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Specification Drafting Process

Specification Drafting Process Overview

CableLabs is a non-profit company whose membership consists of cable operators from the around the world.  CableLabs is qualified under the U.S. National Cooperation Research and Production Act which provides limited antitrust protection for bringing together participants in the cable industry, including CableLabs’ Members, as well as cable technology vendors, content providers, and others in the cable industry (“Technology Vendors”), to define common interoperable specifications for the benefit of the cable industry and cable customers.  Common interoperable specifications help increase scale, promote vendor diversity, and lower the cost delivering cable services to customers.  CableLabs is also qualified under the IRS Code 501(c) (6) as a tax-exempt research and development organization.

In addition to defining common interoperable specifications, CableLabs, in coordination with it Members, Technology Vendors, conducts general research and development, develops test plans associated with the Specifications (“Test Plans”), and provides testing and certification of cable products.  In support of such activities, CableLabs houses state-of-the-art testing facilities that include technology, products, and software representative of the cable industry worldwide.  The lab facilities are open to Members, as well as Technology Vendors and other participants in the cable industry.

CableLabs projects are initiated with input from Members and Technology Vendors.  Prime examples of major projects include the DOCSIS®, PacketCable™, and OpenCable™ projects.  Specifications and technology defined by CableLabs are not mandated; rather, Specifications may be implemented and deployed by each Member and/or their Technology Vendors in accordance with their own independent business plans.  CableLabs Specifications generally describe interfaces between features, functions, systems, or physical equipment.  That is, the topography necessary to deliver a cable service and how devices may communicate with each other, not how the devices themselves are built or how the devices achieve their functionality. The actual implementation of the Specifications, and features and functions on either side of the interface, are left to the Technology Vendors and the marketplace to implement and optimize.

The summary provided below is intended to give a generic overview of the process followed by CableLabs in initiating a project, and developing corresponding Specifications, as well as associated Test Plans.  The details for each project may differ slightly and are subject to change, but the general process is similar in all projects.



The first step in defining new Specifications is to define a set of high level business requirements (“Requirements”).  The Requirements are generally defined by CableLabs Members and CableLabs staff, but may also have significant input from Technology Vendors.  The Requirements typically describe general business objectives, products or services that CableLabs Members would like to deliver to their cable subscribers, and guidance on performance levels.

Optionally, a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued by CableLabs to Technology Vendors that supply devices or technology that may meet the Requirements.  The RFI process provides input as to the current state of a technology that may be of interest to CableLabs’ Members.  Technology Vendors may be invited to make presentations of their concepts, proposed technology, skillset, and general ability to provide resources for a proposed project.

Information gathered from the Technology Vendors in the RFI process is often essential to defining the Requirements as it is useful to set expectations of the state-of-the art in a given field, and to identify interested Technology Vendors.

Once the Requirements are defined, a working group comprising CableLabs Staff, Members, and interested Technology Vendors is formed (a “Working Group”), with Technology Vendors generally being the majority of participants in a Working Group.  Technology Vendors form a key part of the Working Group as they have specific knowledge and expertise about the technology, devices, and software that can be employed to meet the Requirements.  They are also able to provide input on what they can build, and will build, as a commercial product.

Specification Drafting

List of company signors (PDF)

The Specification drafting process consumes a major part of the work effort. Generally speaking, the Working Group iteratively develops Draft Specifications that are designed to meet the Requirements set forth in the prior step.  Technology Vendors are often the primary authors of the Specifications, or large sections of the Specifications that affect the products that will be built (often referred to as “Vendor Authors”).

Technology Vendors in the Working Group are required to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and an Intellectual Property Requirement (IPR) agreement with CableLabs. The NDA is of limited scope to ensure that information exchanged is kept within the Working Group during the drafting stage, to ensure no confusion in reports to the trade press, and to limit use of information to only furthering the Specification development. Once CableLabs Specification is publicly posted  on the CableLabs website, the confidentiality provisions for the Specification effort no longer apply. The IPR agreement ensures that products built to the Specifications can be made on a royalty-free (RF) or a reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) basis, as defined in the IPR agreement.  The IPR agreement creates a reciprocal RF or RAND obligation among the signators of the IPR agreement.

