Diamond Technology Reviews 2009

Diamond Technology Reviews '09

Engineering Experts Name Top New Solutions - October 29, 2009

For the Diamond Technology Reviews 2009 program, Broadband Gear Report invited vendors to submit information about products that had been released or upgraded since last year's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, which was held in June 2008. We assigned each entry to at least three of our six volunteer judges who are listed below. To help ensure fairness, similar products from different vendors were reviewed by the same group of panelists. Judges based scores/comments on written material provided by vendors, as well as their own experience with or knowledge of the specific technologies.

BGR's staff played no role in the judging of the submitted products. Review panelists were informed that scores/comments would remain anonymous.

By Laura Hamilton

SCTE is celebrating its 40th year and Expo 2009 is taking place in Denver - one of cable's traditional, old-school hubs - so it's easy to guess that there are going to be a lot of great stories of Expos-gone-by being tossed around this week. But, ultimately, Expo is not about the past, but the future of cable technology. It's long been one of the best places to check out the real technology that's propelling us forward. And that's why BGR's Diamond Technology Reviews program has always revolved around Cable-Tec Expo. Now in its fifth year, "the Diamonds" are a great way to get a snapshot of what some top engineering executives think about some of the best engineering solutions available to the industry today.

Diamonds Judges '09

  • Tom Gorman, VP of Field Operations, Charter

  • Nick Hamilton-Piercy, Independent Consultant (Retired Senior Technology Advisor, Rogers)

  • Roger Hughes, Senior Engineer, Operations, Cable Operations Center, Armstrong

  • Andy Parrott, Corporate VP of Technical Operations, Suddenlink

  • Tim Templeton, Manager of Network Design and Documentation, Sunflower Broadband

  • Ken Williams, Director of Engineering Technology, Cox

The judges listed in the sidebar above used the following scale to determine Diamonds scores:

  • 0-1 Useful product, yet commodity

  • 2-3 Solid product with viable attributes that set it apart

  • 4 Excellent product with technical features and performance that provide clear and substantial benefits

  • 5 Superb product that sets new standard for performance and provides groundbreaking and new technical milestones

We averaged each product's scores and rounded that to the nearest full or half Diamond. Note that products are grouped by score (with the highest Diamond ranking first), and then in alphabetical order.

Scores of 4 or above are considered superlative and reflect a very positive opinion from the panel. Only products receiving 4 Diamonds or above are included in this article.

Alloptic Managed MicroNode RFoG ONU: 5 Diamonds

The Managed MicroNode RFoG ONU extends Alloptic's RFoG ONU product range by adding a group of RFoG ONUs with remote management capabilities. It allows the extension of fiber deeper into the network - to the subscriber's location from a headend or hub - while continuing to use the embedded HFC/DOCSIS infrastructure. At the subscriber's premises, a MicroNode RFoG ONU connects the fiber to the existing in-building wiring, using the same cable modems, set-top boxes and other CPE. At the headend, existing infrastructure is leveraged as well. The same QAM modulators, laser transmitters, CMTS and EDFAs continue to be used along with current operating and billing systems.

"When you take a great product and continue to add features a step ahead of operators' needs, you have something worth bragging about," a Diamonds judge said. "A standalone RFoG MicroNode that also is remote-managed is a solution for many applications in the near future for MSOs."

Even though the RFoG ONU is the critical "optical enabler" in an RFoG architecture, it has, however, traditionally been a "dumb" device. In other words, connect it, add power and enjoy the benefits of fiber distribution without the ability to communicate with it remotely. Alloptic says that with its Managed MicroNode RFoG ONU, operators have the ability to remotely monitor the ONU as well as be able to remotely inhibit or re-enable signal transport - remote RFoG service control. With this control, service connects, disconnects, and reconnects are achieved without a service dispatch or truck roll, and theft-of-service losses can be decreased. That remote monitoring also supports the growing desire to manage and monitor every element in the network.

Aurora Networks NC2000 Optical Platform: 5 Diamonds

"Aurora is famous among MSOs for never once raising their prices and they continue to look out for us during these hard times by providing all the performance of their NC4000 in a 2x2 version to operators to save money in applications where a reduced number of output are not required," a Diamonds panelist stressed.

Aurora Networks' NC2000 is a 2x2 segmentable, wall or cabinet mounting node platform designed specifically for MDUs and underground applications. It delivers the combination of the 2x2 segmentation with up to 58 dBmV of RF output level at 1 GHz for deployment in both traditional HFC (node plus RF amplifiers) and fiber deep architectures. The NC2000 expands current bandwidth and lowers operational expenses by reducing the actives in the network, cutting power and maintenance costs.

The NC2000 builds on Aurora's NC4000 platform and incorporates the company's digital return and virtual hub (Vhub) technologies, which is said to enable operators to "double targeted bandwidth capacities" for subscriber services such as VOD, high-speed data and HDTV, without the need for additional nodes or other hardware upgrades in existing HFC, fiber deep and RFoG deployments, while simultaneously providing an optimal migration path to future network architectures with support for next-generation access modules, Node PON, BitCoax and Fiber on Demand.

"This very smartly designed node saves costs to operators, can be monitored and is very flexible," another judge noted. "This is an architecture element that can be leveraged for many years to come, allowing migration to newer optical designs."

Ciena CN 5305 Service Aggregation Switch: 5 Diamonds

Robust was the word used by more than one judge to describe this solution. This switch solves a problem "all operators contend with - mixing and managing multiple encapsulation formats and handling them off successfully to the access network," one panelist concluded. Another said: "With the growing business in wireless backhaul, the 5305 offers a simple out-of-the-box automated device configuration and service provisioning preferred by anyone tasked with a quick turn-up."

The Ciena CN 5305 is a modular service aggregation switch optimized for metro edge applications, enabling both high-density GigE connectivity to the subscriber edge and high-performance 10GbE uplinks to the service provider core. The CN 5305 is based on Ciena's True Carrier Ethernet technology. The company reports that it combines Ethernet technology with the reliability, management and service quality usually associated with SONET/SDH networking systems. The CN 5305 software architecture is based on a common service-aware operating system used in all Ciena service delivery switches (SDS) and service aggregation switches (SAS) to provide consistent system and service attributes and operational efficiency. Ciena says that the CN 5305 features QoS capabilities, superior virtual LAN (VLAN) and virtual switching functions and robust management and performance monitoring features. These functions are required to support carrier- grade Layer 2 virtual private networks (L2 VPNs), mission-critical data, high-speed Internet, and high-quality IPTV VoIP services.

Cisco RF Gateway 10: 5 Diamonds

"Can someone say please supersize my universal edge QAM?" one of BGR's panelists quipped. "480 QAMs on a single chassis (13 RUs) - that's impressive."

Cisco says that its RF Gateway 10 universal edge quadrature amplitude modulation (U-EQAM) device provides the scalability and high availability features required to support escalating QAM channel capacity needs. The technology features up to 480 QAM channels per chassis with the DS48 QAM line card, and the ability to substantially grow with future QAM cards. "The Cisco RF Gateway 10's compact design and dense QAM capabilities solve many edge convergence issues that operators are facing," another judge said.

Further key features of the device include redundancy of all system components with RF Gateway 10 DS-48 universal edge QAM line card subsecond failover, and 100% link redundancy with 10 GigE and GigE interfaces. It offers universal edge QAM functionality to support all digital video and DOCSIS services concurrently on a single platform, as well as a non-service affecting roadmap of incremental upgrades, including scalability to 200+Gbps aggregate bandwidth per chassis. Its dimensions are 13 rack units (RUs) high with up to three chassis per 7-foot rack (39 RUs).

Cisco lists its applications as broadcast video, SDV, VOD, standard- and high-definition digital video and DOCSIS 3.0 and M-CMTS.

Harmonic MediaPrism Convergence Suite and ProStream 4000 Multi-Screen Transcoder: 5 Diamonds

BGR's panelists found this to be very useful equipment for MSOs moving to "three-screen" TV-anywhere mode of service delivery. They liked its compact design and saw the technology as timely as the industry moves to capture new revenue streams from both fixed and mobile infrastructures.

Harmonic's mobile solution is a content preparation and transcoding platform for mobile video delivery to various networks and devices (broadcast, 3G/4G, Internet and sync-and-go). It incorporates Harmonic products including ProStream 4000 multi-screen transcoder, Rhozet Carbon Coder and LIVEcut technologies to enable operators to provision live, time-shifted and on-demand content on a mobile device. Leveraging existing headend equipment, Harmonic says its Converged Video Delivery Platform helps operators deliver the performance required for successful mobile and Internet TV video services.

One judge summed up the solution this way: "[It] is a large piece of the puzzle for solving the integration issues of voice, video and data to multiple devices, making services truly mobile."

Part of the platform, the ProStream 4000 multiscreen transcoder offers a solution for real-time transcoding of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC content for applications such as Internet TV and 3G/4G mobile TV. Harmonic says it is capable of transcoding up to 16 channels simultaneously while maintaining excellent video quality. An all-IP architecture enables seamless, low-cost integration into existing headends, the company also points out, while flexible software allows for future codec upgrades. Other benefits include comprehensive device configuration, N+M redundancy, alarm forwarding and APIs for system integration.

Vecima Terrace MDU Gateway: 5 Diamonds

The Vecima Networks Terrace MDU gateway is a multichannel QAM to analog RF converter. Demodulated MPEG-2 transport streams from multiple QAMs are decrypted, decoded to analog, then converted to the correct RF channel. The Terrace can demodulate up to 16 QAM carriers, select the MPEG-2 transport streams and remap them to 82 standard definition MPEG-2 program streams, which are NTSC modulated to analog video channels. Vecima says that the Terrace is a flexible, compact and cost-effective way to bring a digital lineup back into the analog realm for an MDU bulk account. In the context of large MDUs, it allows MSOs to maintain cable services to customers that do not subscribe to digital services. Terrace eliminates the need to deploy DTAs and set-tops to convert digital signal into analog format. Traditionally, this type of conversion was done either at the headend or at the customer premise. Terrace does this conversion at the curb.

