DOCSIS 1.1 STANDARD BRINGS CABLE TO TIERS
Originally envisioned as the expressway to cable telephony, CableLabs' recently approved DOCSIS 1.1 data specification is being re-routed to let service providers offer service level agreements built on quality of service guarantees for subscribers and outside "open access" ISPs.
CableLabs announces agreement with vendors to create specification that will become DOCSIS
Cable telephony will still happen, but not for another 12 to 18 months, when numerous technical hurdles and tests have been cleared.
"The [cable telephony] timeline might have been extended a little bit, but the interest is still there," said Ryan Jones, analyst for The Yankee Group.
That cable telephony's priority slid backward came as something of a surprise after data delivery proved more popular than multiple systems operators (MSOs) anticipated. The shift won't require radical change in the physical network.
"Operators have done everything they need to get their plants prepared for data service; 1.1 gives them much more control over what they're offering," said Peter Percosan, director of broadband strategy for Texas Instruments.
It's also an opportunity to charge more for what's already there through DOCSIS 1.0's "best-effort" delivery.
"You will see lower-priced packages in some systems, and you will see the folks who are accustomed to getting a certain speed have to pay more for that certain speed," Jones said.
DOCSIS 1.1 also helps MSOs open their networks to competing ISPs because it "gives you more control over the chaos that might result when a bunch of customers running unknown applications," said David Fellows, a principal for Pilot House Ventures and initiator of CableLabs' DOCSIS program.
Finally, DOCSIS 1.1 leads to cable telephony. That route is even less defined now because cable telephony's staunchest supporter-Comcast-could acquire AT&T's broadband unit, which has a solid base of switched-circuit technology.
"The people who are in the business with a circuit-switched legacy need a pretty good complete solution before they have to change," Fellows said.
That solution isn't DOCSIS 1.1.
Operators are "going to evaluate it," said Mike Horton, senior vice president of marketing for Arris, the largest cable telephony vendor. "The revenue streams look just phenomenal."
The technological hurdles are just as phenomenal, though, according to those who have tried to launch voice over IP.
"Adaptive voice over IP, which is what they're doing, is extremely challenging," said Stefan Knight, product marketing director for DSL vendor CopperCom.
CableLabs' telephony effort-under the separate PacketCable initiative-combines the best elements of Ethernet with ATM's time division packetization. This more robust technology will pose a threat to CopperCom's DSL-based business, but it's also the "catalyst to get the large DSL providers moving," Knight said.
DOCSIS 1.1 has even turned the heads of the staunchest circuit-switched supporters-such as Cox Communications-although it hasn't forced any immediate change in the way that MSOs implement telephony.
"Barring any huge technical roadblocks-and there don't appear to be any long term-I'm sure you'll see Cox migrate in that [IP] direction," said Jay Rolls, Cox's vice president of data engineering."
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