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Metcalfe Resists Bashing DOCSIS

Houston -- Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, the opening morning keynoter Wednesday at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Conference on Emerging Technologies here, touted his baby as growing bigger in everything from embedded devices to metro-area networks but stopped short of saying that Ethernet would ultimately replace cable data-networking technologies.

As he often does in such presentations, Metcalfe emphasized the ongoing kudzu-like growth of his brainchild, Ethernet, which he created in 1973. “Ethernet has been winning for 34 years,” he said.

Metcalfe, who’s now a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners, noted that the networking technology is expanding in metropolitan-area networks and replacing synchronous optical network. He also pointed to the fact that several cable operators have joined the Metro Ethernet Forum consortium.

However, Metcalfe shied away from opening up the debate of whether Ethernet will supplant Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.

“DOCSIS is Ethernet,” he claimed. “It’s HFC [hybrid fiber-coaxial] Ethernet.”

The debate, according to Metcalfe, isn’t DOCSIS versus Ethernet -- it’s a shared versus switched network.

Not everyone in the crowd was satisfied with that position, and one audience member pressed Metcalfe on what need there would be for DOCSIS protocols in a switched network.

Metcalfe all but begged for a pardon. “I can’t say just throw that out to these people -- they built all this stuff,” he said, gesturing to the cable attendees. “I’m willing to be obnoxious, but not rude.” The audience laughed appreciatively.

The next frontier for Ethernet, Metcalfe predicted: Home automation -- an area that he suggested represents a fifth potential service offering in a “quintuple play” for cable operators.

Of 10 billion microcontrollers expected to be shipped in 2007, just a fraction are network-enabled. “The value of those devices would be far greater if they were connected,” he added.