November 15, 2011
Xilinx Inc. (Nasdaq: XLNX) is making the pitch for using field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) in a Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP), showing off what appears to be the first commercial CCAP demo at this week's Cable-Tec Expo in Atlanta.
The CCAP specs aren't fully cooked, but initial products are still expected in 2012. Xilinx -- whose FPGAs have a track record inside very dense edge QAMs -- can get edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) makers "80 to 90 percent of the way" towards full CCAP functionality, with headroom for alterations that can be tacked on later, says Aaron Behman, a Xilinx senior marketing manager.
At Cable-Tec, Xilinx and RADX Technologies Inc., its partner and exclusive reseller for CCAP intellectual property, will demonstrate what they have in mind at the edge QAM level, showing 160 QAM channels funneling through one RF port.
RADX is expected to introduce its first Xilinx-based reference design (with support for two full RF ports and 320 discrete channels) in the first quarter of 2012. A four-RF port-design is slated to be out in the third quarter, followed by a six-port version in the fourth quarter.
Xilinx's competition in CCAPs is expected to include FPGA rival Altera Corp. (Nasdaq: ALTR), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and BroadLogic Network Technologies Inc. -- as well as some internal designs. LiquidxStream Systems Inc. , an edge QAM vendor bought by CommScope Inc. earlier this year, has been making its own application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC)s. (See Why CommScope Bought LiquidxStream.)
Why this matters
FPGAs are prominent any time a platform or standard is in flux, and that's certainly true of CCAP. CableLabs and its MSO partners have opted to do away with the original modular version of CCAP and are working on new specs that should help to get edge QAM vendors back in the game alongside CMTS suppliers.
Having ASICs and FPGAs battle in the CCAP market is sure to re-spark a technology debate about the wisdom of each approach. FPGAs are known to do more with less cost, but ASICs are typically viewed as more reliable, says Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Jeff Heynen.
He believes some initial CCAP products will debut next year but doesn't expect big deployments to begin until 2014, since CMTS and edge QAM vendors are still adding density to their existing products before the physical space in headends are maxed out.
Read more about the evolution of CCAP.
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