Cable Tech

The Slow Road to PacketCable 2.0

Although CableLabs ensured that PacketCable 2.0 reached an important milestone this week after issuing a detailed request for information (RFP), there's plenty of road to cover before cable operators will reach the deployment stage on this next-generation architecture, according to Light Reading's latest Cable Industry Insider report.

That report, PacketCable 2.0 & IMS: Cable & Telco Worlds Collide, details the role, capabilities, and advantages of this emerging architecture, while examining how vendors are incorporating the technology into their product lineups and how quickly operators plan to test or deploy it.

PacketCable 2.0 follows in the footsteps of the IP voice-centric PacketCable 1.x specs, as well as PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM), a platform that supplies quality of service (QOS) for all forms of IP applications and services.

Based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and borrowing heavily from session initiation protocol (SIP), PacketCable 2.0 aims to give cable operators a way to bridge services and applications across wireline and wireless access networks, and to add service mobility to the mix.

PacketCable 2.0 "breaks down the walls dividing the cable industry's separate voice, video, and data silos, and then combines them into one single, integrated network," writes report author and Heavy Reading senior analyst Alan Breznick.

IMS hype reached a fever pitch about two years ago, with cable and telco observers viewing it as the "next big thing." But the complexities of PacketCable 2.0 and the costs associated with the migration from cable's legacy systems have caused some to believe operators won't make the leap for at least two -- and perhaps as many as five -- more years.

Although IMS was hot a year or two ago, "the sense I got is that it's very cool right now," Breznick says, noting that cable operators are focusing the spotlight on high-profile projects such as Docsis 3.0, which is being developed more urgently due to competitive pressures originating from telcos and their fiber-to-the-home network rollouts. "They (cable operators) are focused on SIP, but not IMS as much. There's not the buzz that was around it."

Still, "I think they're beyond hype mode, and looking at the practicality of making this thing happen," he adds.

Another factor slowing deployment plans: PacketCable 2.0 is a platform and doesn't offer operators any new "killer apps" -- at least none yet that operators would throw a ton of money at.

"The issue is, you've got a big up-front investment. PacketCable 2.0 is probably 18 months to two years away," says Dermot O'Carroll, senior vice president of engineering and network operations for Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI), in the report. "We've got a ways to go."

"It's going to be a gradual migration," adds David Gaetani, director of business development for Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), another PacketCable 2.0 expert cited in the report. "I think it'll come in pieces."

Still, that has not stopped the industry from trying to figure out how those pieces will fit together. In addition to the RFI, CableLabs has recently launched a PacketCable 2.0 Applications Lab at its Louisville, Colo., facility.

PacketCable 2.0 deployments remain far out on the horizon, but Breznick reports that MSOs such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , Rogers, and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) are preparing to start some extensive field trials of some apps that ride on the new architecture by early 2008.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

The report, PacketCable 2.0 & IMS: Cable & Telco Worlds Collide, is available as part of an annual subscription (6 bimonthly issues) to Light Reading’s Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,295. Individual reports are available for $900.
alchemy 12/5/2012 | 3:07:18 PM
re: The Slow Road to PacketCable 2.0 I fail to see how PacketCable 2.0 can ever get deployed. The way it is specified, most of call processing is distributed out to the endpoint. To make this work, the protocol has to be defined in complete detail for each feature with all feature interactions considered. To date, only the base residential features have been considered and the specifications are in their first round of spec churn. The MSOs are in the process of deploying commercial services (hosted IP CENTREX) functionality using their revenue-generating PacketCable 1 platform. Using NCS/MGCP, all the features are implemented at the core with an unintelligent endpoint. To achieve feature parity, CableLabs will have to do another extensive round of standards development to fully specify the SIP protocols for all the commercial features. They're still likely a year away from having certified endpoints in PacketCable 2.0 and we all know that CableLabs certification does not mean that the MSO will have a stable network in the field. I don't see PacketCable 2 catching up for years. Why would the MSOs want to destabilize their networks when they are busy making money from PacketCable 1 and they get no features that add to the bottom line?

In my opinion, IMS is an inappropriate technology for the RF spectrum the MSOs bought through their SpectrumCo venture. It is only 10 MHz up and 10 MHz down. By the time you slice and dice it into 4 or 5 subchannels, you really want to run a bandwidth-efficient 2.5G standard rather than VoIP and the pipe isn't big enough to run cable's bread and butter video product in anything better than YouTube quality.

The place where IMS makes sense is when the MSOs start using SIP to control their mainstream video products. You need 2 applications plus convergence to justify using the technology. This is a huge change in the way MSOs distribute their core product to the public so I'd expect a rather slow, cautious rollout.

Slow road indeed.