Harmonic lights 'Beacon' to boost cable network performance

Harmonic aims to beef up the speed and capacity of cable networks with the Beacon Intelligent Speed Maximizer, an app that taps into modem and network data pulled from 'cOS,' Harmonic's cloud-powered access network platform.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 29, 2024

4 Min Read
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(Source: Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/Alamy Stock Photo)

Harmonic is extending the capabilities of its virtualized access network platform with a new application designed to boost the performance of hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks in real-time as plant network conditions fluctuate.

That offering, branded as the Beacon Intelligent Speed Maximizer (ISM), has been integrated with "cOS," Harmonic's virtualized access/edge compute platform that previously was known as "CableOS."

Under Harmonic's new approach, the Beacon ISM gathers existing upstream and downstream data from modems and the vCMTS, enabling operators to gain real-time visibility into network health and performance and to make adjustments to the cable modem modulation profiles on the fly. The modulation profiles determine how much data a modem can deliver via a given amount of spectrum. As such, it follows that modems that are tuned to higher modulation profiles deliver the best performance and vice-versa.

"We know that some [cable] plants are really clean and some plants less so, and there are different noise conditions that change throughout the day – sometimes repeatedly, sometimes uniquely," Asaf Matatyaou, senior vice president, product, for Harmonic's broadband business unit, said. "We want to be able, as a system, to tailor and maximize the speeds to individual subscribers so they are able to gain every single bit of the pipe that they can get." 

Related:Another way cable ops are squeezing more out of their DOCSIS networks

Beacon's roots can be traced to the Profile Management Application (PMA), a technique originating from CableLabs that can boost the data efficiency of DOCSIS 3.1 networks by up to 40%. PMA effectively helps DOCSIS 3.1 modems (and, later, DOCSIS 4.0 modems) to take advantage of the highest available modulations, even in the presence of speed-reducing noise. But instead of having all of the nearby modems run at a relatively low modulation level that's supported by the worst-performing modem in the lot, PMA allows cable modems to dynamically and automatically operate at the highest modulation level they can support as network conditions change.

Companies such as OpenVault and ZCorum have developed new products based on PMA. Comcast, Harmonic's top customer and largest adopter of its cOS platform, has also developed a product called Octave that uses AI and PMA techniques.

Going beyond PMA

Matatyaou believes Beacon provides operators with a new alternative and a way to expand beyond the core capabilities of PMA, which is centralized and needs to be set up separately using simple network management protocol (SNMP) tools to gather data that can be analyzed. By comparison, Beacon doesn't require a separate SNMP capability as Harmonic's platform instead taps into its edge compute platform to gather modem and vCMTS data (upstream and downstream) that already exists.

Related:CableLabs unit and OpenVault connect on tech that squeezes more out of DOCSIS 3.1

That data "is cached and available all of the time" with Beacon because it's already on the edge compute platform, Matatyaou said.

And rather than polling the network periodically during the day, Beacon, he said, can react to plant conditions in real-time and open up capacity by triggering new modulation profiles for the modems.

"When there's a problem, we focus on the service group and the modems that are having the issues," Matatyaou explained. "It's reacting to the plant and pushing the [modem] profile versus just arbitrarily gathering data … The plant is dynamic and we need to react to it dynamically."

Harmonic believes Beacon will become increasingly important as cable operators push ahead with "mid-split" and "high-split" upgrades that dedicate more spectrum to the HFC network upstream. Some operators are seeing noise conditions in the plant that they didn't see before they deployed mid-split or high-split upgrades, Matatyaou said.

He also believes operators could realize similar benefits as they pursue DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades that extend the spectrum of the HFC network to 1.8GHz.

In addition to enhancing network performance, Harmonic believes Beacon can also generate opex savings by reducing customer trouble calls, truck rolls and subscriber churn.

Beacon trials are underway

Harmonic will sell Beacon as a service, offering it as an application that resides on the same cluster of servers that run the core cOS platform.

Matatyaou said Harmonic is actively in Beacon trials today with operators in the US and abroad and expects to set up additional trials in the third quarter of 2024. Harmonic is targeting general availability of Beacon in Q4 2024.

Harmonic isn't identifying its current batch of trial partners. Harmonic finished 2023 with 108 virtual cable modem termination system (vCMTS) deployments worldwide serving about 26.3 million cable modems. Harmonic is expected to announce updated numbers today when it reports Q1 2024 financial results.

In addition to Comcast, examples of other operators that have deployed or plan to deploy Harmonic's cOS platform include Charter Communications, Rogers Communications and Vodafone.

Beacon is the third application developed for cOS. Other apps include Harmonic's vCMTS and a virtual broadband network gateway (vBNG) for fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) access network deployments. Harmonic is currently qualifying additional applications for cOS that will be introduced at a later date, Matatyaou said.

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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