Judges pointed out that it's a bit late to talk about this for the urgent transition to the all-digital market, but were very quick to add that this is a extremely valuable solution for the near term when it comes to the potentials that surround multiple dwelling units, hotels, etc.

Perhaps one panelist summed up the judges' conclusions best by saying that application for MDU and hospitality service delivery makes a lot of sense because it avoids huge investments and operational complexities of providing digital terminal adapters for every suite/TV set throughout the MDU, condominium complex, campus, hotel or hospital.

Another interesting feature of the unit is that is offers the option to do ad insertion at the MDU. This obviously adds potential source of revenue in terms of camera surveillance, paid advertising, community channels, etc.

ARRIS MDX 9200: 4.5 Diamonds

The ARRIS Media Distribution Switch (MDX) 9200 is purpose-built for multiple-screen converged media services. The company says it offers low operating costs by leveraging non-volatile, high-density solid-state storage to eliminate servicing hard disk drive failures and reducing power demands with fewer moving parts. ARRIS also reports that it has the highest storage density and bandwidth capable from flash storage.

Unique features of the MDX 9200 include full line rate regardless of protocol, encapsulation or codec. According to ARRIS, all other streaming platform vendors deliver line rates only for MPEG-2 delivery to legacy set-tops, but introduce significant degradation of performance to more contemporary clients/players, i.e., 5x-10x degradation. For example, a legacy MPEG-2 video pump, capable of 10 Gbps of throughput only can deliver 2 Gbps for Adobe Flash or Silverlight.

Another distinction is that the MDX introduces a new flash storage subsystem that optimizes the capability of solid-state flash storage densities with DRAM performance.

The judges that reviewed this product generally made the same observation: The solid-state storage is the real differentiator here.

JDSU MicroStealth QAM: 4.5 Diamonds

The Diamond Technology Reviews judges liked the "grass roots" and "keep it simple" focus of this product.

"It has great potential for reducing operational costs and getting it right the first time to minimize additional truck rolls," one panelist said. Another stressed that it was "easy to use and understand but also powerful."

The JDSU MicroStealth QAM (MSQ-800) provides field techs with a single tool to help ensure the quality of digital cable services in minutes. JDSU says that the simplified icon-based user interface reduces training time from weeks to hours. All tests can be reached within one button press from the main menu. An automated test feature lets users execute a set of user-defined tests with pass/fail indication, which ensures consistent performance of tests at each installation without wasting time.

Although the MSQ-800 is simple and compact, it reportedly provides all the necessary tests to verify digital and analog cable services. The digital measurements include digiCheck digital signal level, modulation error ratio (MER), pre- and post-FEC (forward error correction) bit error ratio (BER).

The MSQ-800 also offers analog channel video level, analog channel audio level, carrier-to-noise ratio (C/N), scan and tilt. Additionally, the MSQ-800 addresses the difficultly associated with configuring an instrument to perform digital measurements such as MER and BER. The new AutoPlan automatically detects channel type (analog or digital), QAM type (64 or 256), symbol rate, and spectral inversion. Users must only select the correct frequency plan and the MSQ automatically builds a channel plan based on the signals it discovers.

Motorola SURFboard Modular EMTA Platform: 4.5 Diamonds

Motorola's SURFboard M-EMTA platform can be applied to both multi-tenant businesses and multi-dwelling residential installations (strip malls, apartments, hotels, etc.) to extend broadband coverage to subscribers. It also provides a multi-line high-speed data and IP voice solution. Subscribers will like the fact that the platform enables one bill for voice and data, simultaneous use of both the phone line and the computer, and support for services like caller ID, call waiting and call forwarding. Also, since the M-EMTA can be located outdoors or in a utility closet, customers no longer need to be available for the cable operator to install services or make repairs.

"The Motorola SURFboard modular EMTA platform offering up to 48 lines and the optional hardened housing for external installation with 60 to 90 VAC HFC powering makes this an easy answer to many challenging MDU applications MSOs are faced with," a panelist concluded.

The platform uses industry standard signaling protocols to provide high-speed Internet access and up to 48 lines of full-featured primary line digital voice telephony service over a cable broadband connection to the multiple dwelling unit or multiple-tenant environment markets. The chassis is a fully modular, supporting a variety of EMTA module configurations to multiple subscribers, from two to four lines per module. All modules are reportedly easily installed and provisioned and are hot-swappable, should changes or upgrades be necessary.

Phoenix Broadband Power Agent Monitoring System: 4.5 Diamonds

This solution is "much needed as operators seek ways to efficiently maintain backup plant and monitoring" one of our judges commented.

