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Cable Infrastructure Spending Slogs Through Another Tough Quarter

Cable infrastructure spending in Q3 2019 was a mixed bag -- it was a bit better than the prior period, but still a far cry from 2018 spending levels.

That's according to the latest numbers from Dell'Oro Group, which said total cable access "concentrator" revenue dropped 31% year-over-year, to $287 million, but rose a bit from Q2 2019's total of $237 million. Those cable access concentrator revenues include traditional, centralized Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) chassis and line cards (still the lion's share of the category) as well as newer remote PHY devices, remote MACPHY devices and virtual CCAP products.

The primary culprit in Q3 once again was a slowdown in Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) license purchases in North America as well as indecision among operators about when to roll out a distributed access architecture (DAA) and virtual CCAP technologies aggressively.

"There's no question that spending remains pretty conservative right now, for CCAP and DOCSIS infrastructure in general," Jeff Heynen, senior research director at Dell'Oro, said.

While he expected Q3 numbers to improve over Q2 as major US cable ops such as Comcast and Charter Communications purchased some new network capacity via line cards and new licenses, Heynen also points out that the revenue numbers are still way down.

By way of comparison, spending in the category for Q3 2018 was $415 million -- $218 million more than what came in the door in Q3 2019. "That's still a significant hit," Heynen said.

In addition to some MSO indecision about when to move ahead with DAA and virtual CCAP technologies in a big way, Heynen said a lack of broadband competition is also factoring into lower cable infrastructure spending trends.

"That's why they [the cable operators] can retain these spending levels and be fine," he said. "Nobody's pushing them too hard or challenging them."

That lack of competition also bears out in recent US broadband subscriber trends -- cable's dominating. According to Leichtman Research Group, the top US cable operators added about 830,000 broadband subs in Q3 2019 and the top telcos lost about 225,000.

But not all vendors are struggling during this slowdown. Aided by its virtual CCAP deal with Comcast, Harmonic's revenue share in Q3 climbed to almost 19%, up from previous single-digit levels, according to Heynen.

That tosses Harmonic into a three-way tie with Cisco Systems and Casa Systems, which each had about 19% to 20% of the market in Q3. CommScope's share has been sliding, but it still led the way in Q3 2019 with about 39% of revenues in the cable infrastructure category.

In the broader picture, Dell'Oro said global revenues for broadband access equipment declined 12% in Q3 2019, to $3.2 billion. Of note, a 371% increase in XGS-PON optical line terminal revenues and ongoing growth of XG-PON1 OLT ports and CPE helped to offset continued DSL declines (DSL port shipments dropped 28% year-over-year), the research firm found.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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