CMAP Heads to CableLabs
Although CableLabs took over the CMAP interface specs work on Jan. 1, the MSOs will retain any product specs they have developed or will develop for CMAP, a new, super-dense architecture that will combine edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) functions, support many more unicast services and pave the way for cable's eventual transition to IP video. (See Comcast Proposes Its God Box and Comcast God Box Also a Green Box.)
Why this matters
The idea here is to have CableLabs create common interfaces that aren't specific to any one MSO. Comcast initiated the CMAP project, but the following MSOs and parties are also contributing to effort: Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) (a programming and hardware buying consortium for about 950 MSOs), and European MSOs, such as Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), through their representation by Cable Europe Labs . (See More MSOs Back Comcast's Big Box Project .)
The transfer is just a step along a path established several months ago. "This is exactly what the plan was all along. We haven't deviated from it in any way," says Comcast VP of Access Architecture Jorge Salinger, noting that Comcast and CableLabs first struck up that conversation in 2009.
And it fits with the historic role of CableLabs. Although CableLabs does certify and qualify products such as Docsis cable modems and CMTSs, it doesn't specify the products themselves. Instead, the bulk of its work centers on "open" interfaces that allow interoperability between vendors. And its goal with CMAP follows similar lines.
"While the initial work to develop these interfaces was conducted as a Comcast-led effort, the MSOs and vendors involved designed them from day one as open interfaces with broad applicability," says CableLabs Director of Docsis Specifications Matt Schmitt. "There is interest from our members in devices that comply with these interfaces, [which amount] to an extension of Docsis."
CableLabs has not released the first set of CMAP interface specs, and isn't speculating on when it will. CableLabs released a technical report on the CMAP architecture in December.
However, the expectation is that the specs, in part, will cover the modular implementation of CMAP, an option that links up the CMAP Access Shelf (for the downstream and upstream PHY and MAC layer) and Packet Shelf (for packet processing) components -- components that are expected to originate from an array of router, CMTS and edge QAM vendors.
Vendors such as Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Casa Systems Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) appear poised to develop fully integrated CMAPs. But the coming interface specs will come in especially handy for operators that intend to use a multi-vendor, modular option that, for example, might team a Packet Shelf from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. or Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) with CMAP-compliant Access Shelves from Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND), RGB Networks Inc. , LiquidxStream Systems Inc. or Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc.
CableLabs will also develop OSS elements that will help MSOs configure and manage the various piece parts comprising the CMAP architecture. Here again CableLabs will likely borrow work already done for Docsis and extend and apply that to CMAP.
CMAP gear timeline
Salinger says the transfer is also indicative of how far the project has come. "It's more of a demonstration that we are getting to the end of the process of writing the CMAP specs and that we're well underway of transferring those requirements to CableLabs," he says.
As products go, Salinger expects that operators start to receive CMAP gear for initial lab testing by mid year, with field testing slated for late 2011 and into the early portion of 2012. Deployments, he says, could start by mid 2012.
But deployments won't be as straightforward as getting equipment in-hand, plugging it in and flipping the "on" switch. CMAP teams are also working on new tests, methodologies and tools, including migration plans, to help MSOs get operationally ready for a new architecture that, when boiled down, will eventually manage every cable service.
"It's not just a matter of when the equipment will arrive. A lot of work needs to happen before we can start deploying," Salinger says. "There will be a transition strategy."
And some of that work is already becoming apparent. Comcast and its CMAP partners are currently considering a deployment scenario for MSOs that use the CableLabs-specified Modular Headend Architecture (MHA). Under that plan, the CMAP Access Shelf could be deployed in downstream-only mode and serve as a super-dense edge QAM. (See Cable Bridging CMAP's Migration Gap and MSOs Unite Against Telcos at the Headend.)
Additional details about the evolution of CMAP will be covered Thursday, Feb. 24 at The Cable Center in Denver at the next one-day Light Reading Live event: Cable Next-Gen Broadband Strategies: Docsis 3.0, Wireless, Fiber & Beyond.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable