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Broadband gear makers think broadly

October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 12:04 p.m. EDT (1604 GMT)

by Stephen Lawson


(IDG) -- As service providers begin to roll out broadband services over cable modems and Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), even fatter pipes to homes and businesses are now coming off the drawing board.

Intel recently demonstrated one of those technologies at a new facility in Santa Clara, Calif., showing how digital television signals can transmit as much as 19Mbps per TV channel over satellites and local TV systems.

The demonstration followed a recent announcement that Alcatel and Texas Instruments are cooperating on Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) technology that offers as much as 60Mbps throughput.

As impressive as current broadband technologies may be, developing technologies show that local-loop connectivity is not stopping there. The trend of faster connections for less money, driving down the cost of rich services to enterprise facilities and telecommuters' homes, is expected to continue.

Intel used equipment from SkyStream that converts IP packets into an MPEG video stream, a data type that can traverse television satellites and local digital TV systems.

In its demonstration, Intel showed multimedia-rich Web pages that take advantage of the big pipe available to a digital TV station. According to Intel, every licensed television station that adopts digital broadcast equipment will have a 19Mbps pathway to any PC, digital TV, or compatible set-top box.

Because a conventional TV signal uses far less than 19Mbps, TV stations will be able to offer protected subchannels -- hefty in themselves -- to enterprises for training videos or other multimedia content. Paths could also be set aside for offering high-capacity Web access.

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According to SkyStream, sending a digital MPEG stream effectively boosts the capacity of a TV cable by using that capacity more efficiently. Today's cable modem services generally offer a maximum of about 10Mbps.

All TV stations will be required to deploy digital broadcasting gear over the next several years. Some current cable set-top boxes can take digital TV signals, and a rooftop antenna with a special set-top box could be used to bring in the signals to a corporate LAN, according to SkyStream.

European telecom giant Alcatel has teamed up with Texas Instruments to deliver 60Mbps DSL products next year. The companies will design the VDSL products as infrastructure for provider services such as video on demand, voice calls, and high-speed Internet access.

Alcatel earlier this month demonstrated at Telecom 99 in Geneva a VDSL solution that is now available to service providers for field trials. Texas Instruments has announced a VDSL digital signal processor chipset. The TNETD8000 chipset is designed for use in customer premise and carrier facility equipment.

The products offer a combined upstream and downstream throughput as high as 60Mbps, depending on the length and condition of lines.

One observer, while expressing high hopes for VDSL, urged enterprises not to hold off DSL plans to wait for the faster technology. VDSL could boost connections among separate buildings, or to service providers, beyond the speed of an expensive DS-3 (45Mbps) corporate WAN link.

"The cost of a DS-3 is so high that something like VDSL is likely to be very attractive," said Dan Taylor, an analyst at Giotto Perspectives, in Boston. "We're not talking about a huge investment."

Nevertheless, setting up 1.5Mbps Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) service today probably will pay for itself as a stopgap measure, Taylor said. "If someone can get ADSL today, the reasons today are compelling enough."

Intel's digital TV technology may eventually offer a bigger pipe into telecommuters' homes, but its prospects are far out, Taylor added.

"Digital TV is going to have a tough row to hoe, because TV sets are so cheap right now," Taylor said. High costs may keep the infrastructure from being built and widely used for several years, he said.

Texas Instruments' VDSL chip set now is shipping in sample quantities to equipment makers.

Stephen Lawson is an InfoWorld senior writer.

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