Phoenix Broadband Technologies' Power Agent system not only automates battery maintenance, but also provides a means of determining battery health that the company says is not available with legacy manual maintenance techniques. According to the company, that's because manual techniques are inherently compromised because they provide only a brief snapshot in time, are done two to four times per year and individual measurements can vary by 15% or more per measurement (depending on the tech, type of meter, placement of the meter's probes on the cell/jar and force applied). Phoenix says that by making consistent, accurate and continuous measurements, the PowerAgent system does what manual maintenance promises, but didn't deliver.

The system is made up of a series of BatteryAgent sensor modules that are electrically and mechanically affixed to the terminal posts of the batteries being monitored, and a PowerAgent Site Controller unit that collects readings from the individual sensors and makes the information available for management purposes via an Ethernet local area network. BatteryAgent sensor modules are designed for use with 2 or 12 volt batteries in DC power plants and UPS power systems up to 600 volts DC and with several choices of mounting brackets for different post configurations.

RGB Broadcast Network Processor (BNP): 4.5 Diamonds

"A whole lotta horsepower in 1 RU!" a Diamonds panelist noted. Another pointed out: "RGB has put a lot of thought into this processor, from supporting MPEG-2 and H.264 to ensuring integrations with SCTE-18."

RGB Networks' BNP is currently in use by cable operators to deliver more HD programming, groom custom channel lineups and to generate new ad revenues through the insertion of local ads. The product's newest upgrades enable it to support several advanced capabilities that have become increasingly important to its growing worldwide customer base - supporting both cost-efficiency and revenue generation. Able to simultaneously process more than 500 video streams in its one rack-unit platform, the BNP is the reportedly the highest density solution for digital video grooming, statistical multiplexing, transrating, digital program insertion (DPI) and digital overlays. "The unprecedented stream processing density of the BNP significantly lowers the cost of delivering advanced digital video services, simplifies operation and management, and reduces operational and capital costs - while creating new sources of revenue through features such as digital ad overlays," according to RGB.

An upgrade of note to the BNP is the support for the MPEG-4/H.264 video format, which is increasingly important in many markets, particularly internationally. The BNP enables operators to take advantage of the bandwidth efficiencies of MPEG-4/H.264 to roll out their HDTV services, while continuing to use their traditional MPEG-2 infrastructures for their SD programming. This approach is said to dramatically reduce operators' cost to expand their HD offerings in a format that consumes far less bandwidth than MPEG-2. The result is a reduction in operational expenses and a direct increase in revenue, as operators can deliver more HD services without having to increase bandwidth via costly infrastructure upgrades.

Sunrise Telecom realGATE Broadband Test Management System: 4.5 Diamonds

BGR's judges stressed that MSOs are striving to ensure that every install is perfect and that subscribers only call back to pay compliments or order more services. "The realGATE solution is a perfect way to achieve those results," a judge commented. "The practice of uploading the results of each install or service call while standing at the job site is the best way to allow the details around the quality of network from the source to the CPE to get reviewed daily."

The Sunrise Telecom realGATE field gateway management tool is a Web-based comprehensive management system for devices, test results and work orders. It centralizes essential information while streamlining and improving broadband testing. Sunrise Telecom says that problems are isolated faster, truck rolls are reduced and time and money are saved.

RealGATE runs on a server appliance that communicates with test equipment in the field, while also allowing internal personnel access to the database via a private network. This open and scalable management platform allows the solution to manage assets, configurations and firmware, correlate work orders and test results and create home certification reports.

The product provides central control of system files (channel plans), test plans and test results to standardize testing, and allows "right the first time" benchmarks to be implemented. Historical results can be generated on the fly. Sunrise Telecom says it reduces capital equipment costs by tracking test equipment to ensure assets are fully utilized and calibrated.

Alloptic DPC DOCSIS PON Controller Software: 4 Diamonds

Alloptic's DPC DOCSIS PON controller software enables DOCSIS provisioning and control of the Alloptic EPON and Hybrid RF PON systems. DPC facilitates the acceleration of PON rollouts by MSOs using DOCSIS for service delivery. With DPC, Alloptic says that operators realize the benefits of PON, while continuing to use DOCSIS flow-through provisioning and control. DPC acts as a proxy between back-office systems and Alloptic GEPON system. In effect, the PON OLT appears to be a CMTS where the PON ONT takes the place of the cable modem, resulting in PON performance from a DOCSIS-controlled network.

One Diamonds judge summed it up as follows: "A timely product for those making a slow migration to PON in greenfield applications or in response to fiber competitive pressures. End points 'look like' DOCSIS end points so minimum disruption to existing back-office provisioning/control systems, which is essential in a busy and cash-restrained operating environment. Good solution."

