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Cable Modem and HFC
Market Pull/Technology Push
Cable Network and Evolution to HFC
5.3.1 History of the Cable Network
5.3.2 Legacy Cable Network
5.3.3 HFC Network
5.3.4 Upstream/Downstream Cable Spectrum
5.3.5 Digital Cable Network
188.8.131.52 Potential Capacity
5.3.6 Cable Network Modernization Effort
5.3.7 HFC Access Drawbacks
5.3.8 Factors Influencing Cable Modem Operation
184.108.40.206 Amplifiers Bidirectional Issues
220.127.116.11 Noise Characteristics in the Upstream Direction
18.104.22.168 Noise Characteristics in the Downstream Direction
5.3.10 Approaches to Suppress Noise
5.4.1 Standards Perspective
22.214.171.124 ATM-based vs. IP-based Cable Modems
5.4.2 Abstract Cable Modem Operation
5.4.3 Cable Modem Layer Architecture
126.96.36.199 Physical Layer
188.8.131.52 MAC Layer
184.108.40.206 Upper Layers
5.4.4 Cable Modem Fundamental Layers
220.127.116.11 Physical Layer
18.104.22.168.1 PMD Sublayers
22.214.171.124.2 Upstream Frame Structure
126.96.36.199.3 TC (Transmission Convergence) Sublayer
188.8.131.52.4 Downstream Frame Structure
5.4.5 High Speed Physical Layer
5.4.6 Overview of MAC
184.108.40.206 Initializations at the Upper Layers
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC
220.127.116.11 Security and Privacy in the HFC Network
18.104.22.168 Fundamentals of Collision Resolution
22.214.171.124 Cable Modem MAC-Bandwidth Allocation
126.96.36.199 Request for Upstream Bandwidth
188.8.131.52 Contention Resolution
5.4.7 Cable Modem Operation (Service Perspective)
184.108.40.206 Review of Cable Modem Operation
220.127.116.11 Cable Modem Service Aspects
Developing a high performance National Information Infrastructure (NII) for the
information age is a national goal. For the United States, one of the major objectives
of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 is to promote a competitive environment in
which old and new communications providers build a network of interconnected
networks. This new infrastructure should support new interactive multimedia services that are becoming popular with a phenomenal growth on a widespread basis.
In this chapter, the cable modem is described. Making the cable modem functional will require costly modernization efforts of the cable network so it can
communicate bidirectionally. To fully describe the technology of the cable modem,
its environment is briefly described so the reader has a better appreciation of the
various assumptions made to develop this technology.
This chapter is organized in two parts:
1. the cable network environment in which the cable modem must operate
2. the two cable modems the industry is specifying mainly:
• ATM-centric cable modem
• IP-centric cable modem
5.2 MARKET PULL/TECHNOLOGY PUSH
Today’s networks, worldwide, are service specific. Cable TV networks were optimized for video broadcasting (one way). Telephone networks, including wireless,
were deployed specifically to handle voice traffic. Both platform and fabric were
optimized in the design to switch voice traffic efficiently. The Internet was initially
developed and optimized for data transport. None of these service specific networks
can cope or was designed to provide these emerging interactive services.
In 1993, the Internet emerged not just as a way to send e-mail or download an
occasional file but as a place to visit, full of people and ideas. It became cyberspace.
Its impact quickly spread as everyone wanted to experience this virtual community.
The Internet frenzy is a worldwide phenomenon. Europe, Asia, and developing
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC
countries are building the Internet infrastructure at a faster pace than the telephone
companies and creating a new market for high speed Internet connectivity. The high
demand market for digital data, voice, image, and video transmission necessitates
the latest and greatest access technologies. Moreover, today’s users are becoming
knowledgable about the performance that network services must provide if their
bandwidth hungry applications are to work adequately. Advanced Internet and broadband applications are being developed in various research centers, including government agencies through Next Generation Internet funding (NGI), Internet 2 Consortium, and universities all over the globe.
Service specific optimization is most prevalent in the local access networks where
deployment and operating costs are directly associated with individual customers. The
AT&T and TCI merger is a case in point. Hence, the value of a communications network
increases with the number of locations it serves and the number of individual users.
The two emerging high speed interface technologies are ADSL and cable modem.
The information age has penetrated our society at all levels: education, business,
government, marketing, entertainment, and global competition. All these factors are
clear to the long term planners for both the telephone and cable operators. The
business reality, however, may take precedence over long term strategies, and as
always the free market will determine the outcome.
