Modems on Parade at Western Show

It was tough finding programmers at this year's Western Cable Show, but it was easy to dial up technology vendors.

The show floor, which looked more like a pumped-up Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers gathering, was stocked with providers hawking their new voice-enabled modems and control systems using the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 1.1 cable-modem standard.

With its quality-of-service and ability to prioritize traffic, DOCSIS 1.1 is aimed at adding voice capability to cable-modem technology.

Terayon Communication Systems Inc. was part of the drive to give modems a voice. It unveiled the TA 102 media-terminal adapter, which combines a voice terminal with cable modem capabilities.

Compliant with DOCSIS 1.1 and PacketCable specifications — and complete with the added advanced physical layer capabilities outlined by the pending DOCSIS 2.0 specification — the TA 102 can be used for either primary or secondary-line Internet-protocol phone service.

While many cable operators are still somewhat uncertain about IP telephony's reliability, most are interested in the cost savings it offers over switched telephony. And they're looking for devices to start testing, according to Terayon vice president of voice solutions Ed Miller.

"It's a chicken-and-egg problem," he said. "The operators say we need to see products, and the vendors say we need to see the market. So development has been a little slow."

Rival Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. was also featuring its newest voice-over-IP modem at its booth. The PCX3000, which also is DOCSIS 1.1- and PacketCable-compliant, features two phone ports, as well as Ethernet and USB connections.

"A number are looking at it or have trials in process," said Fred Berry, vice president and general manager for Toshiba's network products division. "I think we will see in 2002 some revenue-generating voice products."

Toshiba also was busy demonstrating a new modem with added wireless 802.11b capabilities. Set to ship some time in the first quarter — after it makes its way through Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s current DOCSIS 1.1 certification round — the unit has an embedded cable modem, four wired ports and the wireless connection.

Although it's designed as a retail product, cable operators are looking at such wireless cable modem routers for the small-office-and-home-office (SoHo) market.

Scientific-Atlanta Inc., a relative newcomer in this arena, also pulled the wraps off a voice-over-IP modem. The WebSTAR DPX200 has an embedded media-terminal adapter that sports two phone ports, as well as USB and Ethernet data ports. It will be available on a commercial basis early next year.

On the controller side, start-up Cedar Point Communications gained buzz for its soft-switch, PacketCable-based IP-telephony controller. Comcast Corp. recently announced it would begin trials of the switch.

Core Networks Inc., meanwhile, pulled the wrapper off its CoreOS 4.0 network-management system, which is specifically geared to support DOCSIS 1.1 devices.

CEO Jeff Campbell said the new product fits the demand for DOCSIS 1.1, even if operators aren't entirely sure when they will implement its features.