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Docsis 3.1 Stays on a Fast Track

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
3/19/2013
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DENVER -- Cable Next-Gen IP Strategies: Entering the Zettabyte Era -- The budding Docsis 3.1 specifications, which will target max downstream speeds of 10Gbit/s, are on track for completion this year as vendors prepare to create and introduce the first wave of 3.1 products next year, a top CableLabs exec said here Tuesday. (See Docsis 3.1 Targets 10-Gig Downstream.) Changes in the way CableLabs develops the specs and gets vendors involved at an earlier stage in their development should accelerate the product and deployment timeline, said Dan Rice, the VP of access network technology at CableLabs. According to the latest Docsis 3.1 specification schedule, products should begin to appear in 2014, with initial deployments getting underway in 2015 and 2016. As CableLabs views it, the anticipated timeline for Docsis 3.1 is on a much faster track than several other broadband technologies and standards, including WiMAX and Long-Term Evolution.

Docsis3-1timeline.jpg

Source: CableLabs
Despite that accelerated time frame for Docsis 3.1, "there's still a lot of runway left with Docsis 3.0," said Jeff Finkelstein, the senior director of network architecture for Cox Communications Inc. To aid the transition, the first wave of Docsis 3.1 modems and gateways will be hybrid versions that also support Docsis 3.0, he pointed out. It's expected that the price delta between those 3.1 devices and today's Docsis 3.0 consumer premises equipment will be much lower than it was for the move from Docsis 2.0 to Docsis 3.0, so that should allow operators to migrate to 3.1 more rapidly and more economically. Operators will also need to decide when to start introducing Docsis 3.1 on the network, namely cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) and a new class of Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) chassis, which will integrate both the CMTS and edge QAM functions. Comcast Corp. VP of Access Architecture Jorge Salinger estimated that operators might start to buy 3.1 line cards in 2014 and 2015, and perhaps buy 3.1 versions of network hardware exclusively by mid-2015. While multi-gigabit speeds are a key driver for Docsis 3.1, its ability to improve spectral efficiency by about 50 percent is equally, if not more, important. "It's all about efficiency," Salinger said when asked why 2015 seems to be the target date for significant deployments of Docsis 3.1. "The quicker we can have it [Docsis 3.1], the faster we can use our spectrum more efficiently. You can't just have more spectrum." It's expected that cable operators will need to free up a minimum of 24MHz of spectrum to support the initial wave of Docsis 3.1, Salinger said. Docsis 3.1: End of the line?
But will cable need something beyond Docsis 3.1? "Will somebody ask for 100Gbit/s some day?" asked John Chapman, a fellow and CTO of Cisco Systems Inc.'s cable access business unit. "Never say never." Cable won't need much more than 3.1 for the foreseeable future "if it's done right," predicted Peter Percosan, managing director for Cable Europe Labs. CableLabs' Rice predicted that "3.1 gets us at least a decade" of capacity runway before cable might have to consider a architectural change. — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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