CableLabs Issues RFI on PacketCable 2.0

Carl Weinschenk

The cable and telephone industries are in a seemingly endless battle for the hearts and minds of consumers and businesses. While the telcos deploy various flavors of fiber technology, cable operators are building on their hybrid fiber/coaxial cable networks with a series of increasingly ambitious standards.


The goal of the latest of these, PacketCable 2.0, is to allow operators to far more efficiently and agilely mix IP-based voice, video and data services and meld wireless and wired operations. Earlier this week, Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs), the organization that writes standards for the cable industry, released a request for information (RFI) on PacketCable 2.0. This analysis at Cable Digital News discusses the RFI and the putative standard. The conclusion is that it will be quite some time before equipment and systems using it are in operation.


PacketCable 2.0 uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) to effortlessly co-mingle IP services. The author of the report on which the Cable Digital News article is based says the reason PacketCable won't be an overnight success is that it is expensive and a related CableLabs standard -- the third iteration of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications (DOCSIS 3.0) -- is hogging the limelight because it can more quickly lead to revenue-generating new services.


The end game between the two industries is fascinating. On one hand, the phone companies, by bring fiber all the way to homes, has what potentially is the ultimate advantage. Verizon's FiOS uses this approach. However, if the phone companies cautiously terminate their fiber at some place short of the premises -- as AT&T does in its U-verse platform -- they quickly cede the pure bandwidth advantage because the copper conduit they use is inferior.


Cable operators, on the other hand, are focused on finding the most efficient approach to building services and applications and attaching wireless technology to these networks. That's CableLabs' job, and many experts say they are doing it well.


The bottom line is that the theoretic capabilities of each infrastructure are only part of the story. The other is the extent to which they are willing to pony up the money to take advantage of their platform's strength.


For those folks with a technical bent, here is an overview of PacketCable2.0 written by two CableLabs engineers, posted at the Cable360 site. The duo describe the standard as platform-agnostic, hardware- or software-based, and able to be embedded in devices such as cable modems. The standard clearly is a sophisticated initiative. The landscape is so intense that PacketCable 2.0 may enable the cable industry to become IPTV players -- and thus provide a second way to deliver video programming.

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