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Vendors Plan for Comcast's 'God' Box

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
3/2/2010
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Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s three cable modem termination system (CMTS) suppliers -- Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) -- all intend to build a new class of dense, multi-service networking gear that adhere to the product specs being developed by the MSO.

Jorge Salinger, Comcast's VP of access architecture, spelled out some of the technical details on that product -- the Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) -- at a Light Reading Cable and Heavy Reading event in Denver last week. As described, Comcast's multi-service CMAP product will look to reduce headend space and power requirements by combining functions such as the CMTS and edge QAM. (See Comcast Proposes Its God Box .)

With the specs, Comcast hopes to give suppliers the option to develop a super-integrated CMAP chassis or to build more modular implementations for the architecture's Access Shelf and Packet Shelf components. Comcast is already reaching out to other MSOs to incorporate their requirements and develop a more unified product spec that extends beyond the MSO.

Salinger last week identified some potential suppliers for those modular components during his keynote, but later stressed that it would be safe to assume that CMTS suppliers would also be playing a part in the development of the integrated and/or modular implementations.

CMTS guys: We're on board
With that in mind, all of Comcast's existing CMTS suppliers, which also happen to make edge QAMs, made it unsurprisingly clear that they are technically aligned with the plan and expect to throw their hats in the ring as the project progresses.

"We are in complete agreement with Jorge in terms of the needs, objective, and basic CMAP architecture details as reported," an Arris spokesman said. The CMAP effort offers a "natural extension of our capabilities," he added, noting that Arris is working on developing denser CMTS and edge routing equipment for all its customers.

"We've been intimately involved with the CMAP development from the beginning," added Mark Palazzo, VP and general manager of Cisco's cable access business unit. "But we have initiatives going on beyond CMAP for the development of future cable access technologies."

Arris and Cisco didn't reveal any new product details or offer any expected timing on expected CMAP product availability. Motorola, on the other hand, had a bit more to share on its CMAP intentions.

Motorola is already working on a next-gen device called the Video Edge Services Platform (VESP) that would succeed the company's current CMTS product line, according to Joe Cozzolino, the senior vice president and general manager of Moto's access networks solutions unit.

Moto's designing the VESP to incorporate features that are already fairly well aligned with Comcast's vision for the CMAP -- namely higher density on the Docsis MAC and edge QAM side, combined with Ethernet routing. Moto's VESP also aims to support a mix of traditional MPEG and IP-based video traffic, and access to subscriber management systems and the overarching "control plane" -- all in one super-chassis.

As densities go, Motorola's VESP is already shooting for 100 Gbit/s per slot on the access side and 400 Gbit/s on the packet processing side, well above the 2 Gbit/s to 4 Gbit/s it's seeing today on a per-slot basis.

Moto's VESP and traditional CMTS teams will have access to the same integration team, but VESP development will be largely on its own, operating in parallel in a "black box environment."

"I don't want to distract that [CMTS] team with the new platform," Cozzolino said. "Most larger companies don't do a good job because they get caught up in feature enhancements on the existing platform, so you have to separate that."

And he's also got a top cable engineer on the case, having brought in Jerry White, the former chief technology officer of RiverDelta Networks, as a consultant to help develop the VESP's initial "market requirements document" and to work on the actual product development. They're old pals, too. Cozzolino also hailed from RiverDelta, a CMTS startup that Motorola bought in 2001 for $300 million.

But VESP won't be hitting the market anytime soon. Cozzolino expects the product to become available toward the end of 2011 or early 2012.

The Phase I, "proof of concept" version of the product could enter trials by the second half of next year. That iteration won't bake in EPON or video caching out of the shoot, but will be added in later with new blades, Cozzolino said.

Casa Systems Inc. , a CMTS and edge QAM startup based in Andover, Mass., has yet to respond to questions on whether it intends to develop products based on Comcast's CMAP specs.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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