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Comcast Exec: Cable Industry on Track for Simplified, Distributed Networks

Carol Wilson

DENVER -- Cable Next-Gen Strategies & Technologies -- The cable industry is well positioned to move to more simplified, distributed networks that may well break with the tradition of following telecom standards for packet-optical networks, Shamim Akhtar, architect and senior director of network strategy for Comcast, told a crowd of mostly cable operators here today.

Because its traditional video networks were already largely distributed, using local head ends to aggregate content, cable can push content to the edge of its network and move beyond an era when it was cheaper to transport content than to produce it, Akhtar said. The Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) exec cited newer compute and storage technologies that make it cheaper to push content and applications closer to the consumer, delivering a better customer experience in the process.

Though it will be challenging to converge all services on to an IP backbone, including high-speed data, video, voice, wireless, and backhaul, cable has less legacy gear to replace than incumbent telecom operators do, Akhtar said. Instead of bulking up the core networks in the traditional faction, it will be important to add network capacity at the edge, where it will be consumed in higher quantities than in the core in a distributed network approach.

Another area of departure from the traditional telecom approach is a move away from focusing on making the network run at the traditional 99.999% reliability, also known as five-nines, to making sure the application has that level of reliability, based on access to multiple networks, each of which may have only three-nines reliability. That moves cable closer to a Web 2.0 approach to doing business.

In addition, the cable industry may well break from following the lead of standards groups such as the International Telecommunication Union, Standardization Sector (ITU-T) and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in its technology implementations, choosing instead to let end users, applications, devices, and the multi-screen demand guide where it needs to go.

Specifically, Comcast is looking to break from the traditional Ethernet hierarchy that has gone in rigid stages from 10 Gig to 100 Gig and now potentially to 400 Gig, he said. Instead, the MSO is looking for Ethernet to be provided in tunable 25 Gbit/s channels that can be bundled to deliver any speed needed. "We will take it to the standards bodies when we have it, versus having them determine our future."

Akhtar didn't delve deeply into virtualization trends such as software-defined networking and network functions virtualization, but he did say that Comcast wants to replace today's vendor-specific network management systems with a more simplified orchestration approach using off-the-shelf hardware. (See Defining SDN & NFV.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 6:37:13 PM
Re: Bandwidth
Good to hear Carol.  I was hoping that was what they meant vis-a-vis standards. It would be great to get what the South Korean or Scandanavians have but the geographic, demographic, political, and economic realities will probably prevent that for quite a while in the USA...too bad.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
3/27/2014 | 6:17:58 PM
Re: Bandwidth
I don't think the backbone networks are the issue for faster HSI, so I can't say this is going to thrill and delight the consumers who wish they had what South Koreans or Scandanavians have in terms of broadband. 

And I didn't mean to imply that by moving away from following in the telecom standard's bodies footsteps means they are going rogue, where reliability is concerned. This is more about not waiting for the next iteration of Ethernet standards to evolve. 
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 5:52:27 PM
Re: Bandwidth
Good question @FakeMitchWagner and if so, will it be at the expense of reliability and interoperability?  I hope yes for your question and no for mine!
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2014 | 5:47:45 PM
Will these changes fix the US inability to deliver high-bandwith Internet service that's competitive with what's available in the rest of the developed world?
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