Cable Ops Prep for Next-Gen Push

Cable operators are crafting actual plans to virtualize and distribute key parts and functions of their access networks after years of brave talk about doing so, according to a new MSO survey out this week.

The survey of 35 larger cablecos around the world, conducted by SNL Kagan , found that 34% plan to start pursuing some kind of distributed access architecture (DAA) strategy by the end of next year to move parts of their traditional headend functions closer to subscribers and boost the spectral efficiency of their plant. As part of this more efficient DAA approach, operators will also shift from analog optics to digital optics in both the forward and return paths of their access networks.

Further, on top of that 34%, another 26% of the surveyed cable operators intend to start implementing DAA solutions in 2019 or later, according to the survey. So, overall, slightly more than 60% of operators are counting on DAA to virtualize parts of their headends and increase their spectral efficiency.

Notably, cable operators are almost evenly split on which type of DAA approach they plan to carry out. Nearly half (49%) of those with DAA intentions plan to institute a remote physical layer (PHY), or Remote PHY, approach, which involves moving the PHY to the fiber nodes in the access network. But another sizable portion (40%) of operators plans to go even further by carrying out a Remote MAC/PHY strategy, moving both the media access control (MAC) and the PHY layers from the headend to nodes deep in the network.

Want to find out the latest developments in cable technology and schmooze with friends and colleagues? Then sign up now for Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies event on March 21-22, at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver.

Thanks to this push, MSO spending on virtualized Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) solutions will soar over the next four years. In its report, SNL Kagan projects that such spending worldwide will jump from just $13.8 million this year to nearly $671 million by 2021. (See Big Year Ahead for Cable Network Capex and Why Cable Is Upgrading Networks Now.)

Besides taking the virtualization and DAA routes, most cable operators are also preparing to increase the spectral capacity of their plant so they can offer faster broadband speeds and more advanced video services. In the survey, an impressive two-thirds (66%) of operators said they plan to expand their plant capacity to 1.2GHz or greater by the end of next year. That would be a big boost from today, when the majority of MSOs have 860MHz of RF spectrum or less.

Along with these planned increases in capacity and efficiency, cable operators are looking to keep boosting their broadband speeds to data subscribers. The survey found that more than half (54%) of cablecos plan to deliver average downstream speeds of 101 Mbit/s to 500 Mbit/s by the close of 2018. Plus, another 25% intend to deliver average download speeds of 501 Mbit/s to over 1 Gig by then.

Jeff Heynen, consulting director and senior research analyst at SNL Kagan, will be discussing these report findings and more when he appears at our Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference in Denver later this month. Heynen will be speaking on a panel about DAA on the conference's first day, March 21. Please click on this link to find out more about the event.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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