To meet this business model, the cable multiple system operator (MSO) developed
the high speed cable modem as the technology of choice. The telephone companies,
on the other hand, opted to provide high speed access via ADSL over copper lines.
5.3 CABLE NETWORK AND EVOLUTION TO HFC
The cable network was originally deployed to perform a very simple task. Reception
of TV signals was very poor, especially in suburban areas where the middle class
began moving in the sixties. This CATV network used coax shielded cable to deliver
strong and equal in strength TV signals to the home. A good quality antenna tower
received TV channels from the airwaves and mapped them in the cable spectrum.
In North America, bandwidth 50 to 550 MHz is reserved for NTSC analog cable
TV broadcasts as shown in Figure 5.1. The 50 to 550 MHz range of frequencies is
Figure 5.1 CATV cable spectrum
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divided into 6-MHz channels (8-MHz for Europe). TV analog signals are modulated
in each of the 6 MHz channels.
The TV signals in the cable coax are replicas of the ones broadcast through the
airwaves, so no modifications were needed to the television set. CATV brought about
yet another advantage. It could provide more channels, with signals of equal strength,
to the end user than those delivered conventionally. TV signals lose power more
readily in the air than in cable, and TV receivers and tuners cannot cope with the
interference of more powerful adjacent TV signals.
Channel allocation in the spectrum is regulated by the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) which also regulates the frequency location and signal power
used by TV broadcasters. These FCC rules guarantee that stations that use the same
TV channel are far enough apart so as not to interfere with one another. Those rules
coupled with the rapid attenuation of signal power in the air, enables cable operators
to deliver more channels with equal signal power to homes.
Cable operators, by virtue of the increased market demand due to TV program
variety and flexibility, and premium channel availability, were elevated from CATV
operators to broadcasters, and later they became content providers. From the outset,
the cable network evolved little if any in terms of two-way communication media.
Lately, however, fiber optics installation, increased system reliability, and reduced
operating and maintenance costs have accelerated. HFC modernization plans not
only to set the stage for providing an infrastructure for bidirectional communication
but also to increase channel capacity. With HFC modernization as a prerequisite,
cable modem became practical to develop because the infrastructure was conducive
to bidirectional communication and the high-speed interactive market was finally in
demand and considered a normal part of society.
Regulation: Cable operators became more powerful as more and more homes
subscribed to the service, and TV signals from metropolitan areas replaced local
channels to make CATV more attractive to subscribers. At that time, the FCC began
to regulate the industry and to dictate what an operator and which channels must
be carried to serve the local community. The Cable Communications Policy Act of
1984 eased price control due to competition from broadcasters and encouraged
growth. By that time, cable operators became content providers as well.
In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection
and Competition Act and reenacted price control regulation with some exceptions.
With the Telecommunication (reform) Act of 1996, Congress deregulated this
industry with the proviso that the telephone industry could then compete in video
services and the cable operators could also enter the local telephone service market.
LEGACY CABLE NETWORK
The technologies of the sixties and seventies were readily available to provide CATV
broadcasting services (one way). The networks were built independently to serve
particular communities, so the economic model, more or less, dictated a simple and
somewhat organized topology of a branch and tree architecture. A point-to-point
approach was economically prohibitive and did not offer an advantage over a shared
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC
Figure 5.2 Cable system topology
medium access specially for broadcasting applications. Figure 5.2 illustrates a traditional cable network. The functional elements are
Cable TV headend
Long haul trunks
Headend: The CATV headend is mainly responsible for the reception of TV
channels gathered from various sources, such as broadcast television, satellite,
local community programming, and local signal insertion. These 6-MHz TV analog
channels are modulated, using a frequency division multiplexing technique, and
are placed into the cable spectrum as shown in Figure 5.1. This central control
headend can serve thousands of customers using a simple distribution scheme. To
achieve geographical coverage of the community, the cables emanating from the
headend are split into multiple cables. When the cable is physically split, part of
the signal power is split off and sent down the branch. The content of the signal,
however, stays intact.
Trunks: High quality coax cables are used as trunks to deliver the signals to
the distribution network and finally to its intended destination. The trunk can be as
long as 15 miles. Lower quality coax is commonly used in the distribution and drop
portions of the plant.
