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May 1999


Cable: A Brilliant Broad(band) Horizon

[Go to Services news headlines.]

BY GREG GALITZINE

Tremendous advances in cable technology, coupled with deregulation as a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have caused a dramatic shift in the worldwide cable industry. And while competition in many of the areas served by cable companies is still a myth, the influx of telcos into the cable market has raised the overall level of competition to new heights. It is no longer enough to offer a handful of channels of television programming at a decent price. The advent of cable modems, the increasing demand for access and enhanced services (both the high-quality fat pipes to the home, and access to the enormous amount of services that can be provisioned over those fat pipes) is forcing cable operators to answer the call. In the case of cable telephony (traditional telephone services over the existing cable plant) cable operators are literally answering the call.

According to Gecko Research and Publishing (www.catv.org), there are currently approximately 93 million households in the United States that are passed by cable, 63 million of which subscribe to cable service. There is a tremendous potential here for cable companies to attract new customers and retain existing subscribers. With the ceaseless proliferation of personal computers and the increasing demand for broadband multimedia services to the home, cable companies have a terrific opportunity before them. The real trick lies in not only the delivery of services to the endpoints, but also enabling users to generate signals from those endpoints. The device that will allow this is called a cable modem.

Cable systems were originally designed for one-way analog transmission of television programming to the subscribers' homes. Demand for interactive multimedia services, together with the industry's move to enhance existing cable systems with fiber, has yielded hybrid fiber/coaxial (HFC) networks. Coupled with the inherent ability of coaxial cable to support two-way data transport, the buildout of enhanced HFC networks has brought cable systems to their current status of being able to support two-way multimedia enhanced services.

CABLE MODEMS
A cable modem allows subscribers to access the services that are available on a cable company's high-speed broadband network. Now, compared to traditional telephone modems (28.8-56 Kbps) or ISDN (up to 128 Kbps) cable modems have the ability to transfer data much faster (4-10 Mbps). These modems however do not all conform to a single set of standards, and that, is of course, of tremendous importance to the acceptance of this technology.

A number of cable providers have banded together to form a consortium known as the Multimedia Cable network Standard (MCNS) to forge a series of rules and parameters for the standardization of two-way cable data networks. The work of this organization has yielded the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS, the prevailing standard of compliance today. In the first half of 1998, a year after the standard was first announced, a number of vendors announced they were shipping DOCSIS-compliant modems. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in a high-tech industry, hype so often precedes fact. As of this writing, only two vendors - Thomson Consumer Electronics and Toshiba - have actually been certified by CableLabs (www.cablelabs.com) the Louisville CO-based authority on DOCSIS standardization.

While only two vendors have currently been certified, CableLabs has initiated another round of certification testing, which includes applications from the following vendors: 3Com, Cisco, COM21, General Instrument Corp., Nortel Networks, Samsung Telecommunications America, Terayon, Zenith Electronics Corp., and others. It is expected that within the next several months, CableLabs will certify more vendors.

COMPETING TECHNOLOGIES
Still, while the players in the cable industry jostle for market position amongst themselves, they must keep a close eye on the various competing access technologies vying for a piece of the broadband enhanced services pie. xDSL, ISDN, broadband wireless - all of these technologies are currently showing promise.

xDSL
The DSL part stands for Digital Subscriber Line. The x denotes the various flavors (ADSL, HDSL, SDSL, UDSL, … the list goes on). This technology utilizes the ubiquitous existing physical plant of the telephone industry. The real benefit is that DSL offers tremendous increases in the data rates that can be transmitted over the existing twisted pair wiring to the consumer's premises. Currently in various stages of trials and actual deployments, many believe ADSL poses the biggest challenge to the cable industry.

ISDN
You might be surprised to find Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) listed among the various technologies capable of carrying data at rates of megabits per second, but here it is. 128 kbps is substantially higher than POTS, users can access both data and telephony functionality at the same time, and ISDN has a large established base of marketing. (After all, phone companies have been pushing this technology for years!) Still, many consider ISDN too expensive or too difficult to implement. While ISDN may continue to enjoy some market share in the high-bandwidth access market, don't expect it to pose too serious a threat to cable or DSL.

