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Ciscos Claim Triggers Modem Debate

A claim by Cisco Systems Inc. that it was "the
first" to produce standards-complaint data-headend equipment raised eyebrows last
week, as Cable Television Laboratories Inc. and its cable-operator membership worked to
reiterate conformance requirements.

Cisco said its uBR7246 router, which includes headend
components based on the MCNS and DOCSIS platforms, was the first to interoperate with
multiple vendors' cable modems. MCNS (Multimedia Cable Network System) and DOCSIS (Data
Over Cable Service/Interoperability Specification) are new industry standards.

So far, however, no cable-modem gear has passed through the
lengthy certification process, nor has any vendor yet applied for certification, said Bob
Cruickshank, director of digital-network technologies for CableLabs.

"The earliest that anyone will be ready [for
certification] is May or June," Cruickshank said.

Now, CableLabs is adding headend gear to the certification
process, as well as cable modems.

Last year, CableLabs outlined the process to receive a
DOCSIS "seal of approval." Since then, several manufacturers -- not just Cisco
-- have liberally used the terms "DOCSIS-compliant" and
"MCNS-compliant" in their product literature and press materials.

"Check the [CableLabs DOCSIS] Web page, and you'll see
that there's still zero names," said David Fellows, senior vice president of
engineering at MediaOne Express, referring to one of the DOCSIS certification phases that
posts compliant vendors.

Another MSO engineer lamented the fact that the use of the
words "DOCSIS-compliant" is becoming as prevalent as the use of the words
"new and improved" on consumer products.

"I imagine that if you weren't paying attention, it
could be a little misleading," the engineer said.

Fellows and others who are familiar with the certification
process said that when data vendors do pass the 1,900-plus checklist items that ensure
compliance this summer, it is more likely that groups of three and four manufacturers will
be certified at a time.

Cisco's announcement linked its new headend router to
modems made by Samsung Electronics America and Toshiba America Consumer Products. That's
important because under the hood of Toshiba's modem is silicon made by Libit Signal
Processing Ltd., said Bob Schack, director of marketing for Cisco's broadband-markets

Both Cisco and Samsung are using Broadcom Corp.'s chips.
Finding interoperability at the silicon level is at the heart of the compatibility
mission, because so many of the PHY (physical) and MAC (media-access control) functions
are handled with chips.

"That is a huge step toward true
interoperability," Schack said. "Maybe the wording [of the release] got some
people upset, but that's the real news, and it's huge news."

Whether or not Cisco was actually the first to demonstrate
interoperable headend and cable-modem gear is arguable: At December's Western Show,
Harmonic Lightwaves Inc. -- which introduced a headend data controller that supports
standardized cable modems -- said it successfully linked with modems made by Toshiba and
Panasonic Consumer Electronics.

But being the first to certification is not as important as
simply becoming interoperable, Cruickshank said.

"The point is that there is momentum in terms of
people coming together and hooking up," Cruickshank said. "We are making
progress and converging, as opposed to diverging."

Cruickshank said CableLabs recently updated the compliance
"conformance checklist" to reflect additional items that are necessary to what's
being called "DOCSIS 1.0," adding that now, there are 1,968
"must-haves" on the list.

He said the additional checklist items do not reflect
"feature creep" that will slow down the certification process.

"We're not changing anything that's not broken,
because we don't want to slow down," Cruickshank said. "Yes, we've been working
closely to identify additional functionalities to support things such as Packet Cable, but
our firm stance is to not do anything that slows 1.0."

Packet Cable is a CableLabs initiative focused on
Internet-protocol services.

After vendors submit their checklist to CableLabs as an
affidavit, they proceed to "hot-staging" interoperability venues, either at
CableLabs or at trade shows, Cruickshank said.

Following that, vendors seeking compliance meet with MSOs
and CableLabs to review their certification dockets. If everything checks out, they go
before a certification board of MSOs for the final nod.