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More MSOs Back Comcast's Big Box Project

More cable operators and cable organizations are throwing their engineering weight behind Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s attempt to create a multi-MSO spec for a super-dense network access and routing device.

Cox Communications Inc. had been identified as one MSO providing input for the Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP). Now others have signed on or are about to, including Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. , Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), and Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI).

Comcast is in the process of concluding a similar agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) , a corporation that serves as a programming and hardware purchasing organization for Tier 2 and 3 MSOs. Cable Europe Labs and CableLabs are also involved in the project as advisors.

"Our objective and our hope is that we'll have a multiple-MSO CMAP specification that will become an industry de facto standard," said Jorge Salinger, Comcast's VP of access architecture, who offered an update on the project last week during a Light Reading Cable Webinar on the CMAP and the MSO's broader Next Generation Access Architecture (NGAA) project. (An archive of the Webinar is available here until May 2011.)

The CMAP, a key component of Comcast's larger NGAA project, would combine edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) functions and also would aim to handle an anticipated wave of narrowcast services, including IPTV, voice, and high-speed data. It's being designed to reduce headend space and power consumption requirements while cutting down the overall costs per bit. (See Comcast Proposes Its God Box and Cox Adds Weight to Comcast's Big Box Project .)

It's already drawing interest and participation from suppliers including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and RGB Networks Inc. (See Vendors Plan for Comcast's 'God' Box .)

On last week's Webinar, Motorola showed how a fully integrated version of the CMAP could be implemented, while AlcaLu, Harmonic, and RGB weighed in on modular approaches that would separate CMAP functions such as the Packet Shelf (routing) and the Access Shelf (core processing).

Making it modular
The Modular-CMAP (M-CMAP) intends to offer a clear demarcation between the routing and access interface, and allow operators to pick from a wider range of vendors for those components than they can today with the modular cable modem termination system (M-CMTS), an architecture that physically breaks out the Docsis downstreams (using edge QAMs) and the upstreams (handled via the core CMTS), and uses a Docsis Timing Interface to synch up the clocks of those components.

An M-CMAP implementation could marry an Alcatel-Lucent Packet Shelf with Access Shelves from Harmonic and/or RGB, for example.

The M-CMAP would be an alternative to the relatively complicated M-CMTS, as well as an alternative to the Modular Headend Architecture (MHA), a CableLabs-specified system that has layed some groundwork toward universal edge QAMs that can share network resources across various services, including high-speed Internet and unicast, multicast, and broadcast video. (See MSOs Unite Against Telcos at the Headend.)

The CMAP hardware and functional specs were completed in March. Comcast is targeting to complete the modular interface spec in June and the configuration and management specs in July.

Here's a brief summary of the rest of Comcast's NGAA project:

Table 1: Beyond the CMAP
Component Function Status
DMON: Downstream Monitor Downstream probe that implements extensive network monitoring Spec under development
NGOM: Next Generation Operations Manager Streamlines the execution of spectrum surveillance, system proofs, plant alignment/balancing and sweep, and content integrity monitoring Specs in planning stage
HSG: High Spectrum Gateway Overlays high-bandwidth upstream and downstream transmission Device in conceptual design phase
Source: Comcast




— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Ryan2112 12/5/2012 | 4:34:17 PM
re: More MSOs Back Comcast's Big Box Project

An Integrated CMAP approach includes functional support for both the Integrated and Modular CMAP designs.  This is accomplished by the same Packet Access Shelf Interface (PASI) being integrated into the I-CMAP architecture. The advantage I-CMAP has is that it can also support a modular design i.e. remotely located phy/mac shelves or Access Shelves, via that same PASI used in a M-CMAP design.  Benefit is I-CMAP where real estate constraints exist and M-CMAP where distributed architectures make sense.

Ryan2112 12/5/2012 | 4:34:17 PM
re: More MSOs Back Comcast's Big Box Project

An Integrated CMAP approach includes functional support for both the Integrated and Modular CMAP designs.  This is accomplished by the same Packet Access Shelf Interface (PASI) being integrated into the I-CMAP architecture. The advantage I-CMAP has is that it can also support a modular design i.e. remotely located phy/mac shelves or Access Shelves, via that same PASI used in a M-CMAP design.  Benefit is I-CMAP where real estate constraints exist and M-CMAP where distributed architectures make sense.

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