Light Reading

Cisco Doubling Down on CMTS Density

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is developing a next-gen cable modem termination system (CMTS) that will effectively double the downstream density of its existing 3G60 blade, allowing operators to add headroom for IPTV services, Light Reading Cable has learned.

The new product -- something one cable industry source refers to as the 6G60 -- would pack in 144 downstream QAMs (the modulation scheme cable uses to transmit data on the cable plant), doubling what the existing card can pump out today. However, the new product would keep the upstream capacity fixed at the 60 ports that already grace the 3G60. If Cisco aims to have the so-called 6G60 snap into its flagship CMTS chassis, the uBR10012, it would house 1,152 downstream ports and 480 upstream ports when fully equipped.

Cisco declined to comment about the 6G60 or what's on its current CMTS product roadmap, but some cable engineers identify it as a product that will fill the gap as MSOs start to migrate to the Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP), a budding, super-dense architecture that will converge all cable services and give cable operators a path to IP-based video services. (See CMAP & CESAR Get the Urge to Converge and Comcast Reacts to CMAP, CESAR & CCAP.)

"This would help [cable] get the capacity they need to do a true IPTV migration," the source said. "And it will bridge you all the way to CCAP."

A new breed of video gateways will help cable operators make the transition by transcoding incoming QAM video into IP streams that can be viewed on tablets, PCs and other devices that are hanging off the home network. Some cable operators are convinced that those boxes won't be able to handle the transcoding load if multiple connected devices are making a bunch of simultaneous requests, so they are looking to handle the backload with IP simulcast streams. A device like the 3G60 could give cable operators enough capacity overhead to do that.

And Cisco's apparent focus on a denser downstream follows along major industry trends as video streaming and downloading continue to gobble up IP data traffic. Other CMTS vendors, including Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Motorola Mobility LLC , have been staying ahead of the curve with dedicated, denser CMTS blades that beef up downstream capacity. (See Moto Decouples CMTS Downstream and Arris Boosts CMTS Downstream Density .)

Among that group, Motorola recently predicted that the number of downstream channels cable operators will require for Docsis traffic alone will double to eight to 12 channels in 2012, versus the four to six channels that are typically used today. MSOs will need many more Docsis channels to handle IP video simulcasts. (See Cable-Tec Expo: What's the Magic IPTV Number? )

Infonetics Research Inc. Directing Analyst for Broadband Access Jeff Heynen says Cisco's timing may be right, but wonders if Cisco will have to remake its CMTS platform to accommodate the kind of densities that purportedly will grace the 6G60.

"If they are working on a next-generation project, now is the time to do it in terms of product life cycles," he says, noting that a vendor can usually squeeze about 1.5 years out of a CMTS card these days. "But if you're going to double the density, now you're talking about a whole new platform."

Still unknown is when Cisco might launch the new product. Cisco started to talk about the 3G60 in late 2009. Its commercial availability the following year helped the vendor reclaim the CMTS market share lead from Arris in 2010. Cisco's kept that lead ever since. (See Cisco Aiming to One-Up Cable's Upstream , Cisco Reclaims CMTS Lead and Cisco Keeps Hammerlock on CMTS Market.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:55:03 PM
re: Cisco Doubling Down on CMTS Density

...if Cisco even intends to pull the trigger on a full CCAP product or if it's hedging its bets that this product may plug in those gaps and do a bit more than just bridge over to the day when cable would need CCAP. JB

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