Broadband Wireless
Some current broadband wireless solutions are claiming to offer performance characteristics equal to or better than fiber or coaxial cables. Proponents claim the ability to offer voice, video, and data at high-speed throughput, and they don't have to dig up the streets to reach the subscriber. A subscriber's information is converted to digital bitstream and sent to a rooftop satellite where the digital information is converted for microwave transport to another dish, which will reconvert the microwaves to digital signals ready to be sent over the service provider's network. This technology is already being tested and deployed throughout the world. This solution offers a unique way to avoid the local telephone company's land-based infrastructure.

CABLE ANSWERS THE CALL
Cable telephony is already a reality. One vendor, Arris Interactive (www.arris-i.com), tells us that they have already deployed upwards of 100,000 cable telephony lines. (Arris is a joint venture of Nortel Networks and ANTEC.) Over 20 operators are deploying their cable telephony solution in 40 cities. But what exactly is cable telephony, and how does it differ from traditional telephony?

First off, cable offers much greater bandwidth than traditional telephony solutions. This greater capacity allows service providers to offer not only telephony, but also other broadband services, such as Internet access, high-speed file transfer (great for telecommuters), as well as interactive distance learning and telemedicine. Another issue is quality and reliability. Some cable telephony vendors are touting reliability on the order of 99.999 percent. Also, the line card is located right at the end user's premises as opposed to further away at the service provider's switching facility. This setup aids in providing greater clarity and higher-speed connectivity to the network.

Lastly, (and while this is not directly related to quality of service) cable telephony offers an alternative to the entrenched telephone carriers of yesterday. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was designed to enable competition. The fact that cable companies are beginning to offer telephone services is a boon to those consumers who finally have a choice as to their local phone service provider.

Other signs that cable telephony is or will become a viable alternative are scattered all over the newspapers. AT&T (www.att.com) just spent $48 billion to acquire TCI (www.tci.com), a cable and telecommunications operator. While a good portion of the investment may be construed as AT&T's desire to add capacity for data transport, a company like AT&T doesn't spend that kind of money without thinking about its core business - telephony. Combining the TCI acquisition with agreements made with five other cable companies, AT&T hopes to provide the type of coverage that will allow them to pass approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population within the next 4 or 5 years. By the end of this year, they hope to offer broadband cable telephony services to 10 U.S. cities.

Want more proof? Comcast (www.comcast.com) and MediaOne (www.mediaonegroup.com) recently announced a merger valued at about $60 billion. The deal combines the third and fourth largest cable companies in the country and the resulting company is being touted as the world's leading broadband communications provider. Not "biggest cable TV company," but broadband communications provider. Obviously high-speed, high-bandwidth cable will play a major role in the future of communications. Indeed, among the various services the company plans to offer are Internet access, video, data, content creation and distribution, e-Commerce, telephony, and new applications that will become available over their broadband networks.

CONCLUSION
As the cable industry moves forward from simply providing television programming toward deploying a wealth of communication services, it should be said that the state of the industry is strong. As with any other evolving technology, there are hurdles that must be overcome, for example, standardization on a set of industry-wide guidelines. But the immense amount of activity, including corporate mergers and agreements as well as technological advances, bode well for cable as a delivery mechanism of broadband services, including multimedia and telephony. True, there is more than a fair amount of competition within the industry and from other technologies, but it's a big pie, and the cable industry stands poised to take a big chunk of the market.

Greg Galitzine is the executive editor of Internet Telephony´┐Ż magazine.


Headlines

News

US West Launches Web E-Mail
US West customers across the company's 14 states can sign up for their own free, personalized Internet address with US West.mail. The Web-based, password-protected e-mail service can allow users to send and receive messages from any computer with Internet access, anywhere in the world. The company plans to offer integrated messaging and access to messages from its wireless phones. US WEST.mail requires Netscape Navigator 4.0 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 with JavaScript. Critical Path, the service's co-developer, expects to host the service as well.
No. 540, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Telocity DSL Helps LECs
Telocity, formerly MachOne Communications, has announced a DSL service designed specifically to help LECs accelerate DSL deployment, reduce installation and ongoing support costs, and provide a platform for value-added service. Targeting residential and small businesses, the service features a user-installable DSL modem - a smart appliance called Telocity InterChange 1000 - which includes parallel, USB, and Ethernet connections to a personal computer. Telocity XXXX is a back office system built to let LECs use to deploy and operate the service.
No. 541, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

