The cable optical node is getting a makeover. And Arris, among others, wants to make sure that next-generation nodes are smarter, more capable and well-placed for future wired and wireless cable services.
The reason for revitalizing the cable node business is simple. With deep-fiber initiatives underway, aggressive cable operators -- including number-one US cable company Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) -- are expected to increase optical node deployments by 10x, if not more. More nodes means more data collection points and more resources at the edge of the network nearer to end users.
There are many ways to improve on existing node products. Cable companies have already committed to disaggregating cable modem termination system (CMTS) hardware and moving some of those functions out to the node. While there are different ways to do that, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) says it will support whatever distributed access architecture (DAA) approach customers want to follow, i.e. both Remote PHY and Remote MAC/PHY implementations. (See Cable's DAA Moment Is Here.)
That's one way Arris hopes to differentiate itself, but there are others.
"We're trying to build as many data objects that we can capture information on into the Remote PHY devices so that they will be able to do more advanced troubleshooting," says Dan Whalen, president of Network and Cloud for Arris, who spoke with Light Reading recently in an interview.
The more data objects Arris builds, the more indicators of device and network performance it can track. Whalen envisions more sophisticated analytics and predictive maintenance cycles with the next generation of optical nodes.
Arris certainly isn't unique in wanting to improve the quality management capabilities in the cable access network. Casa Systems Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. are all heavily invested in transforming access network solutions.
But Arris is distinct today in how it's emphasizing the role of future optical nodes in the delivery of legacy video. Specifically, Whalen says he sees an opportunity with newer node deployments to better target traditional TV audiences with advertising, video-on-demand selections, merchandising promotions and more. Part of the opportunity comes from the fact that customer service group sizes are shrinking, and as the geographic range of viewers narrows, the ability to deliver targeted content increases.
"I'll give you a great example. Think of political advertising," says Whalen. "Today a political advertisement would go to everybody serviced out of the specific headend. In this new model, the people that are advertising for politicians... running only on one side of town. You can actually just target the people inside of that town."
There's also an opportunity, however, in combining the advantages of those smaller service groups with software controls enabled by an increasingly virtualized CMTS or Cable Converged Access Platform (CCAP) core.
"We'll eventually in the next few years build out a virtual core that's just like our E6000 today, but would reside on COTS-based servers," says Whalen. With that virtual core, he adds, Arris is also developing a product it calls a virtual manager that's designed to extract information about service groups and allow operators "to be predictive about what's happening in that node but also be very targeted in understanding what devices exist off a certain node cluster."
In other words, even while legacy video systems still exist in the very last mile of the network, Arris plans to help deliver deeper analytics and new software capabilities that enable operators to be smarter about how they deliver TV services.
In the long run, there are plenty of other opportunities for leveraging the new optical nodes that operators are deploying today. They can be used as a jumping-off point for gradual fiber-to-the-home expansion, Whalen explains, and they can support small cells with significant fiber backhaul capacity. But improving existing services can be as important as introducing new ones. Arris believes that bringing more intelligence to the network edge is one way to do both.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading