SCTE member since 1999
Title: Vice President of Engineering, Lindsay Broadband
Broadband Background: Skarica spent 11 years in the Canadian cable industry (including time with Maclean-Hunter, Rogers and Cogeco) before joining Nortel in 1999 and Broadbus Technologies (now Motorola) in 2004. He joined Lindsay Broadband in January 2007. He co-authored a two-part article on Metro Wi-Fi with Chris Busch, of Incognito Software, which appeared in the September and October issues of Communications Technology.
Muni Wi-Fi has had some setbacks lately (Houston, Chicago, San Francisco). You think MSOs are better positioned to deliver this type of service?
MSOs are better positioned to deliver Wi-Fi services, as not only do they posses their own rights of way with always-on 60/90 VAC plant powering, but they also have an existing service, billing and IP core infrastructure that can be leveraged to deliver the fourth sticky service – nomadic Wi-Fi access for existing high-speed data cable modem customers. Fee-based Wi-Fi access for non-subscribers also provides a new revenue stream for the MSO.
The municipalities cannot say the same. They do possess light poles as the right of way for network gear, but most lack the additional infrastructure to be a service provider, and most currently do not have a means by which to offer the triple play of services. The MSOs have been in the high-speed data space for many years now. The biggest hurdle to date has been the willingness of most MSOs in our industry to pre-empt competitive wireless service providers with a strategic, unlicensed Wi-Fi deployment of their own.
Why shouldn’t they just wait for WiMAX?
WiMAX is an ideal metropolitan area technology for providing fixed and mobile wireless service where the service provider owns the licensed spectrum. The larger and more important question revolves around usage of the unlicensed frequency bands within the operators’ service area. As with triple-play customers, those who get there first typically win.
With respect to unlicensed ISM and UNII band service offerings, waiting for WiMAX is an option, but the vast majority of the tens of millions of Wi-Fi capable devices in use today do not support WiMAX in their standard configuration. And these devices are not going away anytime soon. It’s the traditional legacy equipment problem that cannot and should not be ignored.
So I believe the best strategy is to deploy network equipment that is modular and allows for in-service upgradeability. As standard radio technology matures, the deployed network equipment can also mature with the standards. Start with 802.11 a/b/g technology today, and upgrade network devices as the standards and consumer devices change over time. I believe it is strategically important for the MSO to be the first to utilize the unlicensed spectrum bands with a wireless high-speed data offer. If they get there before the municipality or other alternative provider, they seriously damage the business case of an unlicensed Wi-Fi overbuild in their service area.
What’s the case for deep hybrid mesh architecture?
The deep hybrid mesh architecture was designed to allow an MSO to provide blanket Wi-Fi services utilizing their existing rights of way and network infrastructures. This architectural approach involves a unique combination of hardware and software provisioning technologies. By combining advanced software provisioning technology with low-cost multi-radio IEEE 802.11 a/b/g network-based and customer hardware and state-of-the-art, multi-radio mesh radio networking software, a unique, cost-effective solution to the larger problem is born.
This architecture was primarily developed to enable the smaller cable operator with one-way plant to solve several pressing issues. It can also be used for HFC plant extensions for the delivery of broadband services to the enterprise customer. A deep hybrid mesh wireless architecture enables the addition of high-speed data (5-20 Mbps), VoIP – complete with DOCSIS-like automated CPE provisioning – and nomadic Wi-Fi hotspot services, all on a common wireless infrastructure while avoiding the costs of a two-way/DOCSIS system upgrade.
Deep hybrid wireless mesh offers the lowest cost-per-home-passed of any solution to deliver multi-megabit broadband bandwidth to the customer premises and the nomadic user. It also accomplishes the goal of unlicensed RF spectrum utilization by the cable operator, which hurts the business case of an alternative provider’s unlicensed wireless overbuild. A two-way/DOCSIS upgrade lacks the nomadic high speed data service, continues to leave the operator exposed to alternative provider wireless overbuilds, and is significantly more expensive and time-consuming to deploy than a deep hybrid mesh solution.
What are you bringing to the Wi-Fi table in terms of provisioning?
As with DOCSIS and PacketCable, the CPE in the network needs to be tied to the customer, which ties to the bill. The CPE device needs to be automated in its configuration and administration just like with DOCSIS and PacketCable today.
Through our partnership with Incognito Systems, the Lindsay deep hybrid mesh solution provides DOCSIS-like automated device provisioning for low-cost, Wi-Fi wireless CPE devices. We have created a fixed wireless access service model that emulates today’s DOCSIS cable modem approach. The customer is presented an Ethernet interface from the wireless CPE, and the MAC address of the CPE is tied to a customer record, which ties it to the billing system. It’s basically the marriage of DOCSIS automated device provisioning with 802.11 wireless technology to create a fixed wireless access service model while also providing standard RADIUS/AAA authentication for nomadic Wi-Fi devices within the coverage area.
How does that change the game?
This changes the game as broadband service can now be delivered to homes and computers that do not have built in Wi-Fi capability while also providing a fully managed service provider demarcation point at the customer premises, just like a DOCSIS cable modem. No other solution has solved for automated provisioning in the Wi-Fi and WiMAX space, as the CPE kit has usually been seen to be open Wi-Fi Alliance-compliant; so there is no point for this type of integration.
The Lindsay/Incognito mesh solution uses Wi-Fi standards, but is benefited by an integrated device provisioning solution. This allows for remote management and control of the CPE devices from the headend, as well as automated configuration of CPE device based on service level. This enables speed of deployment comparable to that of DOCSIS rollout, as well as allows the operator to add new products for the customer from the headend and not via a truck roll.
Could you go back to the one-way cable operators? How does this technology impact them?
This is game changing for the one-way, small system operator. These operators can now overbuild themselves with a deep hybrid mesh solution and offer high-speed data, VoIP and nomadic Wi-Fi services while completely avoiding the time and expense of a two-way plant/DOCSIS upgrade. All that is required is power and strand access from the existing one-way cable plant for the cable friendly wireless mesh nodes.
If we look at the Verizon FiOS fiber-to-the-home approach with a one-way downstream broadcast feed and a two-way, high-speed data channel, the deep hybrid mesh approach is similar. The one-way cable plant continues to deliver broadcast video services, while the wireless mesh overlay provides the high-speed bidirectional data channel.
What else have you been working on since joining Lindsay?
We have also created the FLEeX LM last-mile architectural toolkit to enable the MSO community to target the SMB services space. This toolkit involves carrier-class, MEF-certified media converters, environmentally hardened, small-form factor CWDM components, and a cable-friendly portfolio of wireless hardware including DOCSIS hotspots, mesh, and free-space optics solutions. Lindsay Broadband also will soon be announcing a strategic partnership with a core infrastructure manufacturer that will enable us to offer complete, end-to-end, carrier-grade solutions to the MSO industry.