Doing the Cisco Straddle

4:20 AM -- When you're a vendor that happens to serve the nation's two largest cable operators, it's probably wise not to pick sides.

With that in mind, it's not surprising that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is doing its best to please everyone when it comes to a technical debate centering on the direction cable will take with a next-generation access architecture that will converge all cable services and blaze cable's path to IP video.

To bring you up to speed on that debate, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) (along with several other MSOs) is helming a project called the Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP), and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) has struck out on its own with something called the Converged Edge Services Access Router (CESAR). (See TW Cable Hails CESAR, Not CMAP and CMAP Vs. CESAR: Cable Clash in the Making?)

In this blog post, Mark Palazzo, VP and GM of Cisco's Cable Access Business Unit, tees it up with a helpful cable technology history lesson and some thoughts on cable's pursuit of a do-it-all "universal" edge QAM that can share capacity between voice, video and Internet services (edge QAMs are still largely stove-piped to a particularly cable service).

But with two next-gen projects to pick from, guess which approach Cisco favors? Both. Hey, we already noted that they're serving two masters.

"The easy and perhaps predictable answer is that we agree with both approaches," Palazzo writes in politically correct prose.

Although CMAP and CESAR share many common traits, he helpfully explains what the "alleged" key differences are -- that CESAR calls for smaller serving area groups while CMAP profiles big and small service groups; CMAP can go with encryption or without, while CESAR excludes it; CESAR specifies an integrated platform, while CMAP specifies integrated and multivendor, modular versions.

Bottom line, Cisco doesn't believe any of those differences preclude it from developing products for either school of thought. "In a CMAP v. CESAR sense, it really is a case of whatever it takes," Palazzo says, paying homage to this scene from Mr. Mom.

Of course, Comcast and TW Cable could just make it easier on everyone by finding common ground and reducing the confusion. And we hear that a technical reconciliation is already in the works, so this may all be sorted out soon enough. But if that happens which label will win out?

Palazzo shares his PC solution: "CARMASPEC -- just a thought!"

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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