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Harmonic pursues new "Distributed CCAP" course with debut of NSG Exo product that pushes CMTS and edgeQAM functions out of the cable headend and into the access network.

Harmonic Pushes CCAP Into the Network

Alan Breznick
5/14/2014
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Seeking to broaden its role in the rapidly evolving market for Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) and other next-gen gear, Harmonic is debuting a new "Distributed CCAP" product that shifts the RF delivery functions out of the cable headend and down into the access network.

Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) claims that its new product, known as the NSG Exo and set to be unveiled at the ANGACom show in Cologne, Germany, next week, is its first cable modem termination system (CMTS) device. That's a big step for the company, which has specialized in crafting edgeQAM devices for processing video signals but hadn't entered the data processing side of the business before.

Even more notably, the NSG Exo is Harmonic's first full-fledged CCAP product, capable of processing and delivering both DOCSIS broadband signals and digital video signals to customers through a single, integrated device. Although Harmonic already offers a centralized, headend-based CCAP product, known as the NSG Pro, it is still basically a dense edgeQAM device that has not yet been updated with all the CMTS functions demanded by the CCAP standard.

Further, the NSG Exo, which is due out in the third quarter, represents Harmonic's attempt to play in the cable industry's budding market for Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) systems. Such other major cable equipment manufacturers as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Pace Micro Technology , and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), along with brash startups like Gainspeed , are also staking claims to this space by moving at least some traditional CMTS functions out of the headend and deep into the access network.

Harmonic, however, is singing a somewhat different tune than any of its rivals. With the NDG Exo, the edge QAM specialist is moving all of the traditional functions of the CMTS device out of the headend and placing them in the fiber nodes at the access network's edge. While rival equipment vendors are looking to move just the DOCSIS PHY and/or MAC functions into the network, Harmonic is striving to push the DOCSIS PHY, MAC, and provisioning functions deep into the network.

"We're removing anything that's DOCSIS from the headend," says Asaf Matatyaou, director of cable edge and access solutions for Harmonic. "What we're saying is: Don't split up DOCSIS."

Harmonic officials contend that this approach, similar to the centralized CCAP approach, will produce great power and cost savings for cable operators, especially in dense environments. For example, they believe the NSG Exo is particularly well suited for commercial locations, college campuses, hotels, and apartment buildings served by deep fiber lines.

But Harmonic executives think there is still a strong need for a centralized CCAP chassis based in the cable headend, especially for serving individual homes. With the company already offering such a centralized CCAP device in its initial NSG Pro product, they argue that the two products will complement each other and broaden the market for CCAP technology down the line.

"Centralized CCAP is not going away any time soon," says Matatyaou. "I don't think it [Distributed CCAP] takes away anything from traditional CCAP at all."

Matatyaou said Harmonic is now in "multiple trials around the world" with the NSG Exo. Besides cable providers, he argues that the product should appeal to telcos and other network operators that extend fiber lines to buildings with internal coaxial cable networks.

At the same time, Matatyaou says Harmonic is now shipping its original NSG Pro product to "multiple Tier I customers in multiple regions" of the world. "We're happy with the deployment of the NSG Pro."

Previously, Harmonic has said that it had received two multimillion-dollar orders for the NSG Pro from large North American MSOs but hasn't disclosed which ones. The company is now working on upgrading the NSG Pro for full CMTS and CCAP capabilities, with the enhanced product due to be released sometime next year. (See Harmonic Seeks New Melody in 2014 .)

As it rolls out the NSG Exo, Harmonic is also teaming up more closely with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) on a broader "flexible edge" initiative that separates the IP service routing plane from the underlying access technology. With this approach, the two vendors are aiming to make it easier for cable operators to mix and match the best equipment, simplify their networks, and cut operational costs, among other things. We'll have more on this in future stories.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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