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Faced with these harsh realities and the realization that the existing cable plant could not compete with the telephone network in its original analog incarnation, cable engineers began a major rework of the network in the early 1990s. Beginning with the headend and working their way outward, they progressively redesigned the network to the extent that, in many areas of the country, their coaxial local loop is capable of competing on equal footing with the telco s twisted pair and in some cases beating it. The process they have used in their evolution consists of four phases. In the first phase, they converted the headend from analog to digital.
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
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This allowed them to digitally compress the content, resulting in far more efficient utilization of available bandwidth. Second, they undertook an ambitious physical upgrade of the coaxial plant, replacing the oneinch trunk and half-inch distribution cable with optical fiber. This brought about several desirable results. First, by using a fiber feeder, network designers were able to eliminate a significant number of the amplifiers responsible for the failures the network experienced due to power problems in the field. Second, the fiber makes it possible to provision significantly more bandwidth than coaxial systems allow. Third, because the system is digital, it suffers less from noise-related errors than its analog predecessor did. Finally, an upstream return channel was provisioned (see Figure 6-9), which makes possible the delivery of true interactive services such as voice, Web surfing, and videoconferencing. The third phase of the conversion had to do with the equipment provisioned at the user s premises. The analog set-top box has now been replaced with a digital device that has the ability to take advantage of the capabilities of the network, including access to the upstream channel. It decompresses digital content, performs content ( stuff ) separation, and provides the network interface point for data and voice devices. The final phase is business conversion. Cable providers look forward to the day when their networks will compete on equal footing with the twisted-pair networks of the telephone company and customers will see them as viable competitors. In order for this to happen, they must demonstrate that their network is capable of delivering a broad variety of competitive services, that the network is robust, that they have oper-
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Figure 6-9 Upstream and downstream channels in modern cable systems
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Small Upstream Channel
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Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Any use is subject to the Terms of Use as given at the website.
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ations support systems (OSSs) that will guarantee the robustness of the infrastructure, and that they are cost competitive with incumbent providers. They must also create a presence for themselves in the business centers of the world. Today they are almost exclusively residential service providers; if they are to break into the potentially lucrative business market, they must have a presence there.
Cable Modems
As cable providers have progressively upgraded their networks to include more fiber in the backbone, their plan to offer two-way access to the Internet has become a reality. Cable modems offer access speeds of up to 10 Mbps, and so far the market uptake has been spectacular. Cable modems provide an affordable option to achieve high-speed access to the Web, with current monthly subscription rates in the neighborhood of $40. They offer asymmetric access, that is, a much higher downstream speed than upstream, but for the majority of users this does not represent a problem, since the bulk of their use will be for Web surfing during which the bulk of the traffic travels in the downstream direction anyway. While cable modems do speed up access to the Web and other online services by several orders of magnitude, there are a number of downsides that must be considered. The greatest concern that has been voiced about cable modems is security. Because cable modems are always on, they represent an easy entry point for hackers looking to break into machines. It is, therefore, critical that cable subscribers use some form of firewall software or a router that has the ability to perform filtering.
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