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Cable TV cheers its new modems

The cable television industry meets in Southern California next week for an annual trade show highlighted by the arrival of high-speed Internet access systems running over cable.

The cable television industry will meet in Southern California next week for an annual trade show highlighted by the arrival of high-speed Internet access systems running over cable.

The meeting of the Western Trade Show, expected to attract a record 24,000 attendees, will be the first show where vendors and attendees can point to cable-based Net access products that are real and available.

The cable modems on display next week are expected to start providing some real competition to ISDN lines and high-speed modems. The cable TV industry is anxious for the new cable-modem services to generate new streams of revenue, but many hurdles remain. Many consumers still complain that service is spotty at best from many cable companies for their high-tech offerings, and phone companies are getting more serious about their own high-speed Net access services based on the ADSL protocol for delivering digital data at high-speeds over regular copper phone lines.

Still, the cable TV industry is expected to turn out in force to hear how cable modems can bring fresh blood into the market. Industry sources say some expected announcements will include:

  • CableLabs, the industry's research arm, in collaboration with major industry players will announce the completion of a set of open industry standards for cable modems. That task, first outlined a year ago, means that cable modems from different vendors should be able to exchange information within a year. A set of standards is crucial if cable modems are to become more than a niche product useful only on private networks, where all the users are running the exact same applications.

  • Cable modem makers such as Motorola and LANcity are expected to announce big orders for their products from cable companies such as Cox Communications. The deals with Cox alone are expected to involve tens of thousands of modems. Bay Networks, Cable Data, General Instrument, Hybrid, and Com21 also will display products. Hewlett Packard is also expected to show off a cable modem, sources said.

  • Motorola and Sun Microsystems are expected to detail their progress on an alliance intended to optimize the performance of Motorola modems for Java applications as well as Java-based network appliances. HP, for example, is expected to show off a cable modem, sources said.

  • Services such as @Home and Continental Cablevision's Highway 1 will announce more expansion of their regional services. @Home also is expected to announce more deals with yet another list of content providers.

    The Western Trade Show, sponsored by the California Cable Television Association, will feature more exhibitors than ever. The show's speakers will include TCI chief John Malone, Microsoft senior vice president Craig Mundie, Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner, Marimba's CEO Kim Polese, and Electric Minds' founder Howard Reingold.

    @Home partner Comcast couldn't want wait for next week to announce a new rollout of its @Home service to nearly 500,000 homes in the Baltimore area. The company announced its service today, priced at $39.95 a month for its cable customers and $59.95 a month for noncable customers, for unlimited Net access.

    Early next year, Comcast plans to launch the service in Sarasota, Florida; northern New Jersey, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Detroit, and Orange County, California.

    Cox, another @Home partner, plans to roll out service in Orange County in December, according to the company. Phoenix and San Diego would be rolled out early next year, an executive said.