Amplifiers: TV signals attenuate as they travel several miles through the cable
network to the subscribers’ homes. Therefore, amplifiers have to be deployed
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC
throughout the plant to restore the signal power. The more times the cable is split
and the longer the cable, the more amplifiers are needed in the plant. Excessive
cascade of amplifiers in the network creates signal distortion. Amplifiers are also
located in the distribution network (sometimes referred to as the last mile). These
amplifiers, used in the traditional cable network, are one-way (amplifying signal
from the headend to the subscriber). This scheme introduces several potential problems when a network needs to be upgraded to provide bidirectional communication.
In such cases, these amplifiers need to be replaced with new two-way amplifiers.
Feeders: Feeders are sometimes referred to as the distribution network that
serves the residential market. The term home passed usually refers to homes that
are near the distribution network. The coax cables in the distribution network
(branch/ tree) are usually short and are in a range of one to two miles.
Drops: Drops are usually located on telephone poles or more recently in a
residential pedestrian area. A lower quality coax is used to connect from the drop
to the home.
HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coax) was the next generation cable network (shown in Figure
5.3). HFC is the first step needed to provide bidirectional communications and it
paved the way for serious cable modem deployments.
Figure 5.3 Hybrid Fiber Coax topology
HFC enhances a bidirectional shared-media system using fiber trunks between
the headend and the fiber nodes, and coaxial distribution from the fiber nodes to
the customer locations. The fiber extends from the access node to a neighborhood
node. This fiber node interfaces with the fiber trunk and the coaxial distribution.
It typically serves about 500 to 2000 (optimistic) subscribers via coaxial cable
drops. These connected subscribers share the same cable and its available capacity
and bandwidth. Because several subscribers share the same downstream and
upstream bandwidth, special requirements such as privacy and security have to
be taken into account.
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC
Moreover, a special medium access control (MAC) scheme is required in the
upstream direction, mainly acting as a traffic cop. MAC controls and mediates
information flow, e.g., to prevent collision of information that is transmitted from
users to the headend.
There are several other advantages of this HFC topology. The fiber trunk no
longer needs amplifiers. Fiber is less immune to noise, and signal attenuation is
practically nonexistent. These characteristics have the obvious advantage of
increasing reliability, hence an amplifier failure affects only that particular residential area. Fiber deployment also means that far more bandwidth /channels will
be at the disposal of the cable operator than would be available in the network
for the subscriber.
UPSTREAM/DOWNSTREAM CABLE SPECTRUM
In Figure 5.1, Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM) is the scheme employed. In
the upstream direction, the 5-42 MHz range is dedicated to digital transmission. In
this direction, the cable modem as transmitter uses this range to transmit digital
information from the users to the headend. In the downstream direction the 450-750
MHz frequencies are restricted for downstream digital transmission.
Cable modems must tune their receivers between 450 and 750 MHz to receive
data digital signals. The digital data is modulated and placed into the 6 MHz channel
(traditional TV signal). A cable modem, therefore, functions as a tuner. The QAM
modulation scheme was selected by the industry for the downstream direction. In
the upstream direction, the cable modem transmits the signal between 5 and 42
MHz. The data is modulated and placed in the 6 MHz channel using the QPSK
modulation technique. At this frequency range the environment is very polluted and
noisy because of interference from CB and HAM radios and impulse and ingress
noise from home appliances. For that reason QPSK was selected as the modulation
scheme. QPSK is more robust in terms of its immunity to noise, but at the cost of
delivering data at much lower speed than other modulation techniques.
DIGITAL CABLE NETWORK
All forms of communication today migrated or are migrating into digital format, e.g.,
CDs, cellular, voice, video. Most, if not all, future communication services are likely
to be in digital format. The cable companies are under great competitive pressure to
go completely digital. Digital transmission results in a noticeably better quality picture,
at least noticable enough to be a differentiating factor for the consumer.
There is nothing inherent in the characteristics of cable or fiber pipes that
prevents signals from being carried in digital format. Today’s cable system can carry
digital signals without modification as long as the modulated signal fits within the
bandwidth and power constraints that the cable system carries. Digital communication can also co exist with analog TV signals as long as the digital signals are
contained in their own 6 MHz band.
Using the cable network to transmit digital signals, including broadcast video
signals, is of course possible. There is nothing in the cable network that specifically
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prevents such migration. Analog amplifiers in the system will be replaced with digital
repeaters much like what the telephone network uses today to recondition the T1
digital signals. The advantage of going digital, in addition to improving signal quality
due to noise, is the increased capacity of the cable system.
