This is the fourth of my SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2011 cool product show reviews for those of you unable to attend or too busy with booth duty. I tried to stop and or look at every booth but might have missed a product. If that's the case please get in touch with me and let me know why your product deserves a review too.
When I first heard a rumor that a new company had a DOCSIS protocol analyzer floating around I had to see it! With full disclosure, many of you know that I spent a few years designing, marketing and selling DOCSIS protocol analyzers. They are a bit of a passion of mine as I have seen their value in resolving complex DOCSIS issues, so it is nice to see a new competitor in the space. What's more is that its nice to see this competitor at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo who is interested in cable operator's issues.
So a little about the company and the product. The company is called TraceSpan Communications and they are currently making protocol analyzers for VDSL2, ADSL2Plus, ADSL2, ADSL, and GPON, so DOCSIS was a logic step for them. They do all of the downstream and upstream demodulation in FPGAs, so they are not reliant on any vendor chipsets, like Broadcom or TI. They also support DOCSIS 3.0 and have built-in front end attenuation which support a wide dynamic range of RF power. The product itself is call DOCSIS Xpert™ and has two parts, the demod box, pictured above and a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that runs on a PC. DOCSIS captures include DOCSIS MAC protocol, IP layer and even PHYsical layer information as pictured below:
That is a 64-QAM upstream cable modem burst in the display. The blue clusters in upper right and lower left quadrants are the pre-amble portion of the burst used for the training sequence in the burst demodulator. It is a constellation for just one cable modem and just one burst. The remaining information on the screen contains the source and destination MAC and IP addresses along with all of the content data. The screen also contains information on other cable modems, but only one cable modem is selected on the left hand side, highlighted in blue.
One thing I found particularly impressive about the product and the companies representatives was their keen understanding of DOCSIS typologies such as MAC domains. As such they have included these features into the DOCSIS Xpert. Further they have integrated a number of advanced analysis capabilities that monitor cable modem MAC layer activity and flag potential issues, such as modems that are making frequent power adjustments during station maintenance. I believe they could extend this much further into a powerful monitoring system.
While this is the first release of the DOCSIS Xpert from TraceSpan, I believe that it is more advanced than the current DOCSIS protocol analyzers available. I did express concerns to the TraceSpan representatives that GUI needs to be more user friendly in order for the product to become mainstream in the cable operator environment. As with any product as complicated as a DOCSIS protocol analyzer, I need a few days of hands-on experience to really know how well the product works in different environments before I could recommend it. My first take, and never having seen one function in my lab, is that it is a promising product and with the right features could have tremendous value to the DOCSIS eco-system.