Innovation From All Corners: The Role of Vendors in the Innovation Ecosystem
So far we’ve covered the cycle of innovation and commercialization in Transforming Ideas into Solutions and how CableLabs helps turn innovative ideas into reality through startup collaboration and creative licensing agreements. This next part of the Innovation Ecosystem Series focuses on vendors and their role in moving our industry forward.
CableLabs has a long history of vendor community collaboration, teaming up to bring new, innovative ideas to reality. Vendors’ research, unique vantage point and expertise helps shape our innovation roadmaps, inform our members’ business decisions and bring new cutting-edge technology products to market faster and more cost-effectively.
We could cite many examples of successful vendor collaboration, but let’s look at one that has had a widespread and significant market impact: DOCSIS® technology. Its role in the evolving cable modem sector is a great example of how vendor contributions drive the innovation cycle in the industry.
DOCSIS Technology: A Vendor Collaboration Success Story
DOCSIS technology, well established and universally adopted today, was revolutionary at the outset, establishing a telecommunications standard that permitted the addition of high-bandwidth data transfer to an existing cable TV (CATV) system. This meant users could finally experience true interoperability, regardless of the cable vendor they chose.
Prior to the creation of the original DOCSIS specifications, many vendors brought proprietary cable modems to market. Each of these proprietary solutions had its own unique, innovative approach to offering broadband internet over a cable network. Some offered solutions for carrying downstream traffic but were weaker in the area of carrying upstream traffic. Some had better Media Access Control (MAC) layer protocols but did not offer great RF performance. Few addressed the issue of security and privacy. None of them individually had the best fix, and none of them captured sufficient market share to make the economics work for truly mass deployment. In short, neither suppliers nor cable customers were finding the optimum resolution.
Together with our member companies and industry suppliers, we embarked on an exhaustive process to select the “best of breed” innovations proposed by the vendors. This process involved testing a multitude of different solutions to determine which ones would eventually make it into DOCSIS technology. With each successive generation of DOCSIS technology, innovative contributions to the specifications enable greater speed, lower latency and higher reliability. Now, thanks to our continued collaboration with our vendors, DOCSIS 3.1 technology supports phenomenal speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second downstream and 1 gigabit per second upstream—an amazing achievement that allows our cable operators to stay very competitive in today’s markets.
The Industry Impact
DOCSIS technology catapulted the cable industry into a new service arena, providing broadband internet access to many homes across the country and beyond. Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, relates the results: "At the end 2Q 2017, cable had a 64% market share. The broadband market share for cable is now at the highest level it has been since the first quarter of 2004."
Thanks to DOCSIS technology, consumers can now enjoy ultra-high definition 4K television, artificial reality (AR), advanced gaming options, IoT and many other benefits of internet connectivity. This, coupled the soon-to-be-delivered 5G, is a very exciting time for broadband innovation.
How We Engage With Our Vendors
Over the last 30 years, we’ve worked hard to develop close working relationships with vendors through various programs and collaboration opportunities. Here are just some of the ways our vendors can engage with us and our member community.
- Working Groups: As Working Group members, vendors get the opportunity to participate in the creation of new specifications and collaborate with other industry professionals.
- Visiting and Contributing Engineer Programs: Vendors can work on-site in our labs as Visiting Engineers or remotely—as Contributing Engineers. They get access to our tools and workspace in exchange for their expertise.
- Draft Specification Reviews: Vendors can get access to draft specifications not yet available to the public. This gives them an opportunity to comment and submit change requests 30 to 60 days prior to issuance.
- Co-innovation Opportunities: Just like with DOCSIS technology, we invite all members and vendors to join us in tackling a specific problem facing the industry and are open to many co-innovation opportunities.
- Events & Showcases: Vendors have multiple opportunities to show off their inventions and connect with cable operators throughout the year. Some of our free events, like the Envision Forum (formerly Connect[ED] Forum), are geared specifically to vendors.
- Kyrio Product Certifications: In our industry, interoperability is key. Through Kyrio, vendors can test their products to make sure they meet all the industry specifications.
Vendors’ work is crucial to our industry on both the innovation and commercialization side of the spectrum. These companies are some of the most prolific sources of great ideas and it’s part of CableLabs’ mission to make sure they are heard by the right people at the right time in the innovation cycle. By working together with both our members and vendors, we can continue to reach our collective goals as an industry and discover new possibilities.
Learn more about vendor collaboration by clicking below.
DOCSIS 3.1 Technology: Spec to Product in One Year
Around this time last year, CableLabs kicked off the first DOCSIS® 3.1 interoperability event. Looking back, it is amazing how far we have come.
Over the last year, CableLabs has held seven DOCSIS 3.1 interoperability events that provide manufacturers with the opportunity to work together on interoperability, development, and compliance. A total of 27 vendors across cable modem, head-end, and test equipment manufacturers have participated so far. Over the course of these events, vendors have continued to demonstrate improvements in product maturity.