The cable system capacity will increase enormously if digital signals are transmitted instead of analog TV signals. The cable networks are built to support about
50 television channels. Cable channels should maintain 48 to 50 dB SNR in each
6 MHz channel. Modern modulation techniques such as Quadrature Amplitude
Modulation (QAM) encoding, can achieve 43 Mbps capacity in a 6 MHz channel.
The compression scheme used in the MPEG-2 standards for audio and video
dramatically reduce the data rate required for transmission. A digitally compressed
video signal of 3 to 6 Mbps can deliver an excellent quality broadcast video. So
digital capacity of the cable system can potentially reach over 500 channels with
existing cable bandwidth
5.3.6 CABLE NETWORK MODERNIZATION EFFORT
Modernizing the cable network to provide high speed interactive service is underway
by most MSOs. HFC appears to have advantages over the other networks: its
bandwidth capacity is enviable, and deploying a cable modem over a modernized
HFC might be all it takes to be able to provide today’s demanding, high speed
interactive applications. A well-engineered cable modem can provide not only bidirectional data transmission but all the TV cable analog channels, high speed Internet
access, voice, and high quality interactive video.
5.3.7 HFC ACCESS DRAWBACKS
HFC is evolutionary and can be accommodated in a stepwise approach. However,
access over HFC can also introduce a host of technically challenging problems.
Cable operators must first and foremost address the service affecting problems when
introducing integrated digital services. The most crucial ones are reliability, security/
privacy, and operation and maintenance.
The HFC architecture, although cost effective, is not ideal when it comes to
service reliability. The critical drawbacks are
• component failure in an amplifier in the distribution network can render
the entire neighborhood out-of-service.
• AC power failure (powering the amplifiers) is a more serious problem
that must be resolved.
• AC power outage can render the entire area out-of-service. AC backup
for powering the amplifiers must be provided so customers can still make
voice calls during power outage.
• Because of the shared medium topology, the action of a malicious user
can affect the operation and communication of all those connected users
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in the branch or tree in both directions. A failed cable modem may have
the same effect (of disrupting the shared bus), but it is expected that the
cable modem will be designed to isolate such failures.
• The upstream transmission path is prone to noise of all kinds. The entire
cable network must be well-maintained to ensure that ingress noise is not
leaking into the system, causing failures to users who are on the bus.
FACTORS INFLUENCING CABLE MODEM OPERATION
Amplifiers Bidirectional Issues
Modern cable systems (HFC) with bidirectional communication must use amplifiers
that work in both directions. To accomplish this, back-to-back amplifiers with filters
are arranged so that downstream and upstream signals are first filtered then amplified.
The upstream path has an inherent disadvantage because of the branch-and-tree
topology. During amplification of the upstream, the splitter outputs become its input;
the splitter simply combines the incoming signals and noise, hence both are amplified. In the downstream direction, the signals passing through a splitter are attenuated
on the splitter outputs, but the noise carried downstream is also attenuated.
A modem that is frequency-agile capable can tune into any one of the downstream
or upstream frequencies. The cable modem in the upstream is able to transmit on
whatever frequency the cable system is equipped to handle. This gives cable operators the tools to change the upstream and downstream bandwidth allocation spectrum in their system due to changing traffic demand, without user intervention or
worse, having to change the terminal equipment. Excessive noise due to ingress
(temporarily or long term) of an upstream channel can be dynamically isolated by
simply retuning the cable modem to other downstream and associated upstream
channel(s). A wider range frequency-agile cable modem for a single carrier (beyond
the 5 to 42 MHz range) is implementation dependent. The expense of providing
more complex agility may not justify the development cost. It will, however, offer
a very flexible and robust cable modem.
The upstream channel in HFC networks has been the source of great concern. The
channel frequency in which it must operate positions it in a very hostile noise
environment. Ingress noise in the upstream direction is the main cause of impairments in an HFC system. This noise comes in different flavors and severity.
The industry developed a channel model that mathematically defined the nature
and physics of the cable network noise. This model was used to refine the specifications of the physical and MAC layers for the cable modem.
The noise phenemenon environment in the cable network is unique. The cable
system acts as giant antennae for various noises and impairments that are additive,
especially in the 5 to 42 MHz band of the RF spectrum. Each type of noise must
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be combatted from its source before it propagates further into the network and
mutates. Just as challenging is that the noise phenomena in the cable network are
time dependent. What is measured in the morning is quite different from measurements made in the peak TV viewing hours. Moreover, these measurements are
different from one region to the next. The age of the cable plant and drops in
particular, humidity of the region, number of subscribers in the drop, inside-home
wiring, and past maintenance practices, all play a part in how the network behaves
under different loads. To say that the system must be developed for a worse-case
scenario is not the optimal solution. In most situations, a field technician can enhance
video signal quality and reduce noise measurably by mechanically and electrically
securing the cable plant.
This presents a unique problem for the industry: noise measurements, to great
extent, are based on field measurements. Hence, a cost effective solution in one
region may unduly penalize other solutions in a less-current region.
In general, network noise problems come from three areas: the subscriber’s
home, drop plant, and rigid coaxial plant. Seventy percent of the problem comes
from inside the home, 25% is generated from the drop portion of the network, and
5% is from rigid coaxial plant. Troubleshooting intermittent problems is costly and
time consuming, and finding the problem does not always mean it can be fixed.
Noise Characteristics in the Upstream Direction
In the upstream direction, there are several noise sources that can impair upstream
communications. A channel model was developed by the industry identifying
• Hum Modulation — Hum modulation is amplitude modulation due to
coupling of 60 Hz AC power through power supply equipment onto the
envelope of the signal.
• Microreflections — Microreflections occur at discontinuities in the transmission medium which cause part of the signal energy to be reflected.
• Ingress Noise — Ingress noise is the unwanted narrowband noise component that is the result of external, narrowband RF signals entering or
leaking into the cable distribution system. The weak point of entry is
usually drops and faulty connectors, loose connections, broken shielding,
poor equipment grounding, or poorly shielded RF oscillators in the subscriber’s household. Since the upstream transmission is at the lowest
frequency of the network’s passband, the noise summates at the trunk.
Ingress noise contribution includes most, if not all, FCC-conforming RF
power levels, such as hair dryers, power line interference, electric neon
signs interference, electric motors, vehicle ignitions, garbage disposals,
washers, passing nearby airplanes, high voltage line, power system atmospheric noise, bad electrical contact, and any open-air RF transmission
such as CB and HAM radio transmission, leaky TV sets, RF computers,
civil defense, aircraft guidance broadcasts, international shortwave, and
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• Common-path Distortion — Common mode rejection is due to nonlinearities in the passive devices of corroded connectors in the cable plant.
• Thermal Noise — White noise is generated by random thermal noise
(electron motion in the cable and other network devices) of the 75-ohm
• Impulsive Noise/Burst Noise — Burst noise is similar to the impulse
noise, but with a longer duration. It is a major problem in the two-way
cable systems and the most dominant peak source of noise (a short burst
duration — less than 3 seconds). Impulse noise is mainly caused by 60
Hz high voltage lines and any electrical and large static discharges such
as lightning strikes, AC motors starting, car ignition systems, televisions,
radios, and home appliances such as washers. Loose connectors also
contribute to impulse noise.
There are two kinds of impulse noise: Corona noise and Gap noise. Corona
noise is generated by the ionization of the air surrounding a high voltage
line. Temperature and humidity play a major role in contribution of this
event. Gap noise is generated when the insulation breaks down or via
corroded connector contacts. Such failures pave the way to the entry of
lines discharge of 100 Kv lines. This discharge or arc has a very short
duration (in µ sec) with a sharp rise- and-fall time period. The sources
are most likely to be automobile ignition and household appliances, such
as electric motors.
• Phase Noise and Frequency Offset — Phase noise arises in frequencystacking multiplexers, which occur in some return path systems.
• Plant response — The cable plant contains linear filtering elements that
are dominated by the diplex filters that separate upstream frequencies
from downstream frequencies.
• Nonlinearities — Nonlinearities include limiting effects in amplifiers,
laser transmitters in the fiber node, and the laser receiver in the headend.
Noise Characteristics in the Downstream Direction
In the downstream direction, there are several noise sources that can impair downstream communications. The noise sources, described below, are additive.
• Fiber cable — The fiber affects the digital signal in two ways:
1. Group delay is due to the high modulation frequency of the signal in
2. White Gaussian noise is added to the power.
• Plant Response — Impulse response is defined as tilt and ripple. The
tilt is a linear change in amplitude with frequency and is an approximation to the frequency response of the components in the network.
The ripple is a sum of a number of sinusoidal varying amplitude changes
riding on top of the tilt and is a measure of the effect of microreflections
in the network.
© 2000 by CRC Press LLC