Cable modem standard could be near

A long-awaited standard for cable modems is gathering steam through the acceptance of the MCNS specification.

Paul Festa
Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
2 min read
A long-awaited standard for cable modems is gathering steam.

Cisco Systems, Hayes Microcomputer Products, Samsung Electronics, and Thomson Consumer Electronics today announced plans to deliver products based on the cable modem specification called Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS.

The specification is known more commonly as the MCNS specification, for the Multimedia Cable Network System Partners, the group of four major cable television system operators that manages it.

Cable modems connect to existing TV cable lines and can offer Internet access to home users at speeds of up to 10 mbps--many times that of the typical 28.8-kbps modem now used in home PCs. But the lack of an industry-wide standard has hindered widespread rollout.

Cisco has developed a product design compliant with the MCNS specification. Hayes, Samsung, and Thomson will base their modems on that design.

Analysts hailed the Cisco announcement as a step toward standardization. "This is a pretty significant announcement," said Beth Gage, senior broadband consultant with TeleChoice. "It will help further the development and 'consumerization' of cable modems."

Plans are underway to produce MCNS-compliant modems at most major manufacturers, including Bay Networks, NextLevel Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, and Zenith.

Some manufacturers, however, do not plan to scrap their current, proprietary modems. 3Com, for example, will continue to produce its proprietary ATM-based modems.

"The first-generation MCNS spec is designed for the residential Web surfing community," said 3Com spokesperson Paul Yesnosky. "We believe there is a market segment that may want to stick with a proprietary system. The question is how long the proprietary modems will survive.

"We think the residential market will go with MCNS," he added. "3Com is in the marketplace with cable modem with ATM, but we will also develop an MCNS-compliant product."

Parts of the MCNS specification have been submitted to the International Telecommunication Union, but Yesnosky downplayed the importance of the standards body's approval.

"Some things become the de facto standard because they have the market presence," he said. "MS-DOS is the de facto standard for PCs, and it didn't have to go through a standards body. The cable industry believes in this standard. MCNS is becoming the de facto standard for transmitting data over cable infrastructure."

MCNS-compliant products are expected to reach the market by the end of this year or the first quarter of 1998.