Striving to stay competitive in the emerging market for Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) gear, Cisco has brought out a software upgrade for its flagship cable modem termination system (CMTS) device while it prepares to introduce its next-gen CCAP chassis in early 2015.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) unveiled the line card upgrade for its uBR10K CMTS at the SCTE Cable-Tec expo show in Denver late last month. Known as the 6 Gigabit Shared Port Adapter (6G SPA), the new card represents a marked improvement over the older 3G SPA line card, enabling cable operators to offer broadband downstream speeds of more than a gigabit using current DOCSIS technology.
More specifically, Cisco said, the new line card allows cable providers to bond up to 32 DOCSIS 3.0 channels for downstream delivery, up from the 16 to 24 channels they could bond before. As a result, North American operators can offer downstream speeds as high as 1.2 Gbit/s, up from a maximum of 960 Mbit/s before. European cable operators can boost downstream speeds even higher to 1.6 Gbit/s because European DOCSIS networks use channels that are 8MHz wide, rather than 6MHz wide as in the Americas.
Cisco officials said the new line card, which boosts the total number of downstream channels available on the uBR10K CMTS by 50%, should help tide over cable operators as they increasingly seek to offer 1-Gig speeds to broadband subscribers over their existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) networks. While both larger and smaller cable providers are starting to roll out 1-Gig service, they are now using new fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks to do so, rather than their standard HFC plant. (See Cox Goes Gaga Over Gigabit.)
The cable industry has been counting on the introduction of the new DOCSIS 3.1 spec to help it meet the Gigabit Cities challenge raised by the spreading 1-Gig rollouts of Google Fiber Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and other broadband rivals. But, with DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems and wireless data gateways not expected to be ready for lab tests and field trials until next spring and upgraded CMTS devices until after that, the new spec likely won't be deployed widely until 2016 or even 2017.
"What we're starting to see is a lot of talk about DOCSIS 3.1," said Brett Wingo, VP & GM of Cisco's cable Access unit. But, he noted, the actual implementation of the technology on a broad scale may still be at least two years away.
At the same time, Cisco officials are gearing up for the introduction of their long-awaited net-gen CCAP chassis early next year. Known as the cBR-8, the ultra-dense device will take the place of the CMTS and edgeQAM modulator in the cable headend, processing both data and video signals while using up less space and power.
With trials of the cBR-8 now going on with the five biggest MSOs in the US and the two biggest MSOs in Europe, Cisco executives said they are on track to offer "early order availability" of the device at the beginning of next year and general availability in March. "March is locked," Wingo said. "We're tracking to it."
While Cisco has not received any firm orders for the cBR-8 yet, company officials said he vendor is seeing "certainly great demand" from its customers for it and expects to start trials with another four MSOs by the end of the year. "We're increasing the number of trials each month," Wingo said. "We'll keep building additional customer trials."
Cisco's two prime rivals in the CMTS/CCAP market -- Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Casa Systems Inc. -- have gotten off to a head start in the still-developing CCAP space, at least partly at Cisco's expense. Both Arris and Casa have introduced new headend chasses that are more advanced than Cisco's decade-old uBR 10K CMTS model. (See Cisco CCAP Gets NOS Nod.)
Acknowledging that they're now playing catchup ball in the CCAP space, which Wingo called "certainly annoying," Cisco officials said there's not much they can do about that head start. But they said they're confident that they will win back customers and market share once the cBR-8 makes its much-anticipated debut because of its greater CCAP and DOCSIS 3.1 capabilities.
"We're looking at the long term," said Todd McCrum, senior director of business development for the cable access unit. "This will be a true CCAP platform. There's no other box that can claim that."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading