This year’s National Show revealed an industry reaching beyond its traditional boundaries. That elasticity was visible on the high-level panels, as well as in technical sessions on cable’s evolving network. The opening panel on Sunday afternoon, for instance, included only one operator, Cablevision Systems COO Tom Rutledge—two if you count Charter Communications Chairman Paul Allen. But lots of energy emanated from the two genuine outliers: Yahoo! Co-founder Jerry Yang and Electronic Arts EVP and Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon. Sparks flew when Bing challenged cable to build an upgraded version of broadband within five years. Rutledge countered by saying the upgrade is done and more than sufficient. For his part, Yang noted that young consumers, when asked, say they would give up the TV set before the personal computer (PC) or cell phone and that the cell phone trumps the PC because it has Internet access. To the industry’s credit, efforts to cross industries, demographics and technologies are well underway. But accommodating wireless telephony and numerous other applications entails considerable work on the network—that expanding, converging and increasingly interconnected system of nodes, hubs, headends, and whatever lies beyond the next interface or protocol. Likewise, the in-home or premises network is breaking new ground. That twofold theme of networking encompasses much of the technology seen and talked about at this year’s show. Talkin’ bout the next generation Some 12 months ago, it was still difficult to get anyone in the industry to speak publicly about anything pertaining to next generation network architecture (NGNA)—at least as it pertained to the Comcast/Time Warner/Cox-led initiative that has since migrated to CableLabs. This year, there was an entire panel dedicated to these four letters, or more specifically new network topologies, alternatives to the prevailing cable modem termination system (CMTS) infrastructure and innovative approaches to bandwidth management. Cisco Systems Distinguished Engineer John Chapman discussed the modular CMTS architecture, where the physical (PHY) layer consisting of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) devices and upconverters is separated from the media access control (MAC) layer, and upstream and downstream channels are configured independently. Keeping the MAC inside the CMTS allows reuse of existing Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) software and provides a hardware element that can rate-shape the flow of all packets to each QAM device to avoid output queue overflow for the separate edge-QAM entity. Making the concept workable also requires an external timing signal generator and a new downstream RF interface specification. Separation of the PHY layer is an evolution of the edge-QAM network element that is already deployed for the video on demand (VOD) market. The motivation for this separation is twofold: cheaper downstream channels and the potential for bandwidth aggregation up to 1 Gbps per downstream channel under a wideband bonding protocol. The PHY edge-QAM device typically has one or more Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) inputs coming in and multiple QAM modulators and RF upconverters on the output. An edge resource manager allocates QAM resources to either VOD or DOCSIS applications via an edge resource manager interface (ERMI), and an RF switch provides QAM redundancy. Savings, movies, standards One advantage of this overall approach is bandwidth efficiency. In a separate analysis, Bruce Thompson, Cisco technical leader, showed how dynamic resource sharing between VOD and DOCSIS services could result in up to a 20 percent savings in required plant bandwidth. Flexible service creation is another advantage. Broadcom Principal Engineer Scott Cummings expanded on the modular CMTS concept by showing how services could easily be added if resource management were also removed from the CMTS and placed inside a new system resource manager. Under this vision, it becomes possible to use a two-way capable, DOCSIS set-top gateway (DSG) as a customer premises equipment (CPE) interface to provide the capability to direct information from application-specific servers to particular CPE devices. Channel bonding and 1,024-QAM would enhance the network structure, providing the ability to download a feature-length movie in around three minutes. New Internet protocol (IP)-based services, such as video over IP, are driving NGNA. Timothy O’Keefe, AT&T Labs director of IP services planning, pointed out that a significantly larger amount of content can be delivered over IP, but issues such as network reliability and quality of service (QoS) must be addressed and solved to make this happen. The ideal network will combine multicast IP, virtual private network (VPN), multi-protocol label switching with traffic engineering (MPLS-TE), and QoS packet marking, O’Keefe said. To make this possible, however, changes still need to be made by standards groups, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force. An MPLS vision Convergence is another theme that falls under the next-gen heading. Charter Director of Advanced Network Engineering Michael Emmendorfer shared the vision and plan driving the implementation of what Charter calls a converged data network architecture (CDNA). Three fundamental types of convergence lie behind Charter’s migration to CDNA: convergence of services, of network layers, and to a virtual core backbone using MPLS VPN technology. The tactical implementation is a seven-stage process. The first stage is to increase the functionality of the current CMTS infrastructure with software enhancements. This is to be followed by converged IP distribution for all services. Next, optical transport will be changed to remove synchronous optical network (SONET) and migrate to transponder and muxponder technology. Bandwidth and security management to prevent network attack and abuse are part of the plan and are being developed simultaneously with other stages. Charter then will add a virtual national MPLS-based backbone and go to an ITU dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) access layer with reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexing (ROADM) technology. The third-generation CMTS platform described by Chapman and Cummins completes the process. Premises-based networking Those peering into the next generation of networking also have their sights trained on the customer premises. As it now stands, there are three basic approaches to home networks that can carry cable-generated high-speed data and entertainment video throughout the premises: in-home coaxial networks, in-home electrical wiring, and wireless or Wi-Fi networks. All approaches, proponents say, have their advantages. At the technical session sub-titled “Next-Gen Schemes for In-Home Services,” those proponents also said all approaches have challenges to overcome. No matter the advantage or challenge, everyone on the panel was sure of one thing: An increasing convergence of voice, video and data services throughout the modern cable home will demand some form of network transport within that home. And the pipe better be big enough to handle lots of data, including increasing quantities of high definition TV (HDTV). Home-net telephony One emerging need for home networking will be driven by telephony—including the growing possibility that cable operators will merge some form of wireless telephony into the landline connection “to provide a quadruple play to compete with the telcos,” said Jay Strater, senior systems engineer for Motorola’s Broadband IP Solutions Group. (For more on cable’s work on fixed/mobile convergence, see sidebar 2.) Strater suggested that a combination mobile and fixed wireless device—cellular/Wi-Fi, for instance—could be used to help cable control the voice space. The device would allow the user to migrate from a wider cellular network into the home, where it would switch to an in-house fixed wireless/Wi-Fi—network. To operate this effectively, he said, “You have to be careful in the design to get an acceptable battery life” since Wi-Fi is notorious for drawing down batteries. Additionally, he said, a wireless home network for voice or data comes replete with “end-to-end” security issues and the inherent problems of voice over IP (VoIP) services for network address translation (NAT) and firewall traversal. Providers, he said, would “need to have some kind of translation techniques.” Tony Andruzzi, engineering director for Arris, said the priority now was building a cable telephony infrastructure—including networked phones—that replace the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC). “Product cost is basically the most important feature for the MSOs,” Andruzzi said. “It’s also the biggest challenge for engineers.” Home Plug, MOCA Another challenge for engineers is transporting data around the house to make those phones ubiquitous—along with other cable-driven devices, including computers, digital audio and video. Haniph Latchman, an industry consultant and founding member of the Home Plug Alliance, suggested that the in-home electrical wiring can handle the load. “You basically have 100 percent coverage in the house (and), unlike Wi-Fi, never hit bottom (of the bandwidth capability) or lose connection,” Latchman said. “This is a tremendous capability that should not be ignored but should be used now.” Currently, Home Plug offers about 8 Mbps of data throughput throughout the house, but “chipsets are being locked down and hardware built” to generate 100 Mbps for transporting bandwidth hogs like HDTV, he said. “We can actually now do HDTV over electrical wires.” The most reasonable way to transport huge amounts of data throughout the house is to use the biggest pipe, said Ladd Wardani, president of the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance. He conceded that there is “no 100 percent solution,” but said that MOCA was tested in a plug-and-play trial in 15 cities with excellent results. “This was a `take it home, plug it in, see if it works,'” trial, he said, that produced 100 Mbps of throughput in the bandwidth above 860 MHz on a home network. “This is no longer lab numbers; this is real numbers in real homes across the United States,” he said. “It’s either going to be CAT-5 or coax in the home for your no-excuses” transport of video, he said. More talk, a random walk The four other formal technical sessions covered wide area networking, bandwidth expansion, digital asset management, and on-demand performance and scaling. (For a list of presenters, see sidebar 2.) In addition, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers partnered with the National Cable Telecommunications Association this year in hosting two additional sessions: one on standards and other on digital transition, moderated respectively by SCTE VP of Standards Stephen Oksala SCTE President and CEO John Clark. Of course, the floor itself offered many attractions. The technology booths were physically separated from the programming booths, but there was still enough to fill one entire hall with hardware and software vendors. One way to approach the maze was to work applications, rather than bits and iron. For example, under the PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) category, there were demos of cable TV with VoIP caller ID by switch vendors Cedar Point Communications and Siemens. The application showed how a cable viewer or Internet user can be alerted with the name and number of a caller before the phone rings. Each company implemented the application in partnership with Integra5. Not to be outdone, Digeo showed that Moxi could be used as the set-top for this application. Arris displayed its D5 Digital Multimedia Termination System, a network edge device that enables simultaneous delivery of MPEG-2TS and DVB-C based digital video content along with IP digital multimedia content. The D5 delivers a dynamically allocated multiplex of digital video broadcast, VOD, IP multicast, IP unicast, and DOCSIS data content compatible with MPEG-2 and IP set-top boxes and IP-enabled consumer devices. Businesses, home nets Under the commercial services header, Arris also introduced a 12-line embedded multimedia terminal adapter (EMTA) for small businesses and multi-dwelling unit applications called the Touchstone Telephony Modem TM512A Multiline Media Terminal Adapter. Bandwidth expansion and symmetric T-1 service for business applications over a hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network was the focus of Xtend Networks. Their DOCSIS-based product line extends the usable HFC bandwidth to 3 GHz, which they claim will increase upstream capacity by 10 times and double downstream capacity. In the home networking arena, chipmaker Intellon showcased several HomePlug-enabled products that use a home’s electrical wiring as a local area network (LAN) medium. Comcast is using an unusual but practical application of HomePlug technology in high-speed data installations where a coaxial jack is not available at the PC location. Rather than fishing new cable to the PC, an installer can plug the PC into a HomePlug adapter to connect via the electrical wiring to a remote cable modem near an available coax jack. As for personal video recorder (PVR) and networked TV, Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, Digeo, and Pace showed a variety of technologies that can be used to interconnect multiple set-tops. Motorola’s demo PVR network uses prototype MOCA technology to communicate between devices and allows remote DCT 2500 set-top clients to open multiple sessions simultaneously with a hard drive on a DCT 6412 central server gateway. S-A implements its multi-room solution similarly to headend distribution, using QAM channels above 870 MHz for content distribution and a return channel for control. Digeo’s Moxi communicates with the server set-top via a 1.2 GHz FM channel. Pace continues to introduce products that are compatible with both S-A and Motorola. At the top of the line, the Tahoe DC775 HD-DVR provides standard definition (SD), HD, and enhanced analog video recording on a 160 GB hard drive and can open separate streaming video sessions with up to three clients. The Chicago DC 501 is an SD all-digital client box. Also shown was the Laguna DC 551HD, targeted to home theater systems and including HDMI display connectivity and an optional 1394 5C protected interface. Wireless interface, OSS Seamless wireless interfaces rounded out the set of applications on the show floor. Siemens talked about how an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core overlay to their switch will provide one of the building blocks for wireless interfaces to a PacketCable architecture. Similarly, Cedar Point highlighted a call forwarding seamless mobility solution, with later migration to IMS technology. Within this year’s CableNet pavilion, startup BridgePort Networks displayed a different approach, with a working model of their MobileFIND presence detection and NomadicONE gateway technology. The implementation is based upon a chip set embedded in the battery of a dual-mode mobile phone and user interface software in a session initiation protocol (SIP)-based landline set. The handset senses Wi-Fi and mobile coverage and roams to the best network connection. The NomadicONE software resides at the cellular gateway. With all that new technology, it