The Electronic House Expo (EHX) held in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 24-26 provided fresh evidence that that cable will have to carve out its own niche in an already large market. While cable has been focused on communications applications that extend Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) and PacketCable into subscribers’ residences, other industries have been entering the home via home theater, lighting and security. Each market contender is aiming for a piece of the other’s pie, and cable has an opportunity to leverage its expertise in broadband signal distribution to stake its claim on "cable’s last frontier." The systems integrator

The focal point in the home networking industry is the systems integrator who works with residential developers and homeowners to match a homeowner’s environment to a homeowner’s needs. Approximately 1,000 systems integrators attended EHX to interact with distributors and to attend vendor-delivered training. The integrator purchases systems and components from distributors who work directly with vendors to provide multi-sourcing and inventory management. Lowest cost procurement, often more than highest quality, is critical to the relationships between integrators, distributors and developers because home networking competes with refrigerators, stoves and low-margin option items in the home-buying mix. Because of these issues, many cable operators are developing strategies that focus on revenue generation from applications and network maintenance, rather than hardware and component sales or even installation fees. The problem, however, is that emerging broadband applications such as streaming video may not perform without components that meet Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers standards. In addition, even for simple signal distribution within a home, a cable operator will need to address signal leakage from inferior components. The structured wiring products on the EHX show floor, including jacks, plugs, cable, cross-connection points, splitters, amplifiers, routers and entrance service boxes, illustrated the vulnerability of a home networking strategy that avoids direct involvement with integrators. Basic connectivity

Consider the F-connector, where connectivity begins. "The only acceptable standard for the center conductor in emerging broadband applications is a 360-degree seizing insert, which must hold up to 200 grams of pull when it’s extracted," says Steve Brazil, president of the Home Networking Depot and longtime cable veteran. Yet many of the low-cost F conductors "provide only two points of contact for the center conductor, which will lead to oxidation and corrosion, causing major signal degradation," says Brazil. Inferior connectivity impacts not only cross-connection points, but also inputs and outputs of active components. Leakage from active components can also be a problem. Recent regulatory rulings confirm that cable companies are responsible for correcting signal leakage, even if it is due to subscriber equipment. Systems integrators often use lower cost amplifiers and splitters in structured wiring systems. The cable operator must then either disconnect the subscriber or correct the problem by replacing the active. On-Q, Leviton, USTech, Unicom and GE were among vendors displaying structured wiring systems at EHX. Addressing mid-range and high-end housing developments, On-Q and Leviton account for approximately 70 percent of the sales dollars for structured wiring in the United States. Of the two, only On-Q has standardized components that meet SCTE specifications across their entire product line. US Tech is also fully compliant. HD and Firewire

Two companies displayed products that improve HDTV signals within home distribution networks. Algolith showed its currently available Mosquito 3D Noise reducer, and Belkin previewed its RazorVision in-line adapter. Both products analyze video signals at the pixel level to remove artifacts introduced by compression or signal degradation. Generally used with satellite systems, these products could be used with cable to correct the effects of substandard components in home wiring, but price ($2,500 for the Mosquito) will limit their use. The IEEE 1394 (FireWire) standards group used the show as a platform to campaign for an increased role as a broadband communications premises standard. The group is hoping that a forthcoming generation of wall jacks that adapt 1394 to CAT-5 wiring media will drive renewed interest in its Ethernet over CAT-5 twisted-pair solution. Ì -Jay Junkus How much money are you paying the LECs? ENUM (tElephone Number Mapping) can help keep voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls on cable’s private IP networks and off the public switched telephone network (PSTN). ENUM is the IP version of the telco-based Signaling System 7 (SS7), a telecommunications protocol used to offload PSTN data traffic congestion onto a wireless or wireline digital broadband network so that one telephone company knows that a number is valid and a call can go through. With ENUM, an IP call initiated by one cable subscriber to another cable subscriber-conceivably even another MSO-would be identified and moved the cable networks without touching the public phone network. Right now when a call is made on a cable system, the information goes to the PSTN where a look-up determines the call’s status and "every time the look-up is done, we pay money to the LECs (local exchange carreriers)," says Steve Craddock, Comcast‘s senior vice president for new business development. "There’s extraordinary value to us in doing that for peering and getting the information back without having to pay the LECs," Craddock says. Secrets and third parties

There are also hassles. Phone numbers-and the IP addresses to which they’re attached-are well-guarded secrets. The organization that stores and authorizes the numbers would have to be trusted. If cable doesn’t figure a way to do the number storage itself, "it might be a third party, a NeuStar or a VeriSign … somebody that would have a good enough relationship with the LECs that it’s not (woorisome) to interface with them," Craddock says. NeuStar admits to having conversations with the cable industry and being in good standing in the existing telecom space. "We have very strict policies and procedures about how we operate that. It’s a very necessary evil these days when you have to share information among multiple companies for them to interoperate, and that is what NeuStar is in the business of doing," says Tom McGarry, vice president of technical issues for NeuStar. Sense of urgency

ENUM would be an element in what is increasingly becoming a virtual private network (VPN) among MSOs. "The cable companies are incented to share traffic among themselves and keep it off the public switched network so they don’t give money to their main competitors … the telephone companies," McGarry says. It is, says Craddock, important to start resolving the issue now. "It’s an extraordinarily high priority for our industry to figure out and figure out soon," he says. "You really want to do this on your own." -Jim Barthold

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