The five winners in Communications Technology’s fourth annual Readers’ Choice Awards offer the best in revenue-generating, network-optimizing products.

Competition was fierce for Communications Technology’s 2003 Readers’ Choice Awards. But, with attendance topping 10,000 at this year’s Cable-Tec Expo, and enthusiasm high for products that generate new revenues and optimize network performance, attendees were anxious to cast their votes for best products.

Capturing the top spots in our fourth annual Readers Choice Awards are:

Advanced Video: Terayon, DM 6400 Network CherryPicker with gigabit Ethernet interface

Cable Telephony: ARRIS, Touchstone Telephony Modem 202P

High-Speed Data: Sandvine Inc., PPE 8200, Peer-to-Peer Element

Operations Support Systems: Acterna, DTS-200

Outside Plant: Corning Cable Systems, Platinum Performance Systems

"The new products run parallel with present and next generation market needs, helping broadband operators to gear up for the next generation of services," says George Geiger, staff engineer at Comcast Corp., and the $1,000-winner in the Readers’ Choice random drawing.

Terayon gets nod for GigE

Voters tapped Terayon Communications Systems as the winner in the advanced video category for its DM 6400 Network CherryPicker, an MPEG-2 digital streams management system.

The name comes from the tool’s ability to help operators "cherry pick" programs from different content sources instead of having to provide every program from a given transponder. However, another key application of the DM 6400 is rate shaping, defined as the real-time adjustment of a digital video program’s bit rates.

Without rate shaping, a 6-MHz channel at 256-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) can only support two high-definition (HD) programs. With it, that same channel can carry up to four HD programs. This is important because pressures on bandwidth from services such as video-on-demand (VOD) are increasing, says Mark Jeffery, senior product line manager for Terayon’s digital video solutions. "Even if operators are not rate shaping now, they will have to," he says.

Shortly after the DM 6400’s release in December 2002, Charter Communications began deploying it.

"(The DM 6400) enables us to deliver HD programming with the picture quality our most demanding customers expect, but using bandwidth more efficiently," Pragash Pillai, Charter senior engineer for digital video technology, said at the time of the announcement.

The rules for the 2003 Readers’ Choice Awards stipulate that products must commercially ship between March 1, 2003, and June 1, 2003. So if the DM 6400 originally was introduced late last year, why did it qualify? At Expo, Terayon unveiled network interface modules for both gigabit Ethernet (GigE) and MPEG-over-SONET, making it eligible for the competition.

Benefits of the enhancements include reliability, Jeffery says. If an operator is using GigE between headends and subheadends, for example, the DM6400 outfitted with the new GigE interface can provide stream redundancy. If a video server fails at one subheadend, the DM 6400 stationed there can pick up the affected content feed from another subheadend or from the headend.

"If I have HBO coming in from one receiver and there is an issue with that receiver, the DM can be configured so an alternate IP address is used," Jeffery says.

"I think a lot of operators are starting to make purchasing decisions based on features they will implement in the future. If they don’t have Ethernet connectivity between two sites, it doesn’t mean that they won’t buy equipment with that in mind," he adds. The system is modular and based on software licenses.

Peers vote for Sandvine

File sharing is the source of more than 60 percent of traffic on broadband networks, according to a recent study by Sandvine. Expo was buzzing with talk of solutions, be it bandwidth caps or tiered services. Sandvine is offering its own alternative—the PPE 8200, the company’s peer-to-peer (P2P) management system.

P2P is by nature indiscriminate. Hosts and nodes communicate with one another without a thought as to location. This often results in data traffic being pushed onto a high-cost network, increasing costs for cable operators.

"The likelihood of an MSO subscriber actually connecting to other subscribers (of the same MSO) is very small statistically," says Dave Caputo, Sandvine president and CEO, noting that the likelihood of connecting to a subscriber on the same network is approximately 1 in 5,000.

The basic premise of the PPE 8200 is to increase those odds, by redirecting P2P traffic down the least-cost network.

"We can say let’s make it (one MSO sub connecting to a sub of the same MSO) always happen as long as the content is there," Caputo says. "With (PPE 8200) we can recreate P2P so that it follows the topology that the MSO wants it to."

If the cable operator buys Internet transit from several providers, this might mean sourcing content from the one with the lowest fee per megabit. If the cable operator has a peering arrangement where it trades bandwidth with a partner, the P2P traffic is sent there, Caputo explains.

This year’s engineering judges, who picked the 16 finalists for the Readers Choice Awards, were enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by Sandvine’s product.

"If this software works as advertised, it makes us wonder why someone hasn’t developed and sold a similar product prior to now!" wrote one judge.

"Every operator is looking for ways to cut transit costs without compromising customer speed and QoS. This product promises to do both," wrote another.

Readers phone in for ARRIS

The judges also were effusive in their praise of ARRIS’ second-generation Touchstone Telephony Modem, the 202P, calling the eight-hour integrated battery back-up unit "a breakthrough" and "critically important to MSOs wanting to offer lifeline telephony services."

"Dialtone no matter what. That is the paradigm this product operates in…. This is a toll-grade quality product," says Mike Caldwell, director of product and strategic marketing for ARRIS broadband.

The 202P embedded multimedia terminal adapter is 50 percent smaller than its predecessor the 202D.

"(The 202P) is an indoor product. Desk space is important. It may sit beside someone’s computer…. You don’t want a clunky thing sitting on the desk," Caldwell says.

As with many first-generation products, the 202D, which offered four hours of battery back-up time, was designed for operators to use in trials so that they could get a feel for the technology, he explains. Approximately 38 trials currently are taking place worldwide.