Technology Vendors may also formally participate in the CableLabs Visiting Engineer program.  To gain further insight and understanding of CableLabs activities and assist in innovation, we invite Technology Vendors to participate on-site at CableLabs, primarily in drafting Specifications and associated Test Plans.  Visiting Engineers are allocated workspace and network access at CableLabs, and agree to work a minimum number of hours per week on CableLabs activities (typically at least half time).  By participating hands-on at CableLabs in the Specification drafting and/or Test Suite development effort, a vendor is well positioned to rapidly introduce compliant products to the marketplace.  Visiting Engineer engagements are typically at least 6 months.

The Contributing Engineer program is similar to the Visiting Engineer program, but the engineer is not on-site at CableLabs.  Minimum hours and a minimum engagement period are required.

Technology Vendors who only sign the NDA are still able to receive Draft Specifications prior to public disclosure, and are able to review and comment on the Draft Specifications.

As work progresses, documents attain various stages of maturity as follows:

Work in ProgressAn incomplete document designed to guide discussion and generate feedback, and may include several alternative solutions for consideration.
DraftA document in Specification format considered largely complete, but lacking review by Members and Technology Vendors.  Drafts are susceptible to substantial change during the review process.
IssuedA generally public document that has undergone Member and Technology Vendor review, cross-vendor interoperability, and is available for Certification testing.  Issued Specifications are subject to the Engineering Change (EC) Process.
ClosedA static document, reviewed, tested, validated, and closed to further ECs.


Prior to becoming an Issued Specification, a Draft Specification is reviewed by a wide audience of interested parties (sometimes over 1000 companies) for two important reasons:

  1. A Draft Specification comment period is required for IPR review under the relevant IPR agreements (usually 30 to 60 days, depending on the project, nature of the change, and the IPR Agreement). This allows the entire NDA list to bring to CableLabs’ attention IPR that they are not willing to license under the terms of the IPR agreement (RF or RAND, as the case may be), and puts them on notice of the contents of the proposed Specification.
  2. Review by the full NDA group, primarily consisting of Technology Vendors, adds additional scrutiny and quality to the Specification before it is Issued.  Collecting draft comments in a “bulk” fashion at this stage is more efficient. After the Specification goes Issued, the ECR process is used (see below).

Draft Specifications are distributed to the NDA list with a comments form included in order to encourage submission of comments.  If a company is claiming IPR in a Draft Specification, such rights should be specifically identified so appropriate action may be taken.

All technical comments are duly considered by the Working Group, which generally comprises Technology Vendors, CableLabs Staff, and Members.  Once all comments have been considered and applied to the Draft Specification as determined by the Working Group, it is released publicly as an “Issued” specification.

An Issued Specification is generally publicly posted on the website.   Issued Specifications have undergone Member and Technology Vendor review, cross-vendor interoperability, and are available for Certification testing.

At this point, an Issued Specification may optionally be submitted to a formal standards body or other organizations, e.g., SCTE, ETSI, ITU-T, 3GPP, W3C, DLNA, etc.

Issued Specifications and Test Plans may be further modified, for example, to correct errors or make other modifications and extensions.  Such changes are made through the CableLabs Engineering Change Request (ECR) process as outlined on the ECR Process page.

Interoperability Events

Interoperability events help verify the interoperability goals of Specifications and related Test Plans.  CableLabs works with Technology Vendors to orchestrate the interoperability events.  Technology Vendors may bring reference implementations or early stage product to the event.  CableLabs will establish a test bed, and goals of the interoperability event, depending n the stage of development of devices built to the Specification.

The interoperability events are a primary source of ECRs and help to accelerate the development work of Technology Vendors building devices to the Specifications.

Interoperability events are announced via the NDA email reflectors and/or posted on the CableLabs public website.  Technology Vendors in the interoperability events must have actual products, code, services, or other technology that is actually used in the interoperability event; bystanders may not participate.


The above general outline is intended to convey the general process used by CableLabs for Specification development and processing of ECRs.  CableLabs works transparently with a broad audience of Technology Vendors, Members, and the public to bring technology innovations, interoperability, and reduced costs to our Members, and, ultimately, cable subscribers.