This section of Communications Executive covers the most terrain, from optical backbones to DOCSIS access networks to overall systems and multi-service views of what MSOs are – or should be – delivering.

Touching several of these topics at once is Comcast Executive Vice President for National Engineering and Operations John Schanz. "In the networking area, we have our backbone in full production, we’re the first in the industry to deploy 40 Gig integrated optics into production, we are IPv6-ready, and we are ready to deploy DOCSIS 3.0 technology," he said. Backbone and DOCSIS Several other executives drill further into these networking topics. As for converged IP/GigE/optical networking, Mediacom’s Vice President of IP Networks Joe Selvage noted that while an internal backbone migration to 10 Gbps is ongoing, "these technologies promise to provide inexpensive capacity upgrades in the future."

Such comments from a tier-two MSO are telling and suggest how far from the optical hype of the bubble era we’ve come. "The acceptance and deployment (of these technologies) in the carrier networks provide us with inexpensive options that were unavailable just one to two years ago," Selvage said.

As for the industry’s high-speed data access technology, it’s not only Comcast that’s anticipating the DOCSIS 3.0 future. UPC Broadband Vice President for Design and Architecture Mourad Veeneman takes us back to Vienna, Austria, in 2005 for the Liberty Global company’s "first peek into downstream and upstream channel bonding."

A second trial conducted in September 2007 proved to Veeneman’s satisfaction that "speeds of up to 200 Mbps and beyond are now within reach over cable networks."

An interesting side note on two early adopters of channel bonding: Both Veeneman and Starhub President Mike Reynolds refer to content distribution networks that help bring the faster throughputs to life for subscribers. In the case of the Singapore-based Starhub, it was a matter of partnering with Limelight Networks to bring in content locally via what Starhub calls its Velocity program.

Veeneman said that to take advantage of the "dramatic data rates," UPC made available to field trial participants high-definition video content from sister company Chellomedia.

What other MSOs do with the increased throughput remains to be seen, although Selvage pointed to likely application in the SMB market. In any case, although deploying early versions of DOCSIS 3.0 proved "very tough" to Veeneman, the tiered certification process at CableLabs is underway. How smoothly 3.0 deployments roll out will be another question for observers in 2008. The proactive zone Yet another theme for 2008 is the continuing shift among operators into a smartly aggressive posture on preventive maintenance and service assurance. Rick Bernheim, general manager for JDSU’s cable networks business unit, pointed to "real-time VoIP services and intense competition" as the drivers behind serious PM and monitoring.

This hunger to move into a "proactive zone" appears to be real. "In the last 24 months or so, I have seen a significant change of focus in the industry from being primarily reactionary to becoming primarily pro-actionary," said Charter Communications Vice President Network Operations and Engineering Services Keith Hayes.

What does it take to get into that zone? Comcast’s Schanz said it’s the right mix of "technology, process and people."

Technology plays into "design, tools and metrics." As for process, one stipulation of the Schanz mix is that it be "lightweight, effective and focus you on what’s truly important." As it happens, that neatly describes the "health index" approach to operational metrics that Hayes himself has championed and describes further here.

But it’s the right culture of people that Schanz calls "the most important aspect." Noting how our talks with the leaders of Comcast Boston revealed a system "that had taken ownership of plant to a new level" but left us wondering if it were a statistical outlier, Schanz rattled off another eight markets "that are breaking the mold."

That’s an encouraging trend – and one worth following throughout the coming year.

 – Jonathan Tombes Cable Data Networking and Plant Executive Profiles RICK BERNHEIM, JDSU








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