Alloptic reports that one way that operators can save money using the solution is by removing the costs related to errors in manual provisioning and activation. Another way is to avoid spending sums in customizing their systems to support automated activation of PON deployments. Training costs are reduced as well, due to the ability for providers to "do what they do today" and still be deploying and gaining the benefits from next-generation EPON solutions. DPC works in concert with other Alloptic products including its Managed MicroNode RFoG ONUs, GEPON OLTs and ONTs and the GEMS management system to allow increased operational efficiencies, bandwidth gains and the ability to offer advanced services to residential and business customers without requiring major overhauls or replacement of OSS components.

Alloptic Return Path Receiver: 4 Diamonds

"Operators will find this product useful for FTTH projects especially those utilizing remote OLTs," one of our panelists concluded.

The emergence of RFoG technology is stretching the limits of typical return path receivers found in HFC networks. Receive levels are as low as -20 dBm because of the optical loss of splitters in the return path. At this input level, the noise performance of many receivers is not adequate to support high-order modulation formats like 64-QAM. This is especially the case for networks deploying DOCSIS 3.0 with channel bonding.

Further exacerbating the problem, in practical deployments multiple receivers are combined, causing the carrier-to-noise ratio performance to drop even more. One solution would be to improve performance by using a higher power laser in the R-ONU, but this is impractical due to the cost impact. Alloptic says that the most economically viable solution then is to improve the performance of the return path receiver.

Alloptic addresses this problem with a line of new low-noise return path receivers that offer "significant noise improvement over commonly available receivers." These receivers are an integral part of two-way RF access networks, converting return path optical signals into RF signals at the headend or remote hubs. Four independent receivers are packaged in a 1RU rack-mountable enclosure, serving 256 RFoG optical network units (ONUs) such as the Alloptic MicroNode RFoG ONUs. The Alloptic low-noise receiver design improves noise performance by as much as 5 dB over typical return receivers, according to the company.

ARRIS ConvergeMedia Management Suite: 4 Diamonds

The ARRIS ConvergeMedia Management Suite features the VOD Dashboard, part of the ConvergeMedia Management Suite for On Demand, and allows operators to configure system views of on-demand usage to suit their specific needs and enable them to identify service-impacting issues. The product's management tools allow high-level viewing of on-demand services with the capability to run analysis and drill down to detailed information about specific issues. It features Lights Out operations that do not require operator intervention for on-demand content management. Active Failover options allow backup server(s) to take over operations in case of catastrophic failure and continue on-demand service without interruption.

"An operator must live by the motto 'always on' and the Active Failover option provides the reliability needed to fulfill our motto," a judge noted.

The suite also is said to enable new revenue streams by supporting the Unified Video Delivery Platform. Additionally, advanced VOD advertising is allowed using the already existing VOD platforms.

Another Diamonds panelist concluded, "The ConvergeMedia Suite takes steps forward in many areas, including reliability, advanced advertising and recommendation techniques."

BelAir 100S Release 9.0: 4 Diamonds

"This continued enhancement of a useful product will let operators increase revenue options and reduce installation and operations costs," a panelist said. Another put it in even a more simple way: "Excellent concept and implementation."

BelAir Networks says its 100S strand-mounded WiFi node helps reduce OPEX by leveraging cable operators' existing network infrastructure for mounting, power and backhaul - removing all traditional barriers to effective large scale WiFi deployments, while reducing the cost and time associated with network installation. A BelAir100S can be installed on cable strand in less than 15 minutes, according to the company. The 100S features many different strand-mounting options including aerial strand, in pedestals, vaults and cabinets.

The unit is managed by BelView 4 NMS, a network management system that leverages GIS-based mapping and GPS information to facilitate the setup and management of WiFi networks of all sizes, supporting up to 20,000 wireless APs in a single network. The BelAir100S also is said to seamlessly integrate with the cable op's back office infrastructure to facilitate service provisioning. Additionally, it enables operators to leverage license-free spectrum to address quad-play opportunities. No investment in licensed bandwidth is required.

On the new revenue source side, BelAir points out that its 100S enables cable operators to capitalize on the popularity and ubiquity of WiFi-enabled mobile devices and applications to attract and retain broadband customers, win new enterprise business in high-value verticals and to offer cellular operators a way to offload 3G data traffic.

Cisco Explorer 8642HDC Next-Generation Hybrid DVR and Media Server: 4 Diamonds

The H8642HDC features Cisco's sixth generation system-on-chip (SoC) design, offering what the company reports as 300% more processing power than previous generations. The standard 320 GB hard disk drive doubles the DVR storage of previous HD/PVR models to record more programs. The 8642HDC is a hybrid IPTV/QAM design that supports the sending or receiving of streaming media via IP. It also contains dual tuners for receipt of QAM modulated video enabling dual recording of network-broadcasted content. The solution supports M-Card conditional access security. The Cisco video architecture is flexible in supporting content and providing digital rights management where video is delivered over IPTV or QAM methods.

The technology is video-over-DOCSIS capable. It also offers increased consumer choice for cross-platform content sharing with a new USB 2.0 port for connectivity to consumer electronics such as digital video cameras and memory sticks. The Explorer 8642HDC also supports digital transmission content protection over IP (DTCP-IP) and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) IP-based standards for whole-home DVR and video content sharing.