@Home, .comfax To Offer Internet Fax
@Home Network is allowing its cable Internet service customers to download .comfax software from its "Tool and Toys" section and sign up for a free trial subscription. With .comfax software, @Home users can communicate from their desktops and from any Windows application when faxing documents or images. Subscribers can also sign up for a dedicated fax telephone number through the .comfax Web site, designed to forward received faxes to the subscriber's e-mail.
No. 542, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

VocalTec Uses Architecture For Internet Call Waiting
VocalTec Communications has announced its Internet Phone Call Waiting, the latest addition to its solutions based on the VocalTec Ensemble Architecture (VEA). The service is enabled through the VocalTec Internet Phone Lite end user software program and can allow all classes of service providers - including ISPs, CLECs, established telcos, and new carriers - to offer a virtual second line to online customers for receiving incoming, regular phone calls while connected to the Internet.
No. 543, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Registry Magic Joins VoIP Forum
Registry Magic announced it has joined with AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and Motorola in forming the Voice eXtensible Markup Language (VXML) Forum, helping to make the resources of the Web accessible to anyone via the telephone. The forum aims to drive the market for voice- and phone-enabled Internet access by promoting a standard specification for VXML, a computer language used to create Web content and services. Users can dial into a corporate intranet from any phone and receive real-time information and access electronic commerce applications without touching a computer keyboard.
No. 544, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Xylan, WebVision Team For Internet Centers
Xylan Corporation and WebVision have announced that WebVision plans to use Xylan's broadband multiservice access technology to power its next-generation Internet Data Centers (IDCs). The IDC can provide Internet access and hosting services of a high-end ISP, combined with broadband data networking services. Webvision offers customers such advanced internetworking services as VPNs, SLAs, voice and video transmission with QoS, high-bandwidth video conferencing, Intranet server hosting, and disaster recovery services.
No. 545, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

ITServ, Joymail.com Plan Global Voice
Under an agreement, Joymail.com, the San-Hose-based provider of free English and Chinese e-mail services, can market FirstGate services in Northern California and to its existing customers. FirstGate is ITServ's service, designed to allow users to send voice messages over the Internet to e-mail addresses, worldwide, from any touchtone telephone. Messages are delivered as .WAV file attachments and can be replayed in the sender's voice message with a sound card and speakers.
No. 546, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Franklin Intros Voice Web Site
Franklin Telecom has designed Choose To Schmooze (CTS) to bridge the Internet and PSTN for adding real-time voice capability to Web pages. The site supports regular and Internet phones and text chat, as well as Microsoft's NetMeeting. A customer clicks on the Choose to Schmooze icon and CTS initiates a call to the customer via a switched phone or the Internet, based on customer choice. CTS also places another call to the business at the same time to initiate the customer/representative conversation.
No. 547, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Alcatel, UP Team For Wireless Internet
Alcatel and Unwired Planet (UP) announced an agreement allowing Alcatel to extend its HomeTop Solutions strategy to wireless Internet services and GSM terminals. The solution is expected to be compatible with wireless application protocol (WAP) specifications. Services available to wireless network operators include self-service, onscreen customer care and call feature control, as well as news and stock information.
No. 548, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Omtool Develops Internet Fax
Omtool has announced a new suite of Internet fax products, starting with Omtool's Fax Sr., designed to integrate fax machines with network fax servers to reduce fax costs by 50 percent or more. The suite is scheduled to allow companies to link their faxing infrastructure (desktops, back office systems, and fax machines) onto a single, IP-based platform for central management of all inbound and outbound faxes.
No. 549, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Access Power Offers Unlimited Free Calls
Access Power has announced free, unlimited, anytime calling between its service areas in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Utah until June 1 this year. Customers are not required to have special equipment or Internet access. There is a one-time $20 service activation to allow users continued use of the service after the program ends. The company also sells PC software built to allow free PC-to-PC calling and low-rate PC-to-phone calling.
No. 550, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Nortel Networks Adds VoIP To Service
Nortel Networks has announced Internet Call Waiting (ICW) Release 2, featuring VoIP, centralized management systems, an enhanced user interface, and improved platform monitoring capabilities. The ICW server and client software can allow service providers to offer subscribers expanded services, including the ability to accept incoming voice calls via the PSTN and IP networks while maintaining an Internet connection.
No. 551, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

INTERFAX Extends Nodes In Asia
INTERFAX announced it has installed new Internet-based fax marketing nodes in Shanghai, China, Taipei, Taiwan, and Singapore to bring its total presence to 10 Asian countries. "INTERFAX is actively seeking new international marketing partners and plans to install in excess of two dozen additional nodes by the end of the year," said CEO Dennis Miga.
No. 552, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

