a half dozen "major" cable operators, according to a Cisco spokesman.

Although it's not considered a major cable MSO, BendBroadband of Ore. is among the first to give the system a go.

BendBroadband is presently using Cisco's earlier generation 1510 technology in support of a WiFi-based product that gives customers wireless access for about $10 per day, or $28 for a week. The MSO is in the process of introducing Cisco's 1520 platform, according to Bob McWhorter, BendBroadband's network/systems engineering manager.

The decision to work with Cisco followed the MSO's earlier deployment using a home-grown WiFi system that was beset with problems. In addition to being unhappy with the overall performance, BendBroadband also experienced troubles on the backend for billing and accounting.

The Cisco platform, McWhorter says, gives the MSO the ability to provision customers and manage and monitor the service remotely. Upon Cisco's suggestion, BendBroadband is provisioning customers via a BroadHop Inc. -supplied service management engine (SME) that allows the MSO to offer pay-as-you-go services through credit card transactions. The SME also takes care of service authentication and ties everything back to BendBroadband's billing system.

Although BendBroadband is known to try new technologies and techniques ahead of some larger operators (i.e., it was early to deploy digital simulcast, and it is deploying fiber-to-the-premises in some greenfield opportunities), it is a lean operation.

"We have a limited number of staff. This [new Cisco platform] will allow us to deploy without adding staff just to do wireless," McWhorter says.

For phase one of the project, BendBroadband is replacing its legacy wireless system with Cisco's. Its earlier deployments covered the Redmond Fairground, as well as some indoor and outdoor WiFi access point installations in other parts of Redmond, Bend, and Sisters.

The operator is now beta testing the 1520 mesh system, which houses Docsis 2.0 support and can be installed wherever BendBroadband has plant. The MSO is starting integrations now and expects to buy more 1520s in July, McWhorter says.

He acknowledges that the wireless offering has not taken off like other services such as VOIP, but he adds that BendBroadband has not started marketing the service yet.

Still, the MSO is exploring ideas beyond pay-as-you-go Internet access. Those possibilities include serving business and municipal accounts. BendBroadband might also look at leveraging the service to support advanced parking meters and other systems that can leverage a wireless backhaul connection.

Because Cisco's system uses a mesh approach, customers should be able to roam from access point to access point and remain connected to the service much as they are today with cellular phone services.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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