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'Wideband’ Service Primed For Action

Major cable operators have given the green light to next-generation DOCSIS 3.0 equipment after final rounds of testing, with at least one stockpiling modems for a broad launch of “wideband” service later this month, according to cable technology vendors.

Motorola has started shipping production volumes of DOCSIS 3.0 modems to a large North American MSO that is planning to turn on service before the end of the month, said Chris Kohler director of engineering for Motorola’s broadband solutions group.

Of the two largest U.S. MSOs, Comcast has set a goal of deploying wideband cable-modem service in 20% of its footprint by year-end, while Time Warner Cable is aiming for a DOCSIS 3.0-based service rollout in early 2009.

Comcast, which declined to comment on specific market launch plans, is eager to claim the high-speed mantle from telcos and poach more digital subscriber line customers with wideband service. Time Warner Cable, on the other hand, sees a more “surgical” use for DOCSIS 3.0, chief operating officer Landel Hobbs said at an investment conference last week (see Finance, p. 31).

The technology provides download speeds of 50 Megabits per second and higher by bonding together multiple 6-MHz channels.

Arris Group — whose largest customer is Comcast — said in a statement that DOCSIS 3.0 orders and shipments have picked up “momentum” in the current quarter ending Sept. 30.

Arris CEO Bob Stanzione, on the vendor’s July 30 earnings call, said it expects a “nice increase” in revenue from Comcast in the current quarter. The company does not recognize sales as revenue until a code release is accepted by a customer.

Meanwhile, Cisco Systems said there are no significant compatibility issues remaining with its DOCSIS 3.0 equipment, although the company added that it is “actively working on improving status monitoring, as well as configuration tools to make the migration to DOCSIS 3.0 seamless.”

Motorola’s Kohler said some MSOs have required additional features that weren’t included in the initial release of its DOCSIS 3.0 products.

Two such features are enhanced performance monitoring and Baseline Privacy Interface Plus (BPI+), a security feature that encrypts data transmitted between a headend and customer’s cable modem.

But those features can be enabled post-deployment through a firmware update, Kohler said. “Nobody in North America is saying these are gating issues,” he said. “The MSOs plan to go live with full launches without these additional features.”

CableLabs certified DOCSIS 3.0 gear in several waves, starting with the first cable modem termination systems in December 2007 and followed by 3.0 modems this May.

Subsequently, MSOs have tested the equipment in their own labs to ensure it meets their requirements above and beyond compliance with the CableLabs spec.

Comcast uncharacteristically began offering DOCSIS 3.0 service to subscribers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in April, before any cable modems were officially certified.