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Leading Lights 2017 Finalists: Most Innovative New Cable Product or Service

Alan Breznick

It's never easy picking a winner for the "Most Innovative New Cable Product or Service" category because there are always many worthy candidates. But this year's crop of entries for the Leading Lights award has made it even tougher than usual for our judges, as you shall soon see.

The six award finalists are tackling major issues facing the cable industry today, especially the virtualization of network functions and equipment. In addition to virtualization, the lineup of new entries addresses the extension of fiber into the cable access network, the automation of network field-testing and the need for greater video security.

The judges are now working on narrowing down this list to one lucky winner, who will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner on Monday, May 15, at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas. Then, on the following day, the Big Communications Event will open its doors for two days of learning, schmoozing and fun.

To find out which companies were shortlisted across all of this year's Leading Lights categories, please check out this story. (See Leading Lights 2017: The Finalists.)

You're invited to attend Light Reading's Big Communications Event -- the ONE event that delivers context and clarity to the software-driven future. There's still time to register and communications service providers get in free.

In the meantime, here are the six finalists for Most Innovative New Cable Product or Service, presented in alphabetical order:

Benu Networks – Virtual Service Edge (VSE) Platform for Managed Business Network service
The business services sector promises significant growth opportunities for the cable industry. Yet while MSOs have been aggressive about pursuing connectivity deals with commercial customers, they haven't been as active in developing more complex, and potentially lucrative, cloud-based services. Benu Networks LLC is addressing that gap with the launch of its Managed Business Networking (MBN) solution.

The MBN solution uses Benu's Virtual Service Edge (VSE) platform and lets cable operators deliver services such as cloud security, cloud storage, cloud-managed WiFi and site-to-site VPN. The Benu technology integrates directly with an MSO's existing back-office systems and with existing DOCSIS-based customer premises equipment. The solution includes customizable user-facing features and is interoperable with other third-party cloud services.

As a Leading Lights finalist, Benu is reducing barriers to entry in the cloud services market, creating upsell opportunities for cable operators and opening up a path for further growth in the business services market.

Calix – AXOS E3-2 Intelligent Node
As cable operators drive fiber deeper into their networks, Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) is offering the first solution in the industry capable of supporting a wide range of passive optical networking flavors. While integrating with traditional DOCSIS back-office systems, the new Calix AXOS E3-2 Intelligent Node supports GPON, NG-PON2, XGS-PON and 10-gigabit EPON deployments. The solution is fully modular and built on top of Calix's AXOS infrastructure operating system.

The E3-2 Intelligent node isn't only noteworthy for its PON support, however. It also distributes a number of data center functions deeper into an operator's network, moving components like the traditional optical line terminal, edge routing and subscriber policy management and enforcement functions into software available within the node. According to Calix, by distributing these functions closer to end users, operators can reduce their equipment space and power requirements by up to 80%.

Calix is helping to define next-generation cable network architectures. For this and for its early trial deployments of new technology, the company has earned a spot as a Leading Lights finalist.

Casa – Axyom vCCAP Cable Head-End
With the cable access market moving slowly but surely toward a virtualized future, Casa Systems Inc. is one of several companies hoping to lead the way. Alongside its existing dedicated CCAP hardware business, the cable vendor has now introduced a vCCAP solution that virtualizes the MAC layer of a CCAP device to lower the cost of service delivery. The vCCAP product works within Casa's broader Axyom software architecture, which includes a common security framework and supports other virtual functions, including VNFs for WiFi and 4G/5G products.

As the first company to deliver a truly converged cable access platform, Casa is continuing to push the leading edge of access technology even as it supports legacy architectures. Casa's Remote PHY node products, for example, can be paired with either Casa's CCAP chassis or its vCCAP. This commitment to both current cable needs and the virtualized future makes Casa a deserving finalist in this category.

EXFO – TestFlow - Process Automation
As EXFO Inc. (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF) transforms itself into an end-to-end network and service solution provider (multi-layer, multi-domain, analytics and more), the company continues to introduce one new test solution after another. One of the latest products is TestFlow, which guarantees MOP compliance and quality. More precisely, TestFlow is a network field-testing process automation and analytics solution designed to eliminate the problems associated with the typically inefficient and error-prone manual field-testing approach.

EXFO says TestFlow accomplishes this feat by turning a complex administration-laden process into a consistent, simplified process on the front line, thus optimizing compliance and maximizing technician productivity. TestFlow's field test process analytics provides timely, actionable information by offering project visibility and tracking of both high-level (e.g. contractor efficiency, network progress and project activity) and low-level (e.g. tests per day/technician, average test duration per technician and test duration breakdown) metrics. As a result, it enables project managers to fully verify compliance with network standards.

With the first field trials of TestFlow conducted by one major MSO last summer and fall, the product became commercially available in November. EXFO says several other cable operators are testing the product now, as are telcos and major equipment manufacturers.

Nokia – Unified Cable Access Solution
Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) says its unified cable access solution is a comprehensive product portfolio that enables the complete virtualization of the CCAP platform, as well as the implementation of a distributed access architecture (DAA) for cable access networks. Nokia's Gainspeed product family and architecture promise a number of benefits to cable operators, including significant capacity increases, sizable headend space and cost reductions, and the agility and flexibility to deliver new revenue-generating services.

The unified cable access solution leverages software-defined networking (SDN) techniques to move CCAP functions to other network devices and locations where they are best suited. For a hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network, for instance, DOCSIS processing and RF modulation are placed in an access node situated close to the subscriber, while the cable control plane is centralized in the headend or cloud on an off-the-shelf server. In the process, the vCCAP solution eliminates all cable-specific hardware from the cable headend.

Thanks to these attributes, Nokia claims its vCCAP product is the first and only available solution of its kind that fully virtualizes the CCAP and delivers unified support for all cable access networks, including HFC, PON and point-to-point Ethernet. The company says its solution has now been deployed by several major MSOs in the US and Europe.

Verimatrix – Video Content Authority System (VCAS)
Specializing in the protection of video content, Verimatrix Inc. has made its name with movie studios and TV broadcasters by offering solutions that meet the most stringent security requirements in any video environment. Verimatrix says this wide acceptance from Hollywood has now enabled it to provide Boingo Wireless Inc. with the critical components for the latter's new "Core TV" skinny bundle for military service members.

By working together, Verimatrix and Boingo claim they have leapfrogged the aging cable delivery infrastructure traditionally used for military bases, replacing it with a uniquely designed suite of products that directly respond to mobile-first digital natives and Gen Z users. Beyond baseline security, Verimatrix's VCAS solution offers important extensions that improve the capability to support subscription and transaction-based pay-TV services. In particular, the security solution ensures that decryption keys are managed and selectively distributed to authenticated clients.

Today, Boingo Broadband, a suite of WiFi and wireless IPTV products protected by VCAS, can be found on 55 military bases around the world, covering up to 286,000 service members. Boingo's wireless IPTV and WiFi products are available on all iOS and Android devices, PCs/Macs and Amazon Fire TV.

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

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