was a given that some space had to be devoted to support systems. Unified order management and customer care was Telution’s theme, as it promoted operations support system (OSS) enhancements made possible by a recent partnership with MicroSoft. The collaboration combines Telution’s COMX order management and assurance suite of products with Microsoft’s .NET technologies to tie together all the information surrounding customer support. Rob Kunzler, Telution’s director of marketing, pointed out that Telution’s products have Web service hooks to interface with legacy products, in addition to the ties between COMX and .NET. He said that Telution’s vision is for a customer service representative (CSR) to have access to all the information needed to not only service problem situations, but also to up-sell when the occasion warrants. San Francisco treat Telution was only one of many vendors graciously sponsoring receptions for those attending the Bay City event. VOD server vendor Broadbus perhaps outdid itself in its musical soiree, revealing to those who attended its 1960’s-style jam session (and who didn’t already know) that Paul Allen is really a quite excellent guitarist. This year’s National Show showed that the industry’s networking expertise, both socially and technically, is breaking out in fulsome, even psychedelic bloom. Jonathan Tombes is editor, Jay Junkus is telephony editor and Jim Barthold is a contributor to Communications Technology. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Did this article help you? Email comments to email@example.com. Mobile/Wireless Convergence Just as the cable industry settles into a triple play voice, video and data offering, a fourth lucrative—albeit challenging—piece of business sits tantalizingly off to the side. Wireless convergence, starting with the home network and expanding into the wider mobile space, was the topic of a “breakthrough” breakfast event at the National Show. “It’s surprising that just as we’re seeing the completion of the triple play, now we’re adding the fourth dimension,” said William Markey, president and general partner of RelevantC, a marketing and business development firm. Markey contended that wireless connectivity—perhaps starting with a Wi-Fi connection linked with a wider mobile network—should be cable’s next big play. “Forty percent of mobile calls happen within 10 feet of a landline,” he said. Among technical enablers, the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) provides one promising approach to internetworking with other network types, explained Alan Stoddard, GM of Converged Multimedia Solutions for Nortel, the sponsor of the breakfast event. Yet hurdles remain huge. There is little chance that outside mobile providers, tightly linked to incumbent telcos, would willingly partner with cable, panelists said; moreover, wireless spectrum is expensive, and the logistics of building and maintaining a national cable wireless network are staggering. “We have a lot of work to do from a network perspective,” said Tom Buttermore, vice president of data and voice engineering and operations for Adelphia Communications. From a strategic standpoint, Buttermore said, it “all makes sense” for cable to consider wireless. Tactically, he said, “we’re looking for real money on return in the short term,” and that’s not likely to be there. The first step in wireless/wireline integration is merging in-home components and services so consumers can wirelessly move about the premises, said Mimi Thigpen, vice president of strategy for Cox Communications. Cable, Thigpen added, must address the wireless market because tomorrow’s cable customers—today’s youth—are expert wireless users, and “cable has to learn how to address that segment and provide for it.” On the other hand, today’s cable subscriber is not technologically advanced, she said, noting, “70 percent of the people just want to make a phone call.” Cable must take a complex operation—wireless convergence—and make it simple enough for today’s subscriber and feature-loaded enough for tomorrow’s, said Buttermore. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something,” he said. “People don’t want five options. People want to be fed.” Cable, he said, must develop “intuitive” services and then back them up with enhanced back office operations and, more importantly, customer support, and “we’re not close to being there.” The Names Behind the NCTA Technical Papers Here’s a bulleted list of the engineers who wrote this year’s NCTA Technical Papers (to order a copy, see below) and presented at the following panels in San Francisco: “Premises, Promises: Next-Gen Schemes for In-home Services Distribution,” “Wide-area Networking: Efficient Transport Over Converging Networks” “Moore on Shannon: Exploring Cable’s Theoretical Limits” “Next Generation Network Architecture” “What’s Mine is Mine: New Approaches in Individual Consumption Enablers” “Everything on Demand: Enabling Customer Control Through Next-Gen On-Demand Services” To order a copy of this year’s NCTA Technical Papers in either CD-ROM or book format, visit the NCTA publications site, www.thenationalshowstore.com.