September 28, 2012
The latest Docsis 3.0 modems gun for downstream bursts approaching 1Gbit/s, but work already under way at some of the industry's key Docsis network vendors aims to blow past that. (See Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig .)
On the modem side, Hitron Technologies Inc. has already trotted out D3 gateway models based on the new Intel Puma 6 chip that bonds 24 downstream channels and eight upstream channels. Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) has already indicated plans to do the same, and multiple industry sources say Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) has been showing off a prototype.
But most of the cable modem termination system (CMTS) vendors say they are working on new software that will bond 32 downstream channels -- enough for maximum bursts of 1.2Gbit/s when fully loaded. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has been quiet about its plans for a next-gen D3 chip, but those CMTS targets could be indicative of what the chipmaker has in mind. (See Broadcom's Next D3 Chip Will Leapfrog Intel .)
Here's a quick review of the CMTS front:
Software on Arris's flagship CMTS, the C4, can handle 24 bonded channels, but the vendor has not issued that release commercially, says Stan Brovont, Arris SVP of marketing and business development, who adds that the vendor can't fully test the software until there's an ample supply of the new customer premises equipment (CPE). "It's one thing to write code to make it work for one modem, versus thousands," he says. He confirmed that a 32-channel CMTS is planned but didn't give a time frame.
Motorola Mobility is working on a new CMTS software release that can bond 32 downstreams and eight upstreams, expected to be ready by the first half of 2012, says Director of CMTS Marketing Jeffrey Walker.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says its new software release for 24 or 32 bonded downstream channels is slated for its fiscal second quarter, which ends in January. But "we can support it sooner than that for testing and trials," a Cisco spokeswoman says.
Casa Systems Inc. , which has been supplying the CMTS for the demos of Hitron's 24x8 modems, has already deployed 24-channel bonding in its CMTS for North American and EuroDocsis environments, according to VP of Marketing and Business Development Mark Sumner.
CMTS readiness for 24x8 modems will be important for the CPE vendors as they get prepped for certification testing. Hitron says it plans to submit a wireless gateway for testing at CableLabs in November. Cable Europe Labs is ready to begin testing on 24x8 modems now, according to Peter Percosan, the organization's managing director.
It's not yet clear when cable operators will be ready to use any of this new equipment. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for example, says it will hold off on any major changes to its Docsis infrastructure while it gauges demand for downstream speeds of 200Mbit/s or more. It's using a surgical fiber-to-the-home/Metro Ethernet approach, rather than Docsis 3.0, for early takers of its 305Mbit/s tier. (See Comcast Gives FTTH a Shot .)
Other MSOs might move sooner, depending on factors such as competition and how they intend to drive their IP video migrations. Operators in Europe, for example, are faced with more fiber competition or are considering a full IP video simulcast, so they are looking to create a Docsis pipe that can support something in the range of 1Gbit/s, Walker says.
But most cable operators don't happen to have a bunch of spare channels lying around. Some MSOs are still having trouble finding enough spectrum to fill up today's 8x4 modems, Brovont says. He adds that the CPE and CMTS players need to be ready for when operators do free up more bandwidth and also have a good business reason to use it.
And it appears that 32 channels could just be a start. Sumner says Casa's already got eyes on a 64-channel downstream, "but nobody will have anything like that anytime soon."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable
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