CableLabs Means Business With New 'CableB2B' Spec

If cable operators want to do business with "outside" parties over their broadband networks, a new specification under development at Cable Television Laboratories Inc. is expected to smooth out that potentially bumpy road.

That spec, dubbed "CableB2B," will eventually become a uniform mechanism through which Internet-service providers and similar parties can connect and run certain business transactions over cable networks, CableLabs chief technology officer David Reed explained.

CableLabs said it would build the spec with the help of a large group of provisioning, network-management, billing and customer-care vendors. Because retail sale is not involved, it's unlikely CableLabs would certify or qualify products designed with CableB2B in mind.

But "this won't be done in a vacuum," said Reed, who added that the spec's first iteration should be completed by the end of this year.

Reed likened CableB2B to CableLabs' "Go2Broadband" initiative, an Internet-messaging service designed to spur the retail cable-modem market. The CableB2B spec will essentially ensure that MSOs won't have to reinvent the wheel if and when they decide to allow other ISPs and service providers onto their broadband networks.

Reed said the spec would establish a generic message template, resulting in lower interoperability costs for cable operators.

It could also relieve a number of potential headaches for both MSOs and their customers. In the digital-subscriber line network world, for instance, customers that use an ISP other than the incumbent usually have to make a separate call.

The DSL consumer "experience typically has not been very smooth," said AT&T Broadband senior vice president of advanced broadband services Susan Marshall, who also is leading the CableB2B project. "We're trying to solve that for the cable industry, and to create a seamless experience for the consumer."

Marshall is also trying to solve another cable problem: How to link unaffiliated ISPs to AT&T Broadband's network. She's spearheading AT&T Broadband's open-access efforts, which have led to a technical "Broadband Choice" trial in Boulder, Colo., and a larger-scale pilot set to launch this fall in the Boston area.

Still, CableB2B's aim extends well beyond the ISP sphere. "This could be extended to other providers, such as interactive television," Marshall said, because the spec would result in one standardized interface for non-cable businesses.

"Eventually, we hope that CableB2B will provide the specifications for uniformly linking Time Warner Cable's back-office management and billing system to the ISP," Time Warner senior vice president and CTO Jim Chiddix added in a prepared statement.

Time Warner Cable is currently running a multiple-ISP trial in Columbus, Ohio.

Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. have also made official plans to launch open-access trials this year.