CableLabs, a nonprofit research and interoperability testing lab for cable operators based in Louisville, Colo., called on VOIP (voice over IP) vendors this week to submit designs for customer-premise, multiline cable access equipment for small businesses. Companies that wish to submit design specs for an ML-MTA (multiline, multimedia terminal adapter) have until August 12 to do so.
Together with its cable operator members, CableLabs, officially Cable Television Laboratories Inc., will review the specifications and come up with feedback. Vendors will be asked to have testable equipment by November.
At that time, CableLabs will head up specification-conformance testing for its member companies, which include Cox Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp., as well as smaller MSOs (multiple system operators).
While PacketCable-certified cable modems that serve voice and video over broadband are now common among residential subscribers, no terminal adapter yet exists to serve the growing number of eight-to-12-line businesses with cable broadband connectivity. These represent a profitable market in replacing the partial T-1s and DSL broadband provisioned by regional telcos, according to Jerry Bennington, a consultant for CableLabs.
“This RFP [request for proposal] is driven by the emergence of multiple-dwelling and small-office sales in the cable industry, which has become a significant business with a bunch of our members,” Bennington said. “Although its still small compared with residential, we now see significant growth on the commercial side.”
“Lots of businesses already get cable TV, and they can order business broadband data from either telcos or from cable,” said Peter Bernstein, president of Ramsey, N.J.-based Infonautics Consulting. “Theres a lot of fiber in cable plants in metro areas. They just need the terminal equipment, and then they need to come up with a price for a competitive service; a price, one would expect, lower than the telcos business DSL.”
Cheap Hardware Wanted
Any designs geared for business not only must comply with existing CableLabs DOCSIS 2.0 and PacketCable 1.0 VOIP specifications, but also must meet higher standards for business use. The ML-MTAs must survive the higher temperatures of utility closets, be wall-mountable or rackable, and provide alarms on malfunction, PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) failover and management tools.
The impetus for the RFP came out of CableLabs Commercial Services Roundtable, a cable industry working group developed “to discuss common needs,” Bennington said. Cox was the first to announce that it would put out an RFP for a multiline MTA. When others announced similar interest, the roundtable decided to make CableLabs the focal point for that process.
“In this way, we could get enough uniformity so that it would make economic sense for a vendor to produce the product and sell to a dozen members, rather than designing to sell to one member a dozen times,” Bennington said. CableLabs also intends for the process to consolidate the market to a few vendors and get the price down low enough for the operators to bundle the equipment with service.
CableLabs RFP contains a minimal set of requirements for the ML-MTA, which—in addition to DOCSIS and PacketCable VOIP conformance—include Ethernet connectivity, support for at least eight concurrent phone conversations, upstream data throughput with mixed frame sizes of 1.5 Mbps and downstream data throughput with mixed frame sizes of 5 Mbps, while all telephony connections are in use. Further requirements should come out of the proposals submitted by vendors.
The full RFP can be viewed here in PDF form.