ClearWorks Enables Intelligent Community
ClearWorks Technologies has announced signing a contract to offer bundled digital services to 1,200 homes in the new Canyon Gate at Northpointe subdivision in Houston, marking one of the first all-digital and intelligent communities in America. ClearWorks acts in conjunction with developers to build a fiber-optics network into new subdivisions, and then pre-wires every house in the neighborhood for a full complement of bundled, digital services such as 56K modem dial-up, voice mail, caller ID, and a community intranet.
No. 553, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Sycamore Initiates Optical Strategy
Sycamore Networks has announced the SN 6000 and SN 8000 series - its first products in intelligent optical transport and switching in a strategy to address service provider issues of network congestion, scaling, and fast and cost-effective delivery of new services. The product series combine optical networking software with the intelligence and restoration capabilities of SONET/SDH and the capacity of DWDM to deliver services over lightpaths.
No. 554, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Brooktrout Boards Support T.37, T.38
Brooktrout Technology, a Brooktrout company, has announced that its TR114 Series Universal Port fax and voice boards can now support T.37 and T.38 interoperability standards for sending faxes over IP networks. Brooktrout Technology's Real Time Fax Developer Kit allows developers to build T.38-compliant, real-time fax applications. A T.37 Developers' Note, on the company's Web site, is designed to show how the TR114 Series can create T.37/TIFF fax messages for development of T.37-compliant store-and-forward IP fax applications.
No. 555, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Telia Provides European Clearinghouse
Telia announced it is turning up a European-headquartered, Internet telephony, global clearinghouse, for which it has selected Clarent Corporation as the technology supplier. Telia can allow service providers worldwide to exchange Internet telephony phone calls. Telia plans to introduce partners; offer traffic exchange, accounting, and roaming services to the partners; and provide enhanced calling features to members.
No. 556, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

TELOS, Texas Micro Ship Prepaid Systems
TELOS Engineering and Texas Micro have announced the shipment of TELOS' first prepaid systems for the wireless industry. The Sonata Prepaid System utilizes Texas Micro's fault-resilient PC product line, the Series 5500 Communications Server, and allows carriers to offer prepaid service to previously denied customers such as first-time wireless users and people with disconnected landline phone service.
No. 557, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Datalink.net Intros Wireless Web
Datalink.net has announced its new service to wirelessly enable Web sites, using its XpressLink Web-to-Wireless platform. The service can allow any company to deliver Web-based information to their customers or employees via wireless devices such as mobile phones, pagers, or PDAs. The service is based on Datalink's technology for filtrating and extracting information from a Web page, then formatting that for wireless devices, and finally, delivering the material to end users' devices.
No. 558, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Fax2Net Releases Voice/Fax Mailbox
Fax2Net has announced the release of its new global Voice/Fax Mailbox Service, scheduled to be available to all of the company's existing 80 POPs throughout 40-plus countries. The service can offer an ability for anyone who wants to send a message to the service subscriber without placing an expensive international call. The service also can allow subscribers to access their voice and fax mailboxes, while traveling internationally, without incurring the high costs of international phone rates. Options such as e-mail, pager, fax, or mobile phone notification and forwarding are included.
No. 559, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Telogy To Deliver Cable V/FoIP Software
Telogy Networks has announced the availability of a scalable voice and fax over IP solution for the cable industry, including the Broadcom Corporation cable modem reference design, integrated with Telogy's Golden Gateway voice and fax over IP software. The software offers connectivity to ATM and frame relay networks from head-end equipment and addresses network delay, jitter, and lost packets. It incorporates compression, line echo cancellation, tone detection, and compliance with network interface protocols.
No. 560, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

NHC Unveils Cross-Connect Switch
NHC Communications has introduced a new voice and data cross-connect matrix switch, called Switchex/DVS, designed to allow changes to phone lines remotely from an administrator's console. The physical layer switch can support up to 5,400 lines and targets CLECs, IXCs, and RBOCs, specifically those looking to add faster Internet access through xDSL-type services. The switch allows electronic testing, provisioning, and management of xDSL lines to free carriers from the expense and time associated with manually connecting test equipment and hooking individual lines into DSLAMs or other devices.
No. 561, www.itmag.com/freeinfo







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