Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cable-Tec Expo -- About 9,200 cable guys and gals descended on the Sunshine State last week to bask in the glow of cable's latest technologies and engineering initiatives.

The unveiling of Docsis 3.1 was the big news, but represented just one of the many stops on our adventure around the floor and at sessions. Here's a roundup of important takeaways we encountered along the beaten track, as well as from a few side excursions. (See Photos: SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2012 .)

Docsis 3.1 is on a fast track
Make no mistake -- the cable industry wants to get the Docsis 3.1 train running at full speed as soon as possible. The hope is to have the specs done by next year, with products showing up by 2014. As product timeframes go, operators believe Docsis 3.1 CPE will show up first, followed by network downstream support, and then the tricky upstream component. That approach, the engineers hope, will let MSOs seed the market with hybrid Docsis 3.0/Docsis 3.1 gear before they start lighting up the new 3.1 spectrum, which will rely on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM). Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) SVP of Broadband Engineering and Technology Howard Pfeffer said the hope is to get a "critical mass" of hybrid modems in the field before they are flipped to support the new OFDM-based spectrum, but added that it will take an engineering and business modeling exercise to discover exactly what that inflection point will be. (See Docsis 3.1 Targets 10-Gig Downstream and Talking Docsis 3.1.)

The new hybrid devices will of course cost more than today's Docsis 3.0 gear, but the cost delta between 3.0 and new 3.1 modems will be "significantly smaller" than it was when modems moved from 2.0 to 3.0, said Jorge Salinger, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s VP of access architecture. Meanwhile, Matt Schmitt, director of Docsis specifications at CableLabs , believes that the new hybrid devices will cost less on a per-bit basis. That means a 3.0-only modem would be more expensive to produce using 6MHz-channel bonding than it would to create like-for-like speeds using a Docsis 3.1 modem that rely on OFDM. (See Docsis 3.1 Will Change Cable's Data Channels.)

And why does the cable industry believe it will need Docsis 3.1, a platform that will target speeds of at least 10 Gbit/s downstream and 1 Gbit/s upstream? Cox Communications Inc. Senior Director of Network Architecture Jeff Finkelstein offers his thoughts on what sort of services and apps could be well-suited for Docsis 3.1 down the road.

The CCAP race is on
Just about every vendor with a stake in the game for cable's next-generation access platform had pre-standard Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) gear out in the open for all to see. Deployments are expected to get under way next year, and the vendors -- from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Mobility, to CommScope Inc. , Casa Systems Inc. and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) -- say they'll be ready. And the new wave of anticipated deployments are getting everyone's competitive juices flowing, as most vendors were happy to point out the high points of their entries and where they think their rivals are coming up short. Game on! (See Casa Showing CCAP at SCTE, Harmonic Goes All-Out for CCAP and Arris Unleashes a Monster CMTS.)

Page 2: More Cable-Tec takeaways

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RDPIII 12/5/2012 | 5:18:44 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

DOCSIS 3.1 will be a game changer!

craigleddy 12/5/2012 | 5:18:43 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

Indeed. Now the car's out of the garage and it's time to see what this baby can do. But there will be lots of tire-kicking and searching under the hood before it gets on the road.

One of the subtle but important story lines here is that the cable industry is extending the life of Docsis, even before 3.0 really has reached mass scale, so it doesn't reach a way station where everyone gets bogged down in endless debate over what comes next. There still will be lots of debate over D3.1 specs and whether FTTH or other alternatives are needed, but the authors appear to have addressed a lot of key criteria.

Rouzbeh Yassini offers good perspective in the Light Reading video on this topic.



AESerm 12/5/2012 | 5:18:42 PM
re: Cable-Tec Expo 2012: 6 Big Takeaways

Good combination of mostly emerging technology. (Notice how Expo seems to embracing some of the space held by the ET event?) A few comments:

* D3.1. I thought the ZTE/B'House and Cisco (Hranac/Mattingly) papers would be more controversial. But the former makes the case for DPoE and EPoC in greenfields alone, ceding the ground to 'advanced DOCSIS' in existing plant.

* CCAP. The whisper campaign has begun on which products are more CCAP than others. Who's going to make those calls?

* Wireless. Intrigued to hear software-defined networks (a popular LR topic) figure in paper by Husnain Bajwa of Ericsson (via BelAir) on Cable Wi-Fi and Small Cells.

* Midsplit. Masillon was also early on DTAs, but two years into it sounded some regrets. Other ambitious tier 2/3s are pushing relatively hard on Wi-Fi, FTTX (RFoG), SDV (hosted variety). Midsplits still sound like a mess to me. 

* Huawei. Can't discount their might. Any outsider who's visited HQ comes back transformed. What I've heard of their mis-steps are those of any company that hasn't taken their Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends/Influence People) lessons to heart.

* HEVC. Still wondering whether CE industry will skip 4K for 8K. Either way, this will help. But my how MPEG2 has just long legs, with encoding geeks still wringing out more efficiencies.

Possible runner-up: newly minted ESAM, one of the signaling protocols that will help operationalize multi-screen/TVE (it converts SCTE 35 into XML format). 

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