CableLabs announced Tuesday that it has reconciled the technical and operational differences between the two next-gen access network architectures -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s CMAP and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s CESAR -- and has released a new technical report that explains it all.
The CMAP and CESAR acronyms will be replaced with CCAP. But the goal will be the same: to develop a super-dense, power- and space-saving architecture that combines edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) functions and puts cable on a path toward service convergence and an IP video platform.
This new CableLabs technical report, which also got the blessing of Cox Communications Inc. (one of CMAP's key contributors), should give confidence to vendors that they won't have to spread R&D resources across two separate products. MSOs will still have the flexibility to include technical requirements that go beyond what's included in the CCAP document. CableLabs is also developing additional specs that address CCAP's operational and support systems.
"The CCAP device is, for all practical purposes and from all technical perspectives, the same as the previous device that was described," Comcast Vice President of Access Architecture Jorge "J.D." Salinger tells Light Reading Cable. He says the technical report will more clearly define and describe all of the modes of operation.
So, what's being reconciled? One material difference had been the preferred size of the device. CCAP will describe two sizes -- one for cable systems that serve a large number of service groups, and a smaller version for networks that (wait for it!) handle smaller service groups. CESAR had called for smaller serving areas, while CMAP profiled big and small service groups.
Another important point of consensus: CCAP lets MSOs integrate encryption (CMAP's preference) or keep it separate (CESAR's).
Trials of these next-gen access network products were expected to take place in 2012; some were even expected to start this year. It's natural to ask whether the change to CCAP will cause any delays.
"We hope there is no impact on the timeline," Salinger says, holding that vendors were already aware that CMAP and CESAR did not include any game-changing technical conflicts. "We believe that there isn't [any conflict], and our trial and our plans for deployment continue to be unchanged."
One happy family
A melding of the MSO-led projects has been months in the making.
"I'm not surprised that they're going to reconcile and share ideas," says Jeff Heynen, directing analyst for broadband and video at Infonetics Research Inc. "I'm sure the vendors were banging on them to come to some agreement so they aren't developing two different products."
"It's nice to see Comcast and Time Warner Cable come up with something jointly for a change," adds Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Alan Breznick. "This will make the other MSOs happy too."
Count Cox among the happy. "It's going to be beneficial to have a single specification we can all design and build to," says Cox Senior Director of Network Architecture Jeff Finkelstein. "Having multiple [specs] just complicates it for everybody."
CableLabs, by the way, is no stranger to CMAP. In January, Comcast and its MSO partners transferred the interface specs for CMAP to the Colorado-based R&D house with the aim of developing a multi-vendor, interoperable product ecosystem.
CCAP will still offer the option for integrated and modular versions, with the latter calling for a Packet Shelf (for packet processing) and an Access Shelf (for the downstream and upstream PHY and MAC layer). CMAP had referenced both approaches, while CESAR had been eyeing a more integrated implementation.
CCAP will also factor in a proposed migration path originally developed for CMAP that would let MSOs initially deploy gear in downstream-only mode.
Take a glance back at the tale of CMAP and CESAR:
- Juniper Still Not in Love With CMAP
- Doing the Cisco Straddle
- RGB Shelves CMAP Product Plans
- Comcast, Moto Invest in CMAP Startup
- TW Cable Hails CESAR, Not CMAP
- CMAP Heads to CableLabs
- Cable Bridging CMAP's Migration Gap
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable