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NXTcomm 2008: Spirent takes on the home network

Telecommunications Online
06-18-08, by Sean Buckley

New handheld tester targets MoCA-based IP video networks

When the home network consisted of just the telephone, the telco�s demarcation point of responsibility ended at the end-user�s NID (network interface device).

With the roll out of RF and IP-based video, service providers now not only have to test their last mile and core networks, but also inside the home to ensure the user is getting the right Quality of Experience (QoE) for these services.

Enter Spirent and its Tech-X Flex hand-held network and service quality tester, a device can help service providers test IP service issues inside the consumer�s home.

Beginning with Sunrise Telecom and their HTT and JDSU with its smart class product line, Jakub Janiszewski, Research Analyst, Automation & Electronics, Frost & Sullivan believes that Spirent�s release of the Tech- X Flex, is representative of the increased focus by test and measurement vendors to target home networking.

�If we look at a common scenario that a service provider discovers, while deploying a service at customer�s premise is that he is pretty unaware of what kind of networking infrastructure and interface will he find inside,� he says. �For this reason the approach to have a one tool for the most common networking technologies will surely be interesting for service providers.�

After spending millions of dollars building out a next-gen fiber-based last mile and core network, the last thing a service provider with video wants to do is loose customers or time to truck rolls when the cable company down the street would be happy to welcome back that same customer.

�What they found is that they were taking between five to eight hours to do a turn up with multiple dispatches, which is very inefficient,� says Sean Yarborough, director of marketing strategy, partnership and field test solutions at Spirent Communications. �Part of the opportunity here is to allow service providers to install and maintain their triple play services by dealing with home network and not just assuming when you get to the house it�s going to work.�

Tester for all seasons
While Spirent said it plans in future releases to support Home Phone Network Alliance (HPNA), Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) has been gaining increased momentum amongst both cable operators and Verizon with its FiOS Fiber to the Premise (FTTP) rollout.

Whether the service provider is using HPNA, MoCA, Cat 5 Ethernet (mostly IOCs) and 802.11 as their home networking medium for video, the technician has to be able to test whatever situation exists at the home.

To accommodate these network mediums, Spirent�s Tech-X is a modular platform that can test not only IP quality over MoCA networks, but also 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11 WLAN all on one unit.

A service provider can now isolate whether the problem is at the set top box (STB), a wireless LAN router issue or with the wiring.

�Spirent�s new device targets the [home networking testing] market, but with a slightly modified approach,� says Janiszewski. �It seems to go a step further, with its �swiss army knife� philosophy, which can be seen in their broad coverage of networking interfaces.�

Yarborough adds that today technicians performing video testing are only doing RF analog measurements on loss and attenuation, but they�re doing nothing in terms of qualifying the actual MoCA transport interface for video.

�What that means is if you want to do DVR sharing between two set top boxes, each service provider has their own recommendation on what bandwidth they need for the set top box in your entertainment room and your bedroom,� he says. �Verizon, for example, is not doing anything to isolate a set top box problem from a coax problem from a video head end issue. If they typically run into a problem, their first inclination is swap out the set top box or swap out the router and its costing Verizon hundreds of dollars.�

The other issue that can arise in testing video is dealing with proprietary signaling between the set-top box and the video server or encryption. While most IP video test sets could emulate a STB, the proprietary signaling between the set top box and video server made it difficult for a technician to pull down a specific video stream (i.e., CNN or The Lion King on demand).

Instead, the Tech-X Flex system, which has support for MoCA and dual Ethernet interfaces for IP video, assumes that there will be some proprietary signaling from the middleware provider. If the STB signaling is not proprietary, they can emulate the set top box, but if it is proprietary, Tech-X can go in line and do a passive test and look at the statistics to see where the source of the problem is.

�One more extremely important difference is that Tech-X Flex aims not only at testing of physical layer, but also testing if the level of service is sufficient,� says Janiszewski.

Back office check in
If a network issue at the home is acute, it would be difficult for the technician � who unlikely has the requisite knowledge of the network issues � to communicate these complex issues back to the NOC. By taking what Yarborough calls a �PC inside of a handheld test package,� the technician can have the data it collects at the customer site sent directly back to the NOC and integrated with the provider�s back office systems.

In one scenario, Spirent said one customer that�s evaluating the product, wants to use the Ethernet or MoCA network and then send the data back to the results database at the NOC.

Despite all of Tech-X�s benefits, Spirent faces the inevitable challenge of proving the solution out, but at this point have been no announced customer wins.

�It seems to be a very innovative product, with great perspectives, but it�s a bit too early to say, if it is going to be a full success; we must wait for the feedback from end-users,� says Janiszewski. �One more thing is the price issue: Spirent�s device�s price will be over twice as high as HTT�s, so its performance and resulting dispatch and servicing costs reduction should be significant in order to make up for the tester�s price.