"(The 202P) is the one that is ready (for deployment). We hope operators are ready to take it into the millions," Caldwell says.

Although the 202P is DOCSIS 1.1 and PacketCable 1.1 based, software called PacketAce allows operators to gear the product to the maturity of their networks.

"There are configurations that operators not fully compliant (with DOCSIS 1.1 and PacketCable 1.1) can use. We can tailor our unit to run in these networks," Caldwell says.

The device has both an Ethernet and a USB port so that two PCs can use the modem simultaneously. The 202P can interface with "thousands of kinds of telephones," from those that cost $9.95 to an expensive office phone, Caldwell says.

"When a new subscriber signs up for service, he expects to use the same thing he was using before," Caldwell adds.

What might the industry see in the next generation of ARRIS’ E-MTAs? Caldwell says watch for the company to introduce a device in the fall that is even smaller and includes a user-replaceable battery.

Acterna earns support

At first glance, Acterna’s DTS-200, winner in the operations support systems (OSS) category, may look solely like a field-testing tool. It can be used by technicians to see inside an MPEG-2 transport stream for the analysis of digital content and data signals.

Look again, however, and find that the product monitors as well as troubleshoots, and it can perform its tasks from any point in the network, not just from the troubled area. It logs over 200 informational and alarm events and interfaces with a variety of OSS tools.

"By itself, (the DTS-200) is not an OSS software package or an overseer type of product, but it blends very nicely because it is able to look deeper into the network and can interface with upper level management tools," says Bill Robertson, vice president of marketing for Acterna’s cable networks division.

"If a stream dies or goes bad, [the DTS-200] sends a message," he adds.

Specifically, the DTS-200 has several modular interface options and is able to communicate via simple network management protocol (SNMP) or a more complicated Ethernet protocol, for example.

The product actually is the fourth in a series. The DTS-100 is strictly a field device that required the use of a laptop. The DTS-300 was a lab-grade instrument, and the DTS-400 was a pure rack-mounted monitoring product.

"We needed to fill in with a product that wasn’t as minimalist as the 100 and that had more portability and field functionality than the 300 and 400," Robertson says.

About winning the award, he adds, "It is a very telling thing that people are recognizing how important a lot of the issues we have been looking at in this digital realm are."

Attendees plant Recognition on Corning

Corning Cable Systems won in the outside plant category for the company’s Platinum Performance System, a series of optical connectors, cable assemblies and couplers.

"We are extremely excited about this. We have really been wanting to be part of the Readers’ Choice Awards for a while. Just being a finalist was very exciting for us. To actually be an award winner is great," says Ted Messmer, Corning’s area market manager for public networks, Americas.

According to Corning, the Platinum Performance System "achieves fusion splice loss performance in a connector-based solution." Specifically, Corning promises a typical insertion loss of 0.05 dB per random mated connector pair.

"Operators can get more reach in their optical network. They can get more distance because of the lower insertion loss," Messmer says. Other benefits are reduced transmitter and headend operational costs and greater flexibility in design.

As one judge wrote, "It could mean the difference of having to add costly EDFAs (Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers) or higher powered optics to the network, thereby saving money on any new fiber project."

An operator might want to insert a wavelength division multiplexer (WDM) module, but insertion loss is the price. However, using the Platinum Performance System, cable operators can add modules, for narrowcasting or testing, for example, and not suffer as "great a penalty in terms of insertion loss," Messmer says.

"If you have an already-designed network with a laser in place and a receiver in place, it is designed to meet an optimal link loss budget. If you add a module, you are adding insertion loss into that link, and you could exceed the loss you are able to withstand…. (With Platinum Performance), you can add modules to the network and still be within the link loss budget," he adds.

Communications Technology thanks all of our entrants, voters and judges in the 2003 Readers Choice Awards.

Monta Hernon is a contributing editor at Communications Technology. Email her at mcmhern@yahoo.com.

Did this article help you? Send comments to lhamilton@accessintel.com.

Congratulations to the 2003 Readers’ Choice Finalists

Kudos go to the following finalists in Communications Technology’s 2003 Readers Choice Awards:

Advanced Video Services

BigBand Networks, BigBand VOD Edge

Internet Photonics, LightStack GSLAM

Scientific-Atlanta, Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 3250HD Interactive Set-top

Cable Telephony

Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc., LincXpress System

High-Speed Data

ARRIS, Touchstone Cable Modem 450A

Terayon, BW 3500 CMTS with Full System Redundancy

Operational Support Systems

Electroline Equipment, DOCSIS—HMS: HFC Network Status Monitoring Transponder

Sunrise Telecom Broadband, realWORX 2.0

Outside Plant

dB-tronics, dB III Amplifier Upgrade

DSG-CANUSA, CFTV QuickSeal

PPC, EX320QR Connector

Thanks to Our Judges

A panel of engineers winnowed the nominations to the 2003 Readers’ Choice Awards down to 16 finalists. We thank them for the time they spent reviewing all the entries. Our 2003 judges were:

Dick Rohm, engineering director, NorWest Division, CableOne

Vicki Marts, metropolitan transport center/hub manager, Cox Communications

Jeff Tate, SVP of engineering and technology, Susquehanna Communications

Larry Dodd, regional engineer, Midcontinent Communications

Steve Johnson, senior director, engineering and technology, Time Warner Cable

John Hildebrand, VP, multimedia, Cox Communications

Patrick Forde, VP, new technologies, Insight Communications

Charlie Kennamer, VP, digital engineering, Comcast

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