Specs boost power of set-tops, modems

Mar 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

This year will herald the arrival of standards for the next generation of set-top boxes as well as the introduction of the next generation of standards-based modems.
Those were the pronouncements made by executives at CableLabs during a Denver conference last week designed to offer an update on the work being done at the research consortium.
Cable operators are beginning the migration to set-top boxes that are capable of supporting OCAP 1.0, the first version of the OpenCable Application Platform, a middleware software layer specification of the OpenCable initiative. The spec was released in December, and cable operators are beginning to order the boxes supporting it, said Don Dulchinos, VP, advanced platform and services, at CableLabs. Those set-tops likely will be rolled out later this year.
AT&T Broadband plans to buy Motorola’s DCT 2500 Comcast has ordered Pace boxes and Cox expects to deploy Scientific-Atlanta’s Explorer 3100. All those boxes are capable of supporting OCAP 1.0, which is based on Java technology. Java provides an execution environment that enables more robust and interesting interactive services such as games and guides, Mr. Dulchinos said. The OCAP standard is based on the European MHP multimedia home platform standard. The OCAP 2.0 specification is due out within a month and will enable Web browser functionality and synchronized TV applications.
Meanwhile, cable modems based on the latest CableLabs industry specifications should begin to be deployed within the next nine months, said Rouzbeh Yassini, senior executive consultant at CableLabs and the CEO of YAS Broadband Ventures. He predicts that within two years, DOCSIS 1.1 will have supplanted DOCSIS 1.0 as the de facto standard for modems.
That may be a tall order, since 1.0 has become the global standard and 15 million 1.0 products had been shipped by the end of 2001. The 1.1 specification allows for voice-over-IP services, improved quality of service and security, and tiered bandwidth services. The price for cable modems has dropped from $300 in 1998 to $50 in 2002, yet 1.1 modems hold the promise of being even cheaper since they are single-chip products, Mr. Yassini said.
The transition should be seamless for consumers, since 1.0 products are backward-compatible, which means 1.0 modems will continue to operate as 1.1 models are introduced. Some of the older modems may be able to assume many of the functions made possible by the new spec through a software upgrade, but most will not.
“The services you bought that 1.0 [modem] for will continue to work, but if you want additional functions, you need 1.1 modems,” Mr. Yassini said. “Members with existing inventory no longer need to stop deploying that inventory because of backward or forward compatibility. It’s really transparent to the consumer whether it’s 1.0 or 1.1.”
To date, 10 cable modems have been certified by CableLabs as 1.1-compliant. The 2.0 specification, which was released at the end of last year, will enable more upstream bandwidth and widening of the pipe for IP traffic.
This quarter, the research consortium plans to complete its specification for CableHome 1.0, which addresses home networking. Interoperability testing is planned for the second quarter, and certification scheduled in the third quarter.
AT&T Broadband conducted a home networking trial in Seattle with 72 customers in late 2001. In the trial, a home server linked products such as the TV and stereo to the PC and Internet, enabling some degree of convergence between entertainment and communications devices.