The solution is future-proof for growing interactive services, a panelist said, and the whole-home experience enables new revenue streams.

EXFO ROADM/POTS and 40G Testing Combo: 4 Diamonds

Judges agreed that the modular aspect of this product was key to its solid score. "Operators can add elements as necessary ... EXFO has built a great enabler for MSOs to optimize their optical transport networks," one of BGR's panelists stressed.

Building on EXFO's modular design, the company's new portable solution combines the FTB-5240S-P optical spectral analyzer (OSA) and the FTB-8140 Transport Blazer modules in the FTB-500 platform to offer operators an integrated approach to 40G optical spectral characterization and transport testing. EXFO says its integrated 40G optical spectral characterization and transport solution is the "first and only" testing solution on the market supporting in-band OSNR and 40G/43G testing capabilities all in one box.

The FTB-8140 (40G/43G) module can be complemented with either a standard OSA or an in-band OSA for network commissioning or with the FTB-8130NGE for service turn-up, including Dsn/PDH, SONET/SDH, Ethernet and fiber channel services. EXFO points out that its 40G integrated solution is a "true field-upgradeable solution." With software options, customers can enable testing capabilities including 43G, intrusive through-mode, Ethernet and FC in the field through software keys. No hardware upgrade is required. Also, with the growing demand for deploying ROADMs for bandwidth scalability and operational efficiency in 40G networks, EXFO's integrated solution covers all ROADM commissioning configurations including lower-rate SONET/SDH services mapped within 40G pipes down to STS-1/AU-4 granularity.

Fujitsu FLASHWAVE CDS: 4 Diamonds

"The Fujitsu FLASHWAVE CDS is a considerable solution for MSOs challenged with the ever-growing needs to add business Ethernet across a legacy network," one of our judges stated.

Fujitsu's FLASHWAVE CDS packet optical networking platform delivers high-density connection-oriented Ethernet, SONET and TDM circuit emulation services in a modular platform. It is designed to address a range of aggregation and transport applications including mobile and cable modem backhaul services, business access and Ethernet services. The system supports private-line quality Ethernet transport for business services as well as existing SONET-based services. Fujitsu says the new platform is ideal for use as enterprise CPE and in multi-tenant/multi-floor office buildings and outside plant cabinets.

The company also reports that the FLASHWAVE CDS eases migration for TDM to Ethernet transport for next-generation WiMAX and 4G LTE base stations. "These systems require high-bandwidth, native Ethernet transport services - the perfect application for the FLASHWAVE CDS optical edge platform," Fujitsu says.

Fujitsu points out key technical advantages as the two-slot modular design, high-density Ethernet interfaces, connection-oriented Ethernet transport, advanced traffic prioritization and traffic management and robust Ethernet link and service OAM.

Harmonic ProView 7000 Integrated Receiver and Stream Processor: 4 Diamonds

Harmonic reports that its ProView 7000 integrated receiver and stream processing platform is "the world's first solution to combine a scalable video receiver, DVB descrambler, multi-format decoder and MPEG stream processor in a single rack unit." By integrating transport stream descrambling, remultiplexing and the ability to decode all formats and standards, the ProView 7000 streamlines system architecture - and thus helps operators implement a scalable infrastructure that simplifies their operations and cuts capital and operating costs. Harmonic says that the ProView 7000's density and flexibility make it invaluable for an expanding channel lineup. By integrating DVB-S/S2 demodulation and streaming descrambled content over IP, the system enables operators to quickly and cost-effectively launch new services leveraging their existing IP or legacy ASI infrastructure.

The Harmonic ProView 7000 features broadcast quality SD and HD, MPEG-2 and AVC video decoders, engineered for distribution and contribution applications. The flexible hardware design can be reconfigured by a firmware upgrade, enabling seamless adaptation to new inbound video formats and codecs such as the transition from SD MPEG-2 to HD AVC.

BGR's panelists gave this high marks for its unique features and flexibility. "Who wouldn't want more out of their receivers?" a judge commented. "The Harmonic ProView 7000 delivers much more by adding a DVB descrambler, multiformat decoder and MPEG stream processor all in a 1RU scalable video receiver."

JDSU MVP-200 Video Probe: 4 Diamonds

One judge cheered the JDSU MVP-200 video probe for its ability to provide an improved solution for MSOs to reduce the mean time to repair by providing real-time monitoring and simultaneously completing deep packet inspections on select streams. "The full-time, 100% monitoring of all digital video is a real plus and differentiator," another panelist noted.

JDSU reports that with the new release of SimulTrack II for Ethernet, the MVP-200 now has the ability to function as both an MPEG digital video monitoring probe while simultaneously supporting the ability to do deep packet inspection on a selected MPEG Transport Streams or single program. The company says that users no longer need to choose between purchasing a monitoring probe (to provide ongoing real-time monitoring) and an analyzer to provide the detailed level of analysis engineers often need to identify difficult problems. With the MVP-200, both capabilities are provided in a single distributed package, JDSU says.

