Considering its status as one of the world's
telecommunications giants, Ericsson Inc. is being decidedly low-key about its high-powered
invasion of the cable-systems market.
Probably most familiar to American MSOs as the Swedish
company that makes cellular telephones, Ericsson is using the Western Show to publicly
launch its end-to-end Internet-protocol cable-telephony solution for cable operators.
Like its chief rivals in the space, including Lucent
Technologies and Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson is targeting major MSOs that it believes are
at the forefront of the cable migration to IP-based networks providing voice,
high-speed-data and video services.
Although it can boast one U.S. field trial in an
unidentified 17,000-subscriber system and a significant existing relationship with
AT&T Corp. through its booming wireless division, Ericsson so far has been approaching
cable operators slowly and quietly.
"We don't really toot our horn, which is a Swedish
type of thing," said Brian Barry, president and CEO of Ericsson Canada Inc. and
leader of the cable-IP strategy. "We don't come in with any hype. We say, 'This is
our spec, this is what we can do.' We have a relationship with AT&T, but that
relationship is worthless unless you have something to demonstrate. And they seem to be
very excited at this time."
The system -- built on key components already developed and
deployed by Ericsson largely with telcos and Internet-service providers -- banks on the
company's broad experience in IP and radio-frequency engineering to get a toehold with
other cable operators, as well.
It also includes a network-management platform to assess
and alert the operator to impending problems, such as potential bandwidth bottlenecks, a
drifting amplifier or myriad other factors that then can be dealt with proactively.
Through the system, branded "PipeWorks," Ericsson
wants to apply international economies of scale that it already uses in manufacturing
digital wireline and wireless voice and data networks, as well as such components as fiber
optic and coaxial cable.
Those assets are already being deployed in the company's
overarching strategy for fixed-broadband access to IP-based and
asynchronous-transfer-mode-based network backbones, via
asymmetrical-digital-subscriber-line and wireless local-multipoint-distribution-systems,
in addition to hybrid fiber-coaxial networks.
"We're there first for voice -- it's what we do,"
said Ed Hutton, vice president of Lynchburg, Va.-based Ericsson Blue Ridge Labs, which has
spearheaded much of the cable implementation of Ericsson's hardware.
"As people are finding out slowly, it takes some true
RF expertise to get this thing to work," Hutton said. "We're bringing to bear
our extremely extensive telephony and RF experience to deliver this system."
The core of Ericsson's IP solution is its "AXI
520" backbone router, a 40 million-packet-per-second system developed initially by
Juniper Networks Inc. as its "M40" router and distributed by Ericsson under its
own brand under an agreement between the companies.
Ericsson recently indicated that it has installed AXI 520s
in more than 10 active international field trials for applications that include IP
subscriber management and service provisioning, plus implementation and management of
quality of service for carrier-class services over IP.
For backbone routers, the network uses Ericsson's "AXI
540" for aggregating and delivering IP traffic.
As both its cable-modem-termination system linked to the
HFC network and its gateway linked to the public switched telephone network, Ericsson uses
versions of its "AXC 711" access platform modified with platform specific line
cards, Hutton said.
A key element of Ericsson's pitch is PipeWorks' customer
auto-provisioning feature, which, the company said, also includes activation of service by
the customer -- a key to the rapid data-service installations MSOs consider essential.
David Ethridge, a PipeWorks product manager, said the
system's provisioning engine was developed by one of Ericsson's partners, and it has
already been field-deployed with another network. Auto-provisioning will become part of
Ericsson's North American field trial in a few weeks, he added.
The provisioning engine enables the customer's
standards-based cable modem to get a restricted IP address from the auto-provisioning
server, allowing access to a "provisioning zone" on the Web through which all
personal, billing and service-selection information can be given to the cable operator.
The engine automatically resets the modem when the required
information is entered, and the user gets a regular unrestricted IP address and full
cable-modem service when they reboot the PC.
Hutton said Ericsson has already demonstrated the feature
to a number of MSOs at a private briefing at Cable Television Laboratories Inc.
The customer-premises piece of Ericsson's solution is its
"PipeRider" cable modem, initially unveiled at June's National Show. The current
model, now vying for interoperability certification by CableLabs, uses the Broadcom Corp.
"BCM3300" chip set supporting the QOS specifications of the industry's upcoming
Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification version 1.1, enabling PipeRider to
function as a voice and data gateway to the Ericsson CMTS.
The CMTS will probably be submitted for DOCSIS
interoperability testing in the 13th or 14th qualification waves,
slated for next year, Hutton said.
Ericsson is playing to the operators' need for rapid
customer installations by making PipeRider one of the early DOCSIS models with
universal-serial-bus "plug-and-play" connectivity.
And Ericsson is also leveraging its existing manufacturing
base for the modems, Hutton said: PipeRider was designed by the company's cellular
engineers for full robotic assembly, and it uses parts already contained in Ericsson's
cellular-product supply stream.
Barry noted that most of Ericsson's wireless customers are
already migrating to next-generation systems using IP backbones to route calls, adding
that outside of North America, Ericsson held the top market share for traditional
"We've been looking at the cable side for more than
two-and-a-half years -- particularly this evolution to the next generation, when you add
voice and data to the networks," Barry said. "We're very focused on some key
MSOs, ensuring that we will be there when they want to offer IP and voice to their
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