HFC network delivers integrated cable TV plus telephony

HFC network delivers integrated cable TV plus telephony

BEN HARRISON

Atlanta-based Cox Communications, the fifth-largest cable-TV operator in the U.S., is testing delivery of residential telephone services over its hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable (HFC) network in San Diego using the telephony-over-cable system of Tellabs Operations Inc., Bolingbrook, IL. The network includes 1660 fiber-miles and 5058 cable-miles and serves more than 466,000 subscribers.

Technical trials began in April and extend through June to test delivery of integrated cable-TV and telephony services. After the trial is completed, Cox plans to roll out service to more than 500 homes as part of a larger trial aimed at refining the company`s marketing of telephony services delivered over its cable-TV network. These services include direct-dial local and long-distance calling, custom calling features, operated-assisted and other services for approximately 25 single-family residences.

Commenting on trends for cable telephony trials, Joel Jakubson, vice president of Ryan Hankin Kent Inc. in San Francisco, says, "These trials are moving beyond multidwelling applications and are beginning to address single-family units, where noise problems in the upstream path will intensify as more homes are served with two-way services. The outcome of trials such as this one is critical to the future deployments of telephony over cable systems.

"It remains to be seen how well cable telephony competes for the multiple system operators` [MSOs] capital expenditure dollars, compared with other services such as wireless telephony and data services via cable modems. Because some of the MSOs have spent so many billions of dollars on licenses for [personal communications services] networks that need to be built in the next few years, the roll-out of wireline telephony may take a back seat," Jakubson observes.

According to David Woodrow, senior vice president for broadband services at Cox Communications, "This communications model offers a wide variety of video and telecommunications services packaged together."

Remote service units

Jon C. Grimes, vice president and general manager of the Tellabs Network Access Systems Division, says his company`s Cablespan system "provides Cox with the right product to successfully compete in the local service area." He explains that Cablespan remote service units provide integrated delivery of cable-TV and telephony services over a standard coaxial-cable drop at the subscriber`s home (see figure). The units are installed outside each subscriber`s home and serve as a standard network interface device for termination of the customer`s cable-TV and telephone service. Customers are not expected to see any changes in the way their TV or telephone services operate.

Nevertheless, Andy Paff, president and chief executive of Integration Technologies, a consulting company in Englewood, CO, says, "Telephony and data applications will require some upgrade to the HFC network." He explains that the nature of telephony service calls for plant and building upgrades: "All of the telephony HFC providers are doing essentially the same thing," but each has one or two special features. "For example," Paff says, "Tellabs` multiple dwelling unit/business server is a nice feature, integrated with the residential system."

According to Wayne Partington, Tellabs` group product manager for Cablespan, "We are on track with our technical test-plant trials, and the subsequent marketing trials with Cox are slated for late summer. We see these tests as another validation for HFC networks to deliver two-way interactive systems. Future plans call for us to make volume deployments and continue to strengthen the company`s position with MSOs," he says.

Partington notes that Tellabs` major competitors are Northern Telecom`s Cornerstone product and Motorola`s Cablecom offering. "Competing with giants is not new for Tellabs," Partington observes. "[Company] size does not always equate to product superiority or mobility."

However, Mitchell Shapiro, an industry analyst based in Encinitas, CA, questions if Tellabs will be able to compete with the giants. "Tellabs is early on for market trials, but the size of the potential market raises the issue of whether Tellabs is capable of large-scale telephony-over-cable deployment," Shapiro says. "Establishing a lead position can be erased when large companies go after a market."

Traver Kennedy, director of wide area network research worldwide for the Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc., agrees with Shapiro. He says, "Both Motorola and Northern Telecom have the experience and heritage to delivery quality, cost-effective solutions.

"We need to remember that success will be measured by long-term customer loyalty, not by the early switchover of the Baby Bells and disenchanted customers. The cable-TV industry needs to continue concentrating on building an image of being a responsive, secure, dependable telephony service provider. Ultimately, this is a marketing as well as a technical exercise," Kennedy observes.

Cox Communications is the sixth cable operator to select Tellabs` Cablespan system for testing the deployment of cable telephony services. Cox has investments in the Sprint Telecommunications Venture--an alliance of three cable companies and the Sprint Corp.--to develop advanced telephony services. Cox also has links with Teleport, a major competitive access provider.

Of those six operators, Time Warner Communications, Adelphia, TeleWest and Viacom Cable are still evaluating the Tellabs` system. Time Warner, the first cable-TV company in the U.S. to deliver commercial residential telephone service, is also using the Cablespan system to serve more than 1000 customers in Rochester, NY.

San Diego field trials

In the San Diego field trials, the Cablespan system transforms cable-TV-based HFC networks into fully interactive telecommunications networks. Seamlessly integrated with new or existing cable-TV infrastructures, the system leverages the operator`s investment in a video-distribution network.

No special hub divider, fiber node or headend equipment is required. Telephony services can be added on a per-subscriber basis. At the headend or central office, a host digital terminal (HDT) interfaces the public network to the broadband cable-TV network and converts digital telephony signals into a spectrally compatible radio- frequency format. Downstream telephony signals are combined with video signals and then transmitted over the HFC network toward remote subscriber locations.

Telephony is received and demodulated at the subscriber location by a remote service terminal or unit. Telephony information from the subscriber is sent upstream toward the headend by means of the reverse path, enabling delivery of interactive services.

A family of remote service units delivers integrated cable-TV and telephony services over a standard coaxial-cable drop at the subscriber`s location. Available in single-line and multiline versions, these units accommodate standard telephone service, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), local area networking to the home and other data services. Service and application modules allow remote service terminals to support 672 voice and data circuits, including standard telephone, Centrex, special services, ISDN, T1 and E1.

The remote service unit is designed for installation on the customer`s premises. Either inside or outside unit placement is available, with a choice of network or local power. A single connection to the cable-TV network is all that is needed to deliver cable-TV and telephony services. q

Tellabs Acquires Wireless Communications Systems Provider

Tellabs of Lisle, IL, has acquired Steinbrecher Corp., a provider of wideband wireless communications systems, for approximately $76 million. Currently employing more than 130 people at its Burlington, MA, headquarters, Steinbrecher will become the home of the Tellabs Wireless Systems Division.

Commenting on the acquisition, Peter A. Guglielmi, president of Tellabs International, says, "Demand for telecommunications in the newly industrialized nations of the world has never been stronger. Tellabs and Steinbrecher have combined resources to help speed deployment of wireless telephone service in countries where improvement in communications is a keystone for future economic growth."

Initial efforts are directed toward Latin America and the Pacific Rim. Development of the Minicell family of cellular base-station products for public indoor microcell and wireless local loop is being completed now, with the product expected to go into field trial next winter. Other radio base-station products address cellular digital-packet data applications.

Minicell products allow radio base stations to be easily adapted to the different frequency bands and modulation formats used in public and private wireless services. "Our strategy has been to leverage our expertise in wideband radio systems to provide innovative radio solutions for cellular operators," says R. Douglas Shute, president and chief executive of Steinbrecher. "Our technology, combined with Tellabs global reach and array of transmission products, creates a potent industry force."

Tellabs President and Chief Executive Michael J. Birck says, "Synergy between the Minicell base station and Tellabs` flagship Titan and Martis DXX systems will expand Tellabs` ability to address the worldwide market for communications infrastructure equipment."

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