The cable industry's "10G" initiative is focused on certain network capacity, latency and security goals, but there are many paths that operators can take to get to those destinations, engineering execs said at this week's all-digital Anga Com conference.
"We see the path to 10G really as a journey" using a combination of PON, hybrid fiber/coax (HFC), wireless and coherent optics network technologies, Jeroen Putzeys, a network sales vice president at CommScope, said during a panel focused on access network developments related to the 10G project.
10G, an access network-agnostic initiative, has set a goal of achieving symmetrical speeds of 10 Gbit/s along with low latency and enhanced security. While the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs for HFC networks are considered a stepping stone toward 10G, next-gen PON and wireless technologies are also expected to play a role as cable operators start to pursue a future focused on network and service convergence.
With respect to the HFC network, Putzeys noted that operators in Europe are starting to test and qualify ecosystems focused on low-latency DOCSIS (LLD), a capability that is supported by both the DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 specifications.
"That's gaining a lot of traction at the moment," Putzeys said, noting that service providers are looking to use LLD to underpin new value-added services. Low-latency enhancements for online gaming appear to be one such capability that is drawing interest from cable operators.
A shift to a distributed access architecture (DAA), which will allow for the use of digital optics that enable more reliable and consistent data throughput on the HFC network and put network virtualization in focus, are also expected to play critical parts in operators' journeys to 10G.
Virtualization will come in particularly handy as operators look for ways to unify, streamline and simplify the operations of their disparate access networks. Notably, PON continues to become an important part of cable arsenals as operators use fiber to support business service users or even migrate high traffic users off of the HFC plant to dedicated fiber infrastructures, David Whitehead, senior director of access solutions at Harmonic, explained.
"There's lot of synergies in that evolution from cable to PON over time that track toward virtualization," CommScope's Putzeys agreed.
And there's no one-size-fits-all approach to virtualization, Whitehead stressed, noting that operators will have the flexibility to enable that with an on-premises deployment, a hybrid on-premises/cloud deployment or even a virtual cable modem termination system (CMTS) that runs in a public cloud.
Getting a grip on legacy TV and supporting new skillsets
Meanwhile, cable operators will be faced with some significant challenges when trying to bridge their legacy systems to the new, more distributed network world, particularly with respect to the delivery of traditional broadcast TV services.
Legacy QAM-based video headends and core video systems will need to be upgraded to handle the transition to DAA and, eventually, to a platform that delivers all services over IP, Julius Tikkanen, vice president of video service platforms at Teleste, explained.
In addition to influencing technology choices, that transition will also force operators to bring together engineers and other tech and operations experts that have typically operated in their own video and data silos.
"We can't work alone anymore; we need to work together now," Tikkanen said, but warned that there's a "long journey" ahead before this transition is done. Whitehead noted that operators also will face skillset challenges as they progress with network virtualization projects.
Some operators already have some of that specialty knowledge in-house following the virtualization of elements of their infrastructure, such as customer management systems or certain backoffice functions. "But the biggest concern from operators, generally, is around the people who normally operate the CMTSs today" and concerns of being confronted with a technology that they are not yet familiar with, Whitehead said.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading