Cable modem/CMTS

Cisco Aiming to One-Up Cable's Upstream

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is developing a modular cable modem termination (M-CMTS) blade that will pack in 60 upstream ports and enable the vendor to shoot past a new module from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) that offers 48 upstream ports.

The newest member of Cisco's CMTS family, the 3G60, is expected to start shipping in the third or fourth quarter of 2010, with field trials slated to get underway by next summer, Venkat Krishnamoorthi, product manager for Cisco's CMTS line cards, told Cable Digital News at last week's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver.

In addition to the 60 upstream ports, the new modular CMTS card will also support 72 downstreams, he said. Those cards are made to snap into Cisco's flagship CMTS, the uBR10012, which can hold up to eight line cards.

Cisco's new entry will counter the RX48, Motorola's dedicated upstream blade, which is slated to start shipping by the early third quarter of 2010. (See Moto Hones Super-Dense CMTS Blade.)

While Moto and Cisco fight for upstream bragging rights, how is Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), the other major CMTS supplier, factoring into the game?

These days, Arris offers a CMTS blade with 12 upstream ports, though the vendor has a program underway to increase the upstream density, according to Arris SVP of product management and marketing Derek Elder. Arris, however, isn't tipping its hand on how many upstream ports will grace that next-gen line card.

At the same time, Arris is trying to play up the overall density of its CMTS rather than the density of the individual cards. Its primary CMTS chassis, the C4, has 16 slots, double what's in the Cisco uBR10012.

Regardless of the specific approach, all of these vendors are beefing up their upstream capabilities as MSOs begin to add upstream capacity and pave the way for Docsis 3.0 upstream channel bonding and provide bursts of 100 Mbit/s or more. The increased density will also allow port costs to drop like a rock -- up to 60 percent, according to Motorola's calculations.

In terms of field-level upstream channel bonding activity, most of what's been announced is occurring in Asia. There, two operators – SK Broadband of South Korea and Japan Cablenet Ltd. -- have already deployed cable modem services that employ upstream channel bonding. (See Korean MSO Takes Wideband Upstream and Japan Cablenet Swims Upstream .)

Cisco, meanwhile, has a "significant" upstream channel bonding trial underway with an undisclosed North American MSO, according to Krishnamoorthi.

More than bragging rights?
Although the three major CMTS players have denser upstream cards on the roadmap, all that work may not translate into more market share.

In fact, the new products may simply help those vendors hold their positions, sell more individual line cards, and demonstrate to MSOs that they are still investing in their platforms. "I think it's more of a retention thing" when it comes to new advances in CMTS line cards, says Jeff Heynen, directing analyst for broadband and video at Infonetics Research Inc. "I'm not sure how much swapping of CMTS platforms there is these days anymore."

Plus, upstream port density hasn't had much of a bearing on recent market share trends. The case in point there is Arris, which, according to Infonetics data, rifled past Cisco in CMTS-related revenues in the second quarter thanks to aggressive MSO deployments of Docsis 3.0. Motorola also made up some ground in the quarter thanks in part to the availability of a dedicated card with 32 downstream ports. (See Arris Snares CMTS Crown From Cisco .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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