Cable is by nature and origin a local industry. Economics and technology then turned local systems into regional and national networks. And some of that underlying technology is now becoming ever more global. Those trends are well-represented in development at EuroCableLabs, the consortium established in September 2004 by the European Cable Communication Association and a group of European MSOs to provide the region "with a centralized and consolidated organization to support the industry." Appointed ECL managing director last October, Niels-Kristian Hersoug has embraced those words of the group’s charter and become a catalyst for consolidation. "I’ve been very busy merging all the different cable-related activities into one organization," he said. Thus ECL is becoming a one-stop shop for European cable-related technical activities. At the same time, it is fostering global technology through a closer relationship with U.S.-based CableLabs. One renovated house In an interview last week, Hersoug reverted to an image he used at the 52nd annual ECCA Congress in Vienna, Austria, to describe the ECL venture, namely: a three-room house under construction. Hersoug says ECL’s new room, the "concept lab," is aimed at enabling the group "to investigate new concepts that have not rolled out to the industry." The other two rooms are pre-existing structures that are devoted, respectively, to the development of technical specifications, such as EuroDOCSIS, and to the testing and certification of equipment for compliance to those specs. While old, those two "rooms" have undergone recent renovations. In May, ECL itself signed on tComLabs as a testing subcontractor. That move completes a transition begun last summer when the Euro-Cable Certification Board, which had long managed such activities, changed its name to EuroCableLabs Certification Board and aligned itself with ECL. This transition is largely organizational. Ghent, Belgium-based tComLabs has been the industry’s independent test body ever since the EuroDOCSIS initiative took off with the backing of Telenet, Telewest and UPC in 2000, and certification remains in the same hands. "Mr. (Malcolm) Taylor is now working with EuroCableLabs, and he is still heading the certification work," Hersoug said. But organizational shifts matter. This one puts ECL (still headed, incidentally, by former Liberty Global CTO Sudhir Ispahani) in charge, making it arguably better positioned to align certification with emerging technology development and the roadmaps of its MSO members. CableLabs entente In a related move, Hersoug said that ECL has forged a closer relationship with CableLabs. "As we are now heading the certification work, EuroCableLabs needs to have a license contract with CableLabs, and we have that now," he said. CableLabs VP of Communications Michael Schwartz confirmed that an agreement was reached several weeks ago that gives ECL both more visibility and input into DOCSIS and PacketCable specifications before they become finished products and access to CableLabs’ test plans and scripts. Hersoug said the agreement was a "first step" toward aligning cable activities on both sides of the Atlantic. "So instead of having a U.S.-centric set of specs and a Euro- centric set of specs, we will go for global standards," he said. In practical terms, he said, ECL is invited to participate in CableLabs certification meetings, and vice versa. While significant, this agreement builds upon a pattern of increased cross-Atlantic collaboration. Last September, CableLabs and ECL jointly announced a EuroCableNet Pavillion as part of the Broadband World Forum, organized by the International Engineering Consortium, which took place in October in Madrid, Spain. And in an announcement from May 2005, CableLabs said that Jean Francois Mule, the lead architect for PacketCable, would not only begin focusing on enabling real-time IP communication services, but also that he would relocate to Europe to serve as CableLabs’ interface with the European CableLabs’ MSO members. DOCSIS 3.0, Yahoo! BB? So what technical work now falls within this new entente between CableLabs and ECL? "I think that the development of DOCSIS 3.0 is on that track," said Hersoug. "We have consolidated European input and fed them into the CableLabs specifications work. So to my knowledge, when that spec is released in the final version, the European requirements will be in there," he said. Given the frequency with which C-level European cable execs spoke about the 100+ Mbps potential of DOCSIS 3.0 at this year’s ECCA Congress, there is likely to have been some urgency mixed into the input that ECL provided to its partners in Louisville, CO. The announcement this week from Cisco Systems that Japan-based Yahoo! BB had deployed a 40 Gbps interface card on its Cisco Carrier Routing System (CRS-1) all the better to deliver IP-based TV services is another indication of the kind of competitive pressure that cable operators around the world are facing. (Yahoo! BB advertises 50 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, and 35+ TV channels, along with movies on demand.) Any efficiency won through nonredundant specification development efforts should redound to the benefit of the industry at large. -Jonathan Tombes

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