The long-term migration of cable networks to an all-IP infrastructure is having a profound impact on the gateway. Traditionally, an IP data-and-voice device, the gateway is maturing into a robust, integrated unit that will connect every cable service to every device in the home reliably.
Vendors are at the heart of this transformation, and Communications Technology spoke to three — ARRIS (Booth 2802), Motorola Mobility (Booth 2812) and SMC Networks (Booth 608) — to understand how trends in home networking are impacting gateways.
Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA)
In the cable industry, MoCA is gaining traction as the video network in the home. All three vendors offer gateways that support MoCA connections. “Cable operators are using the coax runs in home to ensure that there’s a high-quality video connection between the gateway, which terminates the HFC RF, and an IP set-top in the home,” explains Charles Cheevers, ARRIS’ CTO for CPE products. With MoCA, “operators have a very high-quality, high bit rate connection to move IP video reliably to an IP set-top box.”
Tom Dunleavy, senior director/Marketing and Product Management at Motorola Mobility, noted MoCA helps cable operators provide subscribers with a “better user experience” by delivering IP video to the TV. “There’s optional video that you could bring in through your IP connection on the gateway. It could be online video, managed video, or unmanaged video like Netflix,” he adds.
Vying with MoCA for domination of the home network is Wi-Fi. Gateway makers aggressively are improving the robustness of their products’ Wi-Fi support. “The Wi-Fi that has been deployed hasn’t been strong enough to promote the type of user experience the industry needs to reduce churn and reduce costs,” notes Dunleavy.
All three vendors are adding dual-band concurrent radios to some gateway models. These will support simultaneous communications with legacy devices that operate at 2.4 GHz and new devices like tablets that use 5 GHz. Other improvements include the addition of beam forming; higher output power; and implementation of the 802.11g and eventually 802.11ac specification, which has the potential to increase wireless data throughput to 1 Gbps. These enhancements extend Wi-FI’s range in the home, improve its reliability and increase throughput.
Home Security and Automation
One low-power, low-bit-rate protocol gaining entrée to the home network is ZigBee. This protocol has become popular as cable operators add home security and automation to their offerings. ARRIS has integrated ZigBee into some of its gateway models, and Motorola has the protocol on its roadmap for the future.
SMC Networks has taken a somewhat different approach. Integrating a private Wi-Fi network into gateways “makes the home security installation process more efficient,” comments Michael Jablon, vice president/Product at SMC Networks. “Cable operators will have a single box that acts as a cable modem, Wi-Fi router and security gateway.”
This private Wi-Fi functionality is enabled by the addition of multiple Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs). “These are separate, hidden and protected SSIDs,” says Jablon of SMC’s gateways, adding that they meet strict UL certification requirements for home security. ARRIS and Motorola also have integrated additional SSIDs into their products.
In an environment where subscribers rapidly are adding new devices to their networks and downloading high-bandwidth content to multiple screens, robust DOCSIS 3.0 support is essential. “The key trend is faster, faster, faster,” Jablon says. The channel-bonding capabilities of DOCSIS 3.0 support consumer demand for faster speeds.
SMC Networks is announcing its new 6 Series gateways and improved 5 Series lineup. These DOCSIS 3.0 devices will support 16 (downstream) by 4 (upstream) as well as 8×4 channel bonding, and some products will ship as soon as early 2013.
ARRIS is unveiling additions to its line of Touchstone gateways that support 16×4 and 24×8 channel bonding. ARRIS expects the gateways to ship in 1Q13. Both data and telephony versions will be available.
Motorola will be showing new gateways in its Surfboard line. Devices supporting 8×4 channel bonding are now shipping. Planned for the first half of 2013 is an advanced gateway with 802.11ac support, which also will “be flexible enough to support a 16×4 configuration,” Dunleavy adds.
While it’s hard to imagine a cable operator selling a consumer a 1 Gbps data service, ARRIS’ Cheevers expects the throughput will be useful to support bursts of high-speed bandwidth.
“Having the ability to burst quickly to 1 Gbps is a tool cable operators can use to create a better experience for the customer,” Cheevers says. Examples include business travelers wanting to download large files before boarding a plane and companies downloading new PC images to remote workers. “Those services will be revenue generators,” Cheevers points out.
While improvements to the gateways’ voice features aren’t as dramatic as their new Wi-Fi, DOCSIS 3.0 and MoCA capabilities, vendors are making enhancements. SMC’s Jablon reports his company’s telephony gateways will support HD VoIP, which also is used on the iPhone 5. Although HD VoIP is in its infancy, Jablon notes it can be a service differentiator for cable operators and will be beneficial to users who spend time on conference calls or with populations that will benefit from the broader spectrum of HD voice. Studies have shown that “people speaking on HD voice calls are less stressed and more at ease, find it easier to pay attention, are more satisfied with the call experience and also spend a longer time on the phone,” Jablon says.
ARRIS’ Cheevers notes some of its new gateways will support cordless phones via integration of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) protocol. “Because the gateway is the demarcation point for CPE, we are also putting DECT in our latest range of devices,” Cheevers explains. “You’ll no longer need to tie up a power outlet and find location to put your DECT base station.” Instead a single device will serve a customer’s broadband, TV and telephony needs.
Cheevers calls this the “year of the gateway,” adding “the protocols and interfaces now exist to allow the gateway to participate in every part of the consumer’s digital life.”
— Jennifer Whalen