The monitoring capabilities can be integrated into existing systems through the use on an XML-based API. SNMP traps and email notification are available as well. The analysis functions provide detailed table and metadata analysis with the ability to analyze issues like video/audio timing drift often related to lipsync issues. The SCTE-35 DPI support allows the identification of splice points.

JDSU T-BERD 6000A Multi-Service Application Module: 4 Diamonds

One panelist put it simply by saying he was impressed by this small, yet powerful, piece of test gear that he believed had a great user interface.

JDSU claims that its handheld T-BERD 6000A multi-services application module (MSAM) "provides the industry's most compact and powerful multifunction, multilayer 10 Gigabit tester for installing and maintaining Carrier-grade Ethernet and IP services." Technicians can add testing capability with pluggable physical interface modules (PIMs), small form-factor pluggable modules (SFPs), and 10 Gb/s small form-factor modules (XFPs) to create a variety of field-configurable optical/electrical test combinations.

"The business needs to install and maintain a reliable Ethernet and installers and technicians need the best tools to ensure the best QoS. The JDSU T-BERD 6000A module provides the confidence every tech wants in a handheld unit to supply the best troubleshooting or just knowing the QoS is perfect," a Diamond judge said.

Transport and Special Services technicians using this modular handheld field tester can turn up and maintain Metro Core networks. Interfaces on the unit range from 1.5 Mb/s to 11.1 Gb/s on various synchronous and asynchronous technologies, including Ethernet, SONET/SDH, OTN and Fiber Channel (FC). It can also verify and troubleshoot higher-layer IP video, Layer 4 (L4) User Datagram Protocol/Transmission Control Protocol (UDP/TCP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Mixed Signals Sentry 4.0: 4 Diamonds

"I love this product," a Diamonds judge said. "A definite must-have for evaluating the 'final' video quality factor received by the customer. Going farther than a simple evaluation of bits in error or transmission errors, this product attempts to evaluate final video quality as perceived by the customer, which is the ultimate standard to meet. If our industry fails to do this, our customers will tell us by switching to competing services or compelling the FCC to mandate digital video quality factors."

In addition to Mixed Signals Sentry's ability to detect frozen video, loss of audio or black screens, the new upgrade helps operators capture additional subscriber-impacting issues like macroblocking and tiling as well as audio level issues while evaluating the real impact of all issues on the subscriber's viewing and listening experience. Mixed Signals also says that the new upgrade helps operators ensure that their subscribers are getting the best QoE with the new Audio and Video QoE Scoring System, which indicates the satisfaction level of the viewer by 'scoring' video and audio impairments. The scores are based on a decode analysis of each program in real time, which allows the system to determine how errors manifest on the viewers' TV screens or through their audio speakers. Should events such as freezing, tiling/macro-blocking, audio disruptions, etc., affect the quality of the viewers' TV experience, the score is reduced.

The magnitude and duration of the score reduction is based on an analysis that includes the positioning of the error on the viewer's screen, the duration of any reduction in quality and the frequency that quality issues occur on a program. The system models these results based on an average TV viewer's reaction and incorporates them into a continuously graphed Audio/Video QoE score chart. Also, the advanced reporting package in the Sentry 4.0 upgrade helps ops ascertain the critical problem areas or locations of their networks. These reports are customizable and can be automatically generated in a PDF and/or CSV (with the alert data) file format and emailed to designated people on hourly, daily, weekly or monthly intervals.

R.L. Drake Digital Freedom System: 4 Diamonds

A Diamonds judge summed up this solution by saying it's a excellent way to start the move to MPEG-4.

Drake claims that its Digital Freedom system is the lowest cost, full end-to-end MPEG-4 digital and HD video delivery platform available today. The system's architecture is designed to overlay existing hardware to minimize downtime upon installation and maximize the current hardware investment, the company says. According to Drake, it "provides a fully scalable and reliable migration path from analog to digital distribution, allowing broadband cable engineers to recover and manage broadband spectrum far more efficiently without the necessity of major new capital expenditures."

The Drake Digital Freedom System is specifically aimed at helping cable operators migrate more efficiently to digital and HD. The system's scalability allows operators to deploy only what they need now and later grow to meet increasing demand, access new products and offer additional services. Operational expenses are also reduced since all Drake Digital Freedom headend systems are designed for simple deployment and offer a small equipment footprint.

Another Diamonds judge pointed out that smaller cable operators that are still in the midst of deploying digital services may perhaps benefit most from this product. He also sees it as a good solution for providing service to the hotel/motel market.

