Although it may not be happening as quickly as once predicted, Remote PHY is showing clear signs of becoming the next BIG thing in cable land.
At the ANGA COM event in Cologne, Germany, two weeks ago, for instance, nearly all the major cable equipment vendors were once again hawking their Remote PHY wares for the benefit of the 21,700 folks attending Europe's largest annual cable show. Just like last year, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Casa Systems Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Teleste Corp. all featured large displays of their R-PHY devices and/or related software solutions.
But what was different this year is that there were more concrete discussions about actual Remote PHY field trials, initial pilots and full-scale deployments than in June 2017. Rather than just make vague references to upcoming field trials with undisclosed cablecos, vendors cited more specifics about their product rollout plans and their customers' efforts. And, rather than just talk about the hypothetical benefits of Remote PHY, cable operators started citing real-world results from their early trials and deployments of the technology.
So Remote PHY is clearly moving forward to what's expected to be its first blowout year in 2019. Speaking at Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies event in Denver in March, SNL Kagan analyst Jeff Heynen pegged 2019 as the year that DAA deployments will really take off. (See Snapshot: Cable Access, a Market in Transition.)
Case in point: com hem AB shared details of a Remote PHY field trial that it's been conducting in Stockholm for the past six months. The 50-home trial with live, paying customers has gone well so far, enabling the Swedish operator to deliver gigabit speeds to customers with DOCSIS 3.1 technology. "Believe it or not, the technology works," declared Anders Bloom, senior systems manager of broadband for Com Hem, speaking on a tech panel at ANGA COM.
For the Remote PHY implementation, the Swedish cableco is leveraging Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT)'s CableOS CCAP solution, a software-based technology that replaces the traditional cable modem termination system (CMTS) or converged cable access platform (CCAP), and R-PHY nodes from WISI, a German equipment vendor. "Don't be afraid to mix and match system parts from different vendors," Bloom said. "RPD opens up a whole new world of possibilities." (See Com Hem Rolls Harmonic's Software CCAP.)
Similarly, Danish cable operator Stofa is moving ahead with its Remote PHY rollout with Arris' E6000 CCAP Core and NC2000 R-PHY optical nodes, announced in March. More than 100 Stofa broadband customers are now receiving gigabit services over that network. (See Cable DAA Debuts Worldwide and Denmark's Stofa Launches First Remote-PHY Network in Europe.)
In another promising sign for Remote PHY at ANGA COM. Cisco and Telese announced that Telia , a Finnish operator, is using equipment from both vendors for its implementation of Remote PHY. Specifically, Telia is tapping Teleste's AC9100 Remote PHY nodes in conjunction with Cisco's cBR-8 CCAP core for that trial, demonstrating the interoperability of equipment from two different vendors.
"It's not the biggest implementation but still it's a milestone in the industry," said Hanno Nanjus, senior vice president of network products for Teleste, which also unveiled a new Remote PHY node, the DAN 300, at ANGA COM. "More needs to be done to make CCAP more plug-and-play. But are we getting there? Absolutely."
Besides their multi-vendor implementation with Teleste, Cisco officials played up their "Smart PHY" automation solutions designed to enable cable operators to capture intel and telemetry information in their access networks quicker and more efficiently than they could manually. "You have a lot of benefits whenever you start automating the network," said Luis Martins, head of cable/fixed access business development, EMEAR, for Cisco, speaking on another ANGA Com panel. "Any time you can automate the process, you cut down on errors."
Nevertheless, as the cable technologists freely acknowledged in Cologne, challenges remain. For example, Com Hem's Bloom noted that, with the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 and Remote PHY, signal timing is now even more of a critical issue in the access network. "Don't underestimate the complexity of timing," he advised.
Then there's the issue of integrating Remote PHY technology with older network equipment and software. "Don't forget the legacy stuff," Bloom said. "There's a lot of legacy stuff out there that doesn't fit well in the Remote PHY infrastructure."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading