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Pandemic pushes cable's DAA plans off-course

Cable operators prioritized near-term capacity upgrades and enhancements to legacy centralized infrastructure in 2020, slowing the drive toward a future that will feature distributed access networks.

Jeff Baumgartner

September 4, 2020

4 Min Read
Pandemic pushes cable's DAA plans off-course

CABLE NEXT-GEN TECHNOLOGIES & STRATEGIES – The pandemic has altered or postponed the best laid plans of the entire telecom industry, a situation that, of course, has not left the cable industry untouched. In fact, COVID-19 has caused most MSOs to reset their network-facing priorities.

After originally expecting 2020 to be a "ramp year" for distributed access architecture (DAA) and other next-gen equipment, that part of the market "veered off course" as COVID-19 started to take hold in the early part of the year, Jaimie Lenderman, senior analyst, network infrastructure and software at Omdia, explained last week during a session at the Light Reading-hosted conference that explored the path forward for cable's DAA-related activities.

Faced with a surge in residential network data usage as people worked and schooled from home, cable operators were forced to put some projects on the backburner and reset resources toward rapid capacity enhancements and upgrades to their existing, more centralized infrastructures.

In the wake of that pandemic-fueled pivot, Lenderman now expects non next-generation cable infrastructure revenues to account for about 75% of the market in 2020.

But she also expects the next-gen market, which includes DAA fiber nodes, remote PHY and remote MACPHY products, and cloud-enabled/virtualized converged cable access platforms (CCAPs), to regain momentum in the coming years. Lenderman's latest forecast sees the market for next-gen cable equipment revenues rising to $1.2 billion in 2025.

Other analysts are seeing similar trends. In a separate keynote session, Jeff Heynen, senior research director, broadband access and home networking at Dell'Oro Group, said he expects spending on traditional CCAP infrastructure (with a focus on new upstream licenses) to continue apace for the rest of the year.

"The name of the game right now isn't necessarily DAA. It's really about taking care of upstream capacity and taking care of the constraints there," Heynen said.

However, he does expect new "mid-split" and "high-split" upstream upgrade projects to start to drive DAA deployments going forward.

Pockets of DAA action
DAA activity has slowed, but it isn't crawled to a standstill yet.

Dave Hering, senior product line manager at Viavi Solutions, said his company has been working to virtualize test tools for DAA environments. He's seeing operators evaluate DAA products in the labs, but is also seeing some of them move toward production in the "thousands of nodes."

Cox Communications is already active with DAA and is seeing some benefits from it, according to Gail Shallow, manager in the access engineering design group at Cox.

Initial benefits include flexibility, as DAA is putting Cox in position to implement an end-to-end Ethernet infrastructure to deploy remote PHY devices (RPDs) to any CCAP in the network and then point those RPDs to other facilities in the Cox network.

"We can load balance across CCAPs," Shallow said.

Picking a flavor of DAA
Meanwhile, cablecos are still wrestling with how to proceed with DAA as they consider whether to go with remote PHY (where the QAM from the headend is moved to the node) or remote MACPHY (where the command and control aspects of the network are pushed out to the edges and essentially turn the node into a mini-CCAP device).

DAA represents a big change to cable network operations as it is, and establishing two possible paths and architectures caused some confusion and contributed to a slowdown of adoption and deployment, according to Jay Rolls, a cable technology advisor who most recently was SVP and chief technology officer at Charter Communications.

He said both approaches will likely co-exist for a long time, though remote MACPHY might ultimately "win out" if there's rising demand for ultra low-latency services. Remote MACPHY might also provide a more elegant operational setup as cable operators continue to mix in more EPON and GPON networks, Rolls added.

Vecima Networks is playing both sides of the coin. Vecima, which recently acquired Nokia's cable access portfolio, has been deploying remote PHY and remote MACPHY products. It sees room for co-existence between them, at least in the short term, Colin Howlett, the vendor's CTO, said.

But regardless of the differing approaches and whether one will ultimately become the long-term go-to, the transition to DAA won't happen overnight even when cable operators start to lean into it again more heavily.

"To me the biggest challenge of DAA is Father Time," said Fernando Villarruel, chief architect at Ciena.

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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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