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Cable Tech

Harmonic: Let's put the MAC here, there... anywhere

Harmonic has unleashed a new "MAC Anywhere" platform that fits into the new CableLabs-specified Flexible MAC Architecture (FMA) for next-gen cable networks. Harmonic believes its MAC for FMA also opens the door to potential licensing partnerships with third-party suppliers of nodes and other types of hardware for hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks.

The basis of Harmonic's new FMA offering feeds into a broader cable industry effort that aims to settle a debate on where to place the HFC network's MAC (media access control) layer – centralize it in the headend or deploy it toward the edge of the network. FMA supports both scenarios.

The CableLabs FMA specs, released last year, enable the MAC to be deployed in the remote PHY and remote MACPHY options for the emerging distributed access architecture (DAA). DAA is a prerequisite for DOCSIS 4.0 and an approach that fits within the cable industry's broader "10G" initiative for 10-Gig services, low latencies and more powerful security.

"It's one standard that anyone can use," Gil Katz, Harmonic's senior vice president of cable access business operations, said of FMA. Harmonic's full-stack FMA implementation also ties into CableOS, the company's cloud-native virtualization platform for HFC and fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks.

Katz said Harmonic has tested its FMA with a tier 1 cable operator and with a smaller operator, supporting a blend of broadband, voice and video services. "We've proved an end-to-end FMA solution," he claimed.

A big key, he said, is the ability to deploy Harmonic's MAC in centralized and distributed networks, meaning it can run in an integrated Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP), an Intel server in a headend, or on a node that's deployed near the edge of the network.

Harmonic has also positioned its new MAC implementation as one that can be deployed on nodes and other cable network hardware products made by other suppliers.

"We're calling on competitors on the hardware side to partner and work together. We'll be happy to enable them to run our MAC on their hardware," Katz said.

For operators, "it makes sense to have one implementation of the MAC and then be able to run it anywhere in terms of location," he added.

While that approach could be attractive to cable operators that are eager to simplify their architectures by unifying their networks on one MAC, it's not clear how receptive Harmonic's competitors will be to the idea.

Katz said engagement with other vendors on the idea is in its early days. He also acknowledged it "will take some time" for some of them to realize the benefits of integrating Harmonic's MAC for FMA.

Daniel Etman, a marketing and business development exec in Harmonic's cable business unit, suggested that the idea has the potential to take hold as other suppliers realize that integrating Harmonic's MAC will save them money and time while also supplying them with a product that goes well beyond the minimal requirements of the FMA specs.

Connecting with fiber and Google Cloud

The FMA reveal was part of a set of announcements Harmonic made in tandem with this week's all-virtual SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

With an eye on initiatives such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), Harmonic also introduced a new fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) product tailored for rural fiber network deployments. That product, called the Jetty, is a remote switch that can run on Harmonic's CableOS platform.

Katz said the Jetty, which can support XGS-PON and 10G-EPON, is a low-power, compact device that can be deployed anywhere in the network inside an environmentally hardened device, such as a node, including Harmonic's own Ripple+ node for DAA.

He estimates that the Jetty can support 120 Gbit/s of capacity and serve nearly 1,000 homes. Harmonic has the product in lab trials and expects commercial deployments to commence in 2022.

Harmonic also announced it has integrated CableOs with the Google Cloud Marketplace, believing the move will enable operators to deploy apps on top of CableOS more rapidly. That, for example, could include a virtual cable modem termination system (vCMTS), a virtual PON or video caching services and applications.

"The idea here is to bring the cloud much deeper into the network," Katz said. That setup could, for example, enable a cable operator to run instances of a vCMTS in the cloud rather than running it at an operator's localized facility. That idea could be particularly attractive to operators that are deploying FTTP to rural areas, he added.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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