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Stargus: 'Unleash' DOCSIS

A group of former Cable Television Laboratories Inc. and MediaOne Group Inc. executives — with the partial backing of cable mogul Amos Hostetter — will debut an advanced, Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification-based, network-management software system later this year that will provide operators with detailed information on high-speed data usage within their networks.

Executives with Stargus Inc. said they're positioning their company as one that can help operators to improve network efficiency, troubleshoot problems before they occur, and accurately collect data-usage information on individual cable-modem users for open-access Internet service and content providers.

"Our goal is to unleash the power of DOCSIS," said Stargus CEO Russ Stephens.

Stephens — a former senior vice president with MediaOne Group Inc. — is part of a management team that also includes vice president of marketing Rafe Leeman, a former MediaOne executive, and chief financial officer Bill O'Brien, who was CFO of AT&T Broadband's Northeast region.

Stargus's vice president of business development is Bob Cruickshank, who led CableLabs' DOCSIS effort and was interim chief technology officer at data-over-cable provider Road Runner.

The new company's CTO is Jason Schnitzer, who also helped CableLabs develop operations support-system standards for DOCSIS.

Stargus launched in June 2000 with $3.4 million in funding from Pilot House Ventures Group — an outfit led by Hostetter, who sold Continental Cablevision Inc. (which became MediaOne) to U S West Inc. — and YAS Corp., led by Rouzbeh Yassini.

Both Pilot House and YAS recently participated in a second, $10.15 million round of funding, along with Castile Ventures, ADC Telecommunications, Still River and Lauder Partners, Stephens said.

Stargus plans to launch its DOCSIS-based network software-management solution by year-end. As former cable operators and DOCSIS developers, Stephens said the Stargus team saw the need for operators to create better network management systems for advanced high-speed data applications — specifically within the portion of the network between the CMTS and the home user.

"There's very little network management in place at the node level," Stephens said.

Added Leeman, "Current systems are unable to locate and predict plant problems, they cannot measure congestion or target capacity expansion and they're not able to track individual usage data." The result is unreliable service, excessive operating costs, insufficient service and an inability to support open access or tiered offerings, he said.

Stargus is developing software that operators can place in their regional data centers to monitor traffic for up to 30,000 cable-modem subscribers, Stephens said.

"Monitoring devices need to be placed out in the network," Leeman said. "The information is there; it's just not being used."

That information would then be fed into a central workstation, and operators would be able to use it to identify cable plant degradation and fix problems.

"You can make recommendations on how the network should be configured," Leeman said. "For instance, you can dial in forward error correction to fix the problem."

Stargus's software system will also track inventory and device configuration.

"There are over 100 certified DOCSIS devices, and they can be configured differently," Stephens said.

Stargus's software will be designed to help operators insure those devices work seamlessly throughout the network.

The Stargus software system will also measure traffic both system-wide and on a user-by-user basis, and will ensure that operators can comply with service-level agreements. That issue is critical in the rollout of tiered services that DOCSIS 1.1 will afford.

Although Stargus's software will work with current DOCSIS 1.0-based platforms, Stephens said operators would need network software-management tools to deploy higher-megabit services that can be sold at a higher price.

The software also will help operators that eventually plunge into the delivery of music, gaming, movie and other bandwidth-intensive content services that may also be sold at a premium.

And as many operators move into an open-access environment, they'll need management tools that can track how much of bandwidth an EarthLink Inc. or Juno Online Services Inc. subscriber on their network might be using, Stephens said. Likewise, Time Warner Cable might push a $20 to $25 a month Internet service, offering reduced bandwidth to light Internet users at a discount.

Stephens said Stargus will license its software directly to infrastructure providers on a per-application and per-managed device basis. It plans to partner with CMTS manufacturers and other network management-system vendors as it hones in on the high-speed data market.

The company is testing its product with four MSOs, Stephens said. One location is a sizeable university town. That cable operator wanted to get a read on how college students' usage of Napster Inc.'s music file-sharing service and the Internet in general affected cable's high-speed network, Stephens said.

"It's not a product that's just a bit better than other products," Stephens said. "We're trying to create a new category, a broadband network-management system."

"The overall value proposition is to have better clarity in the network," said The Yankee Group director of e-networks and broadband Zeus Kerravala. "Real-time troubleshooting really isn't done at all right now."

Kerravala said one of Stargus's key challenges will be to educate MSOs that its bundling package of network management and troubleshooting makes sense when compared with traditional ad hoc approaches.