DENVER Texas Instruments Inc.'s fifth-generation cable modem transceiver touts full support for the Docsis 3.0 data standard, but the company doesn't expect a tide of OEM designs until 2008.
In an ideal world, said TI executive director of broadband Peter Percosan, multisystem operators (MSOs) would recognize the need to leap to 3.0 quickly for features such as Internet Protocol version 6 and downstream channel bonding. But "we're realistic about this," Percosan said. "There are a few MSOs looking at 'quick fix' proprietary channel-bonding methods to increase bandwidth."
While Percosan asserted that "if you're not going to move to true Docsis 3.0, you're just creating an overlay net," he acknowledged that "a full 3.0 transition will take some time."
The driver for the Puma-3 and Puma-4 architectures was voice-over-cable, which most MSOs offer in some form today. Puma-5's support for bonding a minimum of four channels upstream and four channels downstream means that cable MSOs, in theory, can achieve the bandwidth of some telcos' passive optical network (PON) topologies.
Puma-5 is the first cable-modem architecture from TI to integrate a dedicated data path packet processor for handling Internet Protocol speeds in excess of 160 Mbits/second. Because two Puma-5 processors can be linked in glueless fashion, handling mixed applications at 320 Mbits/s, the next-gen processor is the first to support legitimate "business service" cable-modem applications in the enterprise.
For now, TI does not have to worry about many competitors, since it splits the market primarily with Broadcom and maintains a two-thirds market share in traditional cable modems. But as designs move from traditional cable modems to embedded multimedia terminal adapters, there may be a new generation of customer-premises equipment startups. Those, in turn, could spawn a round of chip startupsassuming MSOs adopt Docsis 3.0 quickly.
"Many MSOs realize that PON architectures like Verizon's FiOS represent a real threat, but Docsis 3.0 is not just a defensive play against FiOS," Percosan said. "Bonding four channels downstream into a service group allows complex mixes of services. And the really smart MSOs are mixing their Docsis 3.0 plans with switched digital video plans. The only limitation to that is that the video guys at an MSO don't always plan in concert with the high-speed-data guys."
The advent of aggressive switched digital video strategies at MSOs like Time-Warner and Comcast could drive accelerated rollouts at other cable companies, he predicted, and the more-advanced MSOs will synchronize their SDV and Docsis 3.0 road maps to offer "significant expansion of both QAM [quadrature amplitude modulation] and IP bandwidth."
Percosan expects the first Docsis 3.0 prototypes to be involved in CableLabs' Certification Wave 56 certification in October, followed by product releases in the first quarter of 2008. Those products will be single-function cable modems, which will dominate the market for a brief time. Wave 57 will include the first embedded multimedia terminal adapters, and such products will quickly become the leading Docsis 3.0 vehiclesthough whether they end up in gaming platforms, computers or TVs is anyone's guess.
Because of the opportunity to embed data functions in home devices, Percosan said he is not convinced that the "residential gateway" will be the access platform of choice in most homes.