Policy + charging

Arris Makes 'Fair' Play

Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) has quietly joined the "Fair" club for cable operator suppliers.

Buried in its release announcing the demos and products Arris will feature at next week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, there was mention of a "Fair Bandwidth Management" tool that's designed to help operators "identify specific customer data usage levels that are causing [network] congestion." (See Arris to Show Off.)

Arris further notes that the system adjusts the speeds of some users without disrupting their applications, "while alleviating the congestion affecting all other customers online."

That, of course, sounds much like the way Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) CTO Tony Werner recently described the MSO's "protocol agnostic" bandwidth capacity management system, which, pending the results of some early trials, should be installed across the network by year-end. (See Comcast CTO: Manage People, Not Protocols.) Arris even goes so far as to call its product a "protocol agnostic tool."

Much of the heavy lifting of Arris's approach happens at the cable modem termination system (CMTS). But it also involves ServAssure, an OSS/Docsis management system Arris obtained via its acquisition of C-COR last year (C-COR originally snared it in July 2004 by purchasing a startup called Stargus Inc.), and Arris's own policy server, which also happens to fit into the CableLabs PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) architecture. (See Arris Sews Up C-COR.)

The system first determines whether there's congestion occurring on the network and, if so, figures out how full the pipe actually is. The next piece determines the usage of the customers on the network. The final component determines the service classes of those customers (read from modem boot files) and prioritizes traffic based on those parameters until the network has gotten past the congestion condition. The idea, explains Robert Cruickshank, Arris's VP of operations and business support strategies, is to manage the fewest number of people for as short a period as possible, "then disappear."

A streaming video, for example, should continue on unimpeded, but a big download might be slowed down.

Arris claims this capability isn't all that new at all. In fact, enabling a modem to know what to do when there's congestion on the network was addressed during the dawn of the Docsis platform in the mid-1990s, according to Cruickshank.

"This goes back to when we were designing the Docsis protocol at CableLabs," he says, noting that traffic prioritization already is applied to voice for Docsis 1.1 and PacketCable. "We knew this was coming. It was just a matter of when we would need it."

Consider it needed now, particularly after Comcast took several lumps to the head for its treatment and "throttling" of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, which precipitated its latest "protocol agnostic" moves. (See Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure.)

Cruickshank says Arris's Fair Bandwidth Management system is presently in a trial with an undisclosed larger cable operator.

Comcast did not respond for comment about the latest Arris product, but a company spokesman did note earlier this month that the MSO plans to use three different tech platforms for its first set of field trials. The first two are already underway in Chambersburg, Pa., and Warrenton, Va. A third, in Colorado Springs, is slated to come online later this summer. (See Comcast Ready to Test New Traffic Cop.)

With its latest product, Arris becomes the third "fair" card-carrying member from the cable vendor community. Camiant Inc. and Sandvine Inc. also have introduced bandwidth management products that appear to fit with Comcast's new approach. (See All's 'Fair' in Love & Bandwidth Management and Camiant Intros 'Fair Use' Bandwidth System.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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