Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Broadcom rolled out a number of new System-on-a-Chip (SoC) designs that promise to shrink cable modems and voice gateways, and lower the cost of reclaiming analog bandwidth.

On the data front, the BCM 3382 is Broadcom’s second-generation DOCSIS 3.0 SoC. It is a simpler design focused on data and voice. The previous chip in this family was designed to cover the range from simple data to advanced video gateways. In contrast, the BCM 3382 has been optimized for a very specific set of applications – high speed data and voice – which should help reduce the overall costs.

In addition, it replaces the dual 32-MHz tuners in the previous generation with a single 96-MHz tuner that allows 8-downstream and 4-upstream DOCSIS 3.0 channels. This will allow consumer services with speeds up to 400 Mbps downstream. It also promises to reduce overall power consumption by 20-30 percent.

Jay Kirchoff, senior director of marketing at Broadcom, expects to see the first commercial modems to be delivered this summer. The software is backwards compatible with its previous chips, so an operator will be able to use a single software image across older and newer modems and older ones built with the BCM 3380.

Jeff Heynen, directing analyst of broadband and video at Infonetics, said the biggest benefit of the new chips is the bonding support for eight channels.

“Cable operators are just in the first phase of getting CPE that does eight channels for DOCSIS 3.0," said Heynen.

Until now, the chips only supported four channels. [Ed note: the BCM 3380, introduced Jan 2009, also featured eight downstream channels.]

“You could argue that eight channels is overkill, but it will not be overkill for very long," said Heynen. "You just have to look at Moore’s law and trends toward bandwidth consumption.” 

As operators upgrade their networks to 1 GHz and support fewer homes per node they are increasing the capacity and potential service mix.

“These SoC designs point to the longer term trends of operators looking to add more channels and integrate these into more multifunction residential hybrid devices in the home," said Heynen. "We are at the first stage where SoC infiltrates the cable landscape.”

Cutting Conversion Cost

On another front, Broadcom announced the BCM 7572 single chip high-definition digital terminal adapter (HD-DTA), which promises to reduce the cost of converting consumers from analog to digital HD.

The DTA allows cable operators to convert the digital channels into an analog format before sending it to a TV. This is the first chip in the industry to combine HD video, an integrated 1 GHz cable tuner and HDMI in a single chip. Traditional DTAs have only allowed low-def video.

John Gleiter, senior director of marketing at Broadcom, said cable operators have three options to grow network capacity: increase the bandwidth, deploy switched digital video (SDV), or replace the analog channels. The last option promises the most cost-effective means

Cable operators across the United States have begun efforts to migrate consumers off analog services so they can reuse the bandwidth for more programming, video on demand (VOD) and faster data services.

Comcast has been one of the most aggressive with this type of migration with its Project Cavalry, aiming to reclaim the bandwidth from 40-50 channels.

The one challenge with this conversion process has been requirements for separable security for HD video. Cable operators have been complaining that this requirement is cost-prohibitive and are still waiting for a response from the FCC.

Gleiter said there is anticipation that a simplified version of cable card security will help allow the transition to HD video while keeping the costs of transition feasible.

– George Lawton

The Daily

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