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Cisco halts investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS

Says it's suspending spending on FDX until market timing, ecosystem development and size of the market opportunity can be quantified.

Jeff Baumgartner

August 9, 2019

5 Min Read
Cisco halts investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS

Dealing a blow to the engineering development of next-gen Full Duplex DOCSIS technology, Cisco Systems confirmed that it has halted its investment in FDX until it gets a lot more clarity on market timing and the anticipated adoption by cable operators.

"Cisco has internally communicated that we are suspending further investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX) until the market timing, ecosystem development and size of the opportunity can be quantified," a Cisco spokesperson said in a statement to Light Reading.

Update: Even with the suspension of FDX spending, Sean Welch, VP and GM, Service Provider-Cable; and John Chapman, CTO of cable access and a fellow at Cisco, remain with the cable technology and products unit. Cisco confirmed to Multichannel News that John Holobinko, the former director of cable access strategy at Cisco and also a former Motorola exec, left Cisco in the spring, but stressed that his departure was unrelated to the more recent changes involving Cisco's FDX-facing investments.

Tied to cable's efforts around distributed access architectures, Full Duplex DOCSIS is an emerging next generation of the platform that will support both upstream and downstream traffic in a wide swath of spectrum and put HFC networks on a path toward symmetrical 10 Gbit/s speeds.

FDX was initially tagged as an enhancement to DOCSIS 3.1, but is now going to be part of a new, all-encompassing CableLabs specification, to be called DOCSIS 4.0. That specification will also support low-latency DOCSIS and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD), an alternative (and some say competitor) to FDX that will enable the spectrum capacity ceiling to be raised to 1.8GHz or more (up from 1.2GHz with D3.1) and continue to keep upstream and downstream traffic separate. DOCSIS 4.0 also ties into cable's broader "10G" initiative that spans multiple types of access networks (HFC, fiber and wireless).

While DOCSIS 4.0 aims to create some cohesion from the chaos, the indecision and infighting regarding the FDX vs. ESD topic has played a role in slowing capital spending as cable operators mull their future network strategies.

That schism in technology strategy has, in turn, wreaked havoc on cable vendors, including publicly held ones such as Arris/CommScope and Casa Systems. Until suppliers get a better fix on what cable operators will actually buy -- and buy in volume -- for their next-gen HFC networks, they don't know what to make. And it's becoming clear that suppliers are done throwing good money after bad until they have firmer direction from the operators.

Comcast has been long viewed as a champion of FDX, which initially required an "N+0" architecture whereby fiber is pulled closer to the home alongside the elimination of all amplifiers between the home and the node. But most other cable operators are not taking that path. Comcast has been asked to comment on its current commitment to FDX, but its recent investment and support of Harmonic's CableOS platform for a virtual CMTS and Cisco's decision to pause its investment in the technology indicate that how other suppliers will fit into Comcast's plans is uncertain at best.

Despite putting FDX-facing spending on the backburner, Cisco said it isn't about to shelve those efforts for all time.

"We remain confident that FDX will play a critical role in realizing 10G symmetrical cable services in the future and are committed to continuing the pioneering work with our customers to transition from centralized to distributed architectures," the company said in a statement. "Cisco continues to lead innovation in the cable industry, exploring many ways to help cable operators modernize their access networks with our unparalleled end-to-end portfolio."

Cisco's decision to pause FDX investment has also resulted in some layoffs. Multiple industry sources said between five and seven engineers involved in the FDX effort are no longer with the company, while two others said the decisions have cut more deeply into Cisco's cable access technology group, resulting in the layoff of at least 40 people.

Cisco's cable network path seems uncertain
In addition, that has generated concerns among Cisco's cable operator customers, sources said, noting that it has also raised questions about the vendor's long-term commitment to its outside cable plant business, which includes products such as amplifiers, passives, taps and nodes.

Further, questions are now swirling about what, if anything, will follow the cbr-8, Cisco's flagship Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP).

Amid the pause in FDX spending, "there's no forward path for the cbr-8," a cable engineering executive who's privy to the changes occurring at Cisco said.

Cisco didn't comment on rumors about layoffs at the cable access unit or questions swirling about the future direction of its outside plant business at this week's CableLabs Summer Conference in Keystone, Colo. But Cisco did confirm that some personnel changes have been made as it refreshes its cable network activity and reallocates resources to other high-growth areas.

"The decision to suspend further investment means it is necessary to realign some of our teams to key growth areas across Cisco," the official said. "We never take these decisions lightly, and we will do everything we can to help the transition of employees to be as smooth as possible."

Two people said Cisco's plans involving cable access tech will likely fixate more on software. That, one supplier exec said, would fit well with Cisco's grander strategy to focus on software and services. "Taps don't fit that profile," the exec said.

And when something doesn't fit in with the bigger picture, particularly when it comes to cable network tech, history has shown that Cisco could be willing to divest that piece.

Cisco, which acquired the Scientific-Atlanta business for $6.9 billion back in 2005, sold off its set-top and CPE business (to Technicolor in 2015) and, more recently, sold its video software business to Permira, which has since relaunched that acquisition as a new company called Synamedia.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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