Cable operators are facing competition—and some optimists hope cooperation—from a three-legged broadband wireless industry as it positions itself for a move into the wireless space. WiMAX is getting an unprecedented groundswell of support, particularly from Intel, but its mobile specification is unlikely to be nailed down before late next year or early 2007. Time division code division multiple access (TD-CDMA) is supported primarily by IPWireless and for now sports an international flavor, although the company recently announced a trial with Nextel in the Washington, D.C., area. Then there’s Flarion. The company’s fast low-latency access with seamless handoff orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (FLASH-OFDM) technology, which originated in the late 1990s in Bell Labs, is now in trials with Japan Telecom and Tohoku University’s Research Center for seamless roaming and handoff between fixed Wi-Fi and mobile broadband. "Very often, people just lump all of us together in the same bucket, but very much we are deployed in different spectrum than IPWireless and WiMAX" in the 2.5 GHz range, said Ronny Haraldsvik, Flarion’s vice president of global communications and marketing. "They’re probably competing against each other vs. Flarion, which for the most part comes up against (mostly Qualcomm-based) CDMA DO (data only)" in the sub-2 GHz range. The 700 MHz spectrum The cable industry is paying attention to Flarion’s 700 MHz expertise because that spectrum, closely held by broadcasters, public safety and some licensed holders, could spring loose for auction in the next couple years. "There is going to be a lot of 700 MHz spectrum available," Haraldsvik said. The broadcasters, by law, have until 2006 to let go of it, and when they do, "700 is prime real estate for mobility and rural broadband penetration and in-building penetration." Cable operators might more easily enter into wireless via 700 MHz because the traditional cell carriers are already heavily invested in other spectrum. That leaves cable pretty much competing with the likes of T-Mobile, which trails other U.S. carriers in the amount of spectrum it holds in the auctions. Another wild card in this play is that T-Mobile is considered by many to be an acquisition target for some cable operator or consortium of operators. That scenario leaves vendors like Flarion telling T-Mobile and the cable operators about how to use FLASH-OFDM in the 700 MHz space. "We’ve probably been in talks with cable MSOs for the last 18 months," Haraldsvik said. "They have not been sitting still in this game. They have been looking at MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) opportunities, partnership opportunities, M&A opportunities. There’s a lot going on, and where it looks like chaos, there are a lot of opportunities." Moving targets Flarion must differentiate itself from the other players in the broadband wireless space while simultaneously distancing itself from the mobile third generation (3G) plays. But it cannot lose sight of what’s going on with other broadband wireless players. "All of these technologies are going to have to work together," Haraldsvik said. "Can Flarion be WiMAX in the future? Yes, but we’re not going to give away our technology." In the meantime, he said, Flarion is the place to look "when it comes to mobile broadband data, IP (Internet protocol) and where everything is headed. We’re OFDM-based for more distance, capacity and triple play services. If anything, we are now at the stage where our technology is being commercialized, being adopted country by country." That’s the case in Japan where the trial will use the 2 GHz band to verify high-speed Internet access and seamless roaming as well as mobile-to-fixed handoff with wireless local area networks (WLANs) using 802.11b/g/a (Wi-Fi) standards and FLASH-OFDM to create a seamless broadband experience with average downstream speeds between 1 and 1.5 Mbps, peaking at 3.2 Mbps and 300-500 Kbps upstream. Jim Barthold There’s a big case for smaller solutions Today’s cable headend—or telecommunications center—is a busy space. For all the talk of convergence, there is no one box that can do it all. The separate demands of deploying voice, data and video have created daunting demands for rack space in these buildings, whatever they’re called. Even operators with brand-new facilities built to withstand five years of expansion are vigilant about space. Granted, vendors have talked product density and integration for years, but while walking this year’s Cable-Tec Expo show floor, you were likely enough to hear even more focused talk about how to optimize and/or reclaim headend real estate. All-digital and space In the ongoing move toward an all-digital video offering, for instance, operators will need to deploy additional encoding and multiplexing gear, while preserving space and—one hopes—video quality. At any rate, that’s the idea that EGT has in mind with its soon-to-be unveiled, four-channel, "premium" Encore encoder product with embedded muliplexer. "Most encoders that are high density tend not to be premium quality," Chad Hardigree, EGT manager of marketing and communications, says. "The legacy solution is a single encoder, especially at that quality." The asynchronous serial interface (ASI)-to-digital headend expansion interface (DHEI) MPEG-2 adapter from WooshCom also falls into the space-saving category. This "miniature" device enables conversion to ASI at the rear of DHEI equipment "without consuming precious rack space," the company says. This device promises not only to eliminate "awkward" DHEI cables, but also achieve remultiplexing efficiencies for operators now moving to simultaneous transmission of all-digital and analog lineups. High and "ultra" dense Times Fiber is singing a similar tune. "Our traditional offering of coaxial cable is expanding to encompass exciting new designs, for example: smaller form-factor, high-performance cables used in space-limited, high-density headend environments," says Alan Amato, director of engineering for Times-Fiber Amphenol. Active on the SCTE Interface Practices Subcommittee (and the inaugural recipient of the SCTE Excellence in Standards Award), Amato notes that Working Group 3 is in the final stages of developing a new standard, IPS-SP-008, a specification for braided 75 ohm, mini-series broadband coaxial cable. Another example of this trend comes from PCI, whose Maxnet II RF and optical signal management gear tout its "ultra-dense" platform and use of its own "miniature coaxial cable" as ways to cure the "headend blues. "Based on legacy management solutions, you can save over 200 percent rack space with this platform," says Ruth Lee, VP marketing of PCI’s parent company, the ATX Group. Jonathan Tombes

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