Sunrise Telecom STT 40G: 4 Diamonds

Sunrise Telecom's STT 40G is a 40G/43G test system that verifies the performance of new, high-bandwidth synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH), optical transport networks (OTN) and SONET networks. As super high-bandwidth links like OTU3, STM-256 or OC-768 carry more user traffic, a single failure could have a catastrophic impact on a large subscriber base. Operators need testing procedures and tools to provision these mission-critical circuits. Sunrise Telecom says that unlike other 40G testers, its STT 40G has been designed with an intense focus on extreme user-friendliness while at the same time being able to perform comprehensive 40G/43G link performance and reliability testing. The STT 40G reportedly assures that these 40/43 G links are brought into service error-free and with guaranteed performance.

"More and more operators are placing lifeline services, digital video transport and other key services across their network backbones and providing aggressive service level agreements to carriers," one of our judges said. "The Sunrise Telecom STT 40G test system is a necessary tool to support your super high-bandwidth links."

Another judge was most impressed by the product's flexibility. "Allowing test engineers to use only necessary modules effectively spreads the functionality of a single unit to multiple sites," he said.

Sunrise Telecom SunLite GigE Tester: 4 Diamonds

"[It's] a must-have device for any MSO growing its Ethernet business services. This is a light and easy-to-use test meter for any tech challenged with ensuring best QoS and exceeding SLAs," a BGR judge stated.

The Sunrise Telecom SunLite GigE is a rugged, compact and palm-sized unit for the installation and maintenance of Metro Ethernet and IP services. It verifies end-to end transport of 10/100/1000 and Gigabit Ethernet/IP traffic, performs BER tests, determines throughput, link utilization, round trip delay and IP connectivity. The GUI, along with the straightforward creation and sharing of test profiles, is said to allow techs with limited Ethernet or IP testing experience to verify performance parameters for GigE services.

Another Diamonds judge concluded that it is "a great test set in a small form factor. This unit is great for turn-up and troubleshooting."

Sunrise Telecom says the unit is the smallest, most lightweight Ethernet tester capable of full wire rate BERT testing as well as RFC 25444 over both 10/100/1000 Base T copper (UTP) as well as SFP GigE and 100FX (fiber). The company also reports that the fanless operation not only makes for testing in silence, but also makes for increased reliability. The 6+ hour battery life helps eliminate recharging between jobs, and the bright color LCD is said to be easy to read in any light.

TANDBERG Television Xport Time-Shifted TV Solution: 4 Diamonds

TANDBERG Television's Xport Time-Shifted TV (TSTV) solution is said to offer operators a way to dramatically expand the number of broadcast channels they can offer as part of a delayed viewing experience (including restart functionality where subs can watch the recorded program while the linear version is still on-air). The Xport TSTV was designed to manage multiple content receive/record sites simultaneously with a single interface. The solution combines scalability, centralized management of recording rights, broadcast capture with "live TV" redundancy and an open architecture.

Targeted advertising is still a largely untapped revenue opportunity. But through the use of SCTE messaging and edge caching technology, MSOs can resell and reuse local advertising avails in new ways. Using the Xport TSTV solution to perform dynamic ad swapping into a time-shifted stream protects the legal obligations to advertisers and provides a new source of ad revenue.

"These are new advancements that I love to see each year," one panelist said. "I love the restart and then when you add in the ability to dynamically provide unique advertising to restarted end-users, the TANDBERG Xport time-shifted TV solution is the way to go."

TSTV manages multiple sites simultaneously with a single interface, reducing the need for personnel at each remote location, as well as narrowing the opportunity for error by having one source handle all management of time-shifted programming. The solution also is built on open interfaces, which allows ops to use video servers from multiple vendors.

Vecima Terrace QAM: 4 Diamonds

The Diamonds judges that reviewed this product gave it high marks for its ability to open up new markets for cable operators. The Vecima Networks Terrace QAM hospitality gateway is a multichannel QAM to QAM transcryptor for use in the hospitality industry. Demodulated MPEG transport streams are decrypted by CableCARDs then re-encrypted using Pro:Idiom technology. The encrypted MPEG transport streams are re-modulated and then delivered to the desired RF channel. The Terrace QAM can demodulate up to 64 QAM carriers, decrypt both SD and HD programs, and protect with Pro:Idiom hospitality encryption.

The Terrace QAM is said to remove the encryption standard barrier between cable and hospitality networks by converting the cable encryption standards to Pro:Idiom hospitality encryption, thus opening up the hospitality sector to be served by MSOs. Vecima says the Terrace QAM accomplishes this at a modest cost to cable MSOs. No changes are required to the hospitality network if the hospitality network already uses Pro:Idiom encryption; the fact that Terrace QAM converts the encryption to the Pro:Idiom standard will appeal to hotel operators who are considering an investment in Pro:Idiom subscriber equipment.

Vecima says the Terrace QAM offers superior flexibility via its ability to: demodulate up to 64 QAM channels, support up to 10 integrated CableCARDs, and handle SD and HD programming in a single chassis.

Laura Hamilton is editor-in-chief at BGR. Email her at laura.hamilton@comcast.net.

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