Show focuses on cable modems

Show focuses on cable modems

George lawton

At the Western Cable Conference held recently in Anaheim, CA, more than 20 companies demonstrated high-speed cable modems, and about half of these companies are participating in cable-modem trials and deployments. Sponsored by the California Cable Television Association, the conference attracted more than 23,000 attendees, and exhibitors totaled 381 companies--both record-setting figures. In addition to cable modems, which attracted high interest, several manufacturers introduced an array of optical products.

To further facilitate widespread cable-modem deployment, CableLabs in Louisville, CO, has developed a cable interoperability standard specification, which was highlighted at the show. This specification establishes the basic building blocks of digital services and allows set-top terminals and data modems built by different manufacturers to interoperate on the same cable system.

According to James Chiddix, chief technical officer for Time Warner Cable, "This specification will advance the industry`s ability to deploy digital set-top boxes and cable modems in a cost-effective manner."

Significantly, more than 95 separate vendors have already signed on to work with the specification titled "Data Over Cable System Interface Access Agreement." The specifications apply to the manufacture of modems, headend equipment, and other related peripherals.

In another cable-modem development at the conference, Scientific-Atlanta Inc., based in Atlanta, GA, has dropped the price of its dataXcellerator cable modem to $199 each, when purchased in 50,000-unit quantities. Although the modems are yet not shipping, they are priced much lower than other similar products, which sell in the $400 range.

Time Warner in New York City is ready to roll out its next-generation interactive cable services, called Pegasus. The company plans to purchase one million digital set-top boxes over the next several years--550,000 units from Scientific-Atlanta and the others produced by Toshiba, Irvine, CA, and Pioneer, Long Beach, CA, under a license with Scientific-Atlanta.

A key element of this modem growth is deployment of hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable (HFC) networks used to deliver high-speed services such as digital TV. Chiddix at Time Warner says that most of the company`s systems support 750 MHz of bandwidth. He also claims that Time Warner has bidirectional support on one-third of the 18 million homes passed by year-end 1996. And by the end of 1997, half of its homes passed have will have such connections, according to Chiddix. Not to be outdone, US West Media Group, which partially owns Time Warner, says that it has ordered a half-million digital set-top boxes from General Instrument.

However, with all this interest about deploying infrastructure for new services, the largest cable-TV operator, TeleCommunication Inc. (TCI), Denver, is holding back deployment of new infrastructure. Just before the conference, the company laid off about 2500 employees and greatly reduced the number of technical equipment buyers going to the conference.

In a conference keynote presentation, John Malone, TCI`s chairman and chief executive, explained, "We have a lot of money in deploying early trials for high-speed data and residential telephony. We want to cost out those deployments, do the cost-expenditure numbers, and decide where and how rapidly we will roll out those services."

Also at the conference, Frank Intiso, president of the California Cable-TV Association, said the cable-TV industry would be able to deliver full-service networks in the next decade. "Despite what our critics believe, cable will deliver a full-service menu," he stated.

New product developments

During the conference, the CableNet Exhibition showcased the latest in high technology for the cable-TV industry. Exhibit space occupied more than 5000 square feet and included demonstrations for high-speed cable, telephony, education, the Internet, and network/customer management.

Modem activity in the CableNet space involved some 20 companies, including Bay Network`s LANcity Div., which connected cable modems in 18 different booths, according to Bruce Sachs, executive vice president and general manager of Bay`s Internet/Telecom Business Unit.

LANcity also announced a 35,000-unit order from Cox Communications Inc., and showed a "cable-modem six-pack" starter kit designed for smaller operators to dive into high-speed trials for $9995. Despite the adrupt resignation of LANcity founder, Rouzbeh Yassini (see Lightwave, November 1996, page 10), Bay still plans to become the first maker with a product that complies with the cable interoperability standard specification that came out of the show.

For example, Racal-Datacom, in Sunrise, FL, demonstrated how its PremNet broadband-access system could be used to set up community video and data networks over a cable-TV operator`s dark fiber. Racal showed how it could be used by a teacher to deliver classes and notes to other schools.

Another cable-modem pioneer, Hybrid Networks Inc., said it plans to team up with Sharp Corp. and Itochu Corp., which owns parts of Toshiba Corp. and Time Warner Cable, for the design, manufacture, and distribution of modems. Sharp plans to license Hybrid`s cable-modem technology, and Itochu plans to assist with distribution.

Motorola`s Multimedia Group received orders from US West Inc.`s MediaOne system, in addition to Cox and other international operators. Motorola executives also discussed plans to license its Cybersurfr modem technology.

Hewlett-Packard Co., announced a manufacturing and marketing partnership with Nokia under which Nokia will brand and distribute HP`s line in Europe. HP also announced orders from Helsinki Television Ltd. for 10,000 units, plus orders from Cox and four Japanese cable operators.

CableLabs, Louisville, CO, demonstrated the CW Tester, a platform for characterizing the return path of a cable system by recording the changes to a continuous-wave carrier sent up an HFC network. The system comes with a data browser that summarizes results and derives statistics from the collected data.

Pirelli Cables, Lexington, SC, demonstrated a set of fiber-optic connectors for making changes in network configurations. Pirelli initially tried getting into this market several years ago, but got out when demand did not match expectations. This time, the company feels more confident that there is a need, particularly with companies looking at how to roll out services on their existing fiber. New products in this lineup include SC and FC cable assemblies, fiber management systems, drop cables, and plenum interconnect and distribution cables.

Harmonic Lightwaves, Santa Clara, CA, has expanded its offerings of 1550-nm fiber-optic equipment for the cable-TV industry. At the show, Harmonic demonstrated the HLT 7706, a 1550-nm laser transmitter that delivers 6 mW of output power for distances to 50 km.

To accommodate bidirectional cable networks, Harmonic offers a return-path laser, the RPR-2210. The head-end receiver for this unit can receive signals from 20 lasers in three rack units of space. This system also supports path redundancy to improve reliability.

Despite widespread interest in 1550-nm technology, Ortel Corp., Alhambra, CA, remains convinced that there is still a big market for 1310-nm equipment. Bob Jordan, Ortel`s vice president and business manager of broadband communications, notes, "We are convinced that HFC and 1310-nm technology are a cost-effective solution."

ADC Telecommunications Inc., Minneapolis, MN, demonstrated the ISX3 line of return-path fiber-optic transmitters. This line achieves low cost by multiplexing signals from as few as two coaxial cables onto a single fiber, whereas the older versions multiplex the signals from four coaxial cables onto a fiber at higher cost.

As cable-TV operators begin to deploy more-sensitive equipment, they will need to begin worrying about the polarization of the signals running through their fiber. To address this need, fons Corp., Northborough, MA, is broadening its line of singlemode products to support polarization-maintaining cable assemblies, adapters, splicing, and pigtailing services.

Antec Corp., Rolling Meadows, IL, demonstrated several product enhancements to the Laser Link II 1310-nm family of optical transmitters and receivers. Enhancements include dual RF input transmitters, 50- to 870-MHz expanded bandwidth options, high-power downstream transmitter options and double-density return-path receivers. q

George Lawton writes from Brisbane, CA.

More in Network Design