Additionally, CableLabs has completed seven dry run events which provided vendors with additional development opportunities and evaluation of product readiness for certification and field trials through joint test execution between CableLabs and the vendors. This progress has paved the way for CableLabs to officially open the door for device certification submission and for cable operators to plan their field trials. While we can’t say much about what is going on in our certification labs, we can say it is like a beehive in there! CableLabs will be continuing the interoperability and dry run events in 2016 to support the industry and accelerate device availability.
One of the highlights of the year was the DOCSIS 3.1 technology demonstration day, where vendors flexed their muscles and showed the potential of the DOCSIS 3.1 technology. Demonstrations showcased the multi-Gbps capabilities of DOCSIS 3.1 technology, even while the products were still in development stage. Also, the ability to deploy DOCSIS 3.1 services in today’s networks through a fluid transition was demonstrated. Some vendors even showed how some of today’s cable modem termination systems, which are already deployed in the field, can be upgraded to support DOCSIS 3.1 technology while simultaneously supporting DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0 devices. The state of the art in spectral efficiency was showcased with the support of 4096 QAM which is a 50% increase from what is possible in today’s DOCSIS 3.0 networks. All indicators are pointing in the right direction that DOCSIS 3.1 technology, as promised, will enable the cable operator to deliver great user experience to the customer.
In addition to holding several training workshops, CableLabs has been working closely with SCTE and NCTI to develop the required training courses to educate and prepare the workforce for the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 services.
And as the year comes to an end, Comcast puts the icing on the cake by announcing the kickoff of their DOCSIS 3.1 field trials signaling that their customers will soon be enjoying the great experiences that can be offered by DOCSIS 3.1 technology. Congratulations to Comcast for such a big achievement, and ending the year on a high note for the industry and for its customers as a whole.
Belal Hamzeh is Director of Network Technologies at CableLabs.
The Importance of Vendors and the Rise of the TekStadium™ Vendor Showcase
From CableLabs’® inception as a non-profit research and development consortium in 1988, independent vendors have played a critical role in bringing cable technologies to market. Co-operation with independent vendors, as well as with cable operators and standards organizations, has created a pool of thousands of individuals who provide innovative input to the work performed at CableLabs. This has allowed CableLabs to establish a process to get interoperable products to market quickly, and at lower cost.
An obvious success story has been the development of an international standard for the delivery of broadband data services over the cable (hybrid fiber coax) network. The DOCSIS®, broadband specifications, and the resulting broadband service deployment, have evolved over the years to today’s DOCSIS 3.1 specifications that support multi-gigabit per second broadband service delivery, at a lower cost per bit, higher capacity, and improved energy efficiency than previous DOCSIS releases, and than many competing technologies.
Specifications need to be built into products in order to deploy services. CableLabs works directly with a wide range of independent vendors to make sure their products - everything from chipsets, to cable head-ends, cable modems, test equipment, etc. - gain visibility with their key customers: cable operators.
Historically CableLabs has done this by providing showcases at conferences to allow independent vendors to show off their products. This year CableLabs launched Tek Stadium as the new brand name of the vendor demonstration area for all CableLabs conferences including Summer Conference, Winter Conference and NCTA’s INTX.
Extending beyond the conferences, our TekStadium.com website is a virtual showcase of the technologies, products, applications and services that the cable industry is capable of delivering to customers. For industry vendors, TekStadium.com is an opportunity to promote their company’s products and services beyond the physical limitations of a conference to a broader audience that extends beyond conference attendees.
Currently 87 companies are showcasing products on TekStadium.com. Companies are diversified across 12 categories. Category examples include: Broadband, Gateways, SDN/NFV, Security and Wireless, along with others. See the web site for the full list.
The site is available to all. We urge anyone with an interest in innovative products directed at the cable industry to visit the site and take a look.
Wayne Surdam is Vice President of Communications at CableLabs.
Join us at the CableLabs NDA Vendor Forum
Once a year CableLabs holds the NDA Vendor Forum. This is a unique opportunity for companies who are interested in developing technologies for the cable industry to get up to speed with the latest technology projects underway at CableLabs and to provide input on our technology development roadmap for the year ahead.
This year’s Forum comes at an exciting time for the industry. Our member companies in the U.S. and abroad are accelerating their plans to deploy gigabit services, expand the coverage and capabilities of their Wi-Fi networks, and offer new services that benefit subscribers at home and on the go. CableLabs project roadmap for 2015-16 reflects these priorities, and our success depends on the substantial technical expertise and engineering contributions from the vendor community.
Our Forum is in San Jose, CA this year, so we hope to see some new companies who may have not had the chance to attend one of our Forums. You’ll be able to network with CableLabs staff and other vendors, and get any of your questions answered with respect to technology projects at CableLabs.
If you are already an NDA vendor, register for the event. If you are interested in attending the, you’ll first need to a member of our NDA community. Please refer to our tutorial on How To Engage. There is no cost to join, and benefits of NDA membership (no cost) are numerous, and include the ability to review our technical specifications before they become public.
I look forward to seeing you in San Jose on the April 23.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
8:00am to 6:00pm
Hilton San Jose, Downtown
300 S Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95110
Ralph Brown is the Chief Technology Officer at CableLabs and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org