Remote PHY appears to be the early distributed access architecture (DAA) approach of choice for cablecos on both sides of the Atlantic, due largely to its relative ease of deployment.
At the ANGACOM event in Cologne, Germany two weeks ago, for instance, nearly all the major cable equipment vendors were hawking their Remote PHY wares for the benefit of the 18,000 or so folks attending Europe's largest annual cable show. Four of them --- Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Casa Systems Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) -- featured large displays of their nearly identical-looking R-PHY devices and appeared to be enjoying steady traffic on the exhibit floor. (See Cisco Debuts Remote PHY Solution and Casa Demos PON Remote PHY Tech at ANGA.)
Most, if not all, of these vendors say they now have customer trials of their Remote PHY gear taking place in both Europe and North America, with commercial deployments expected to start soon as MSOs scramble to increase their network capacity without increasing their space and power requirements. Remote PHY consists of shifting, or distributing, the physical layer (or PHY) of traditional, dense cable headend CMTS or CCAP chasses to the fiber nodes in the access network.
"Every [cable] operator today is looking at Remote PHY," said Asaf Matatyaou, VP of solutions and product management for Harmonic's cable edge business, while speaking on a show panel about the industry's virtualization strategies. (See The Cable DAA Vendor Race Begins.)
As previously reported, Arris managed to go a bit further than its prime rivals at ANGACOM, announcing its first Remote PHY deal with Stofa, a Danish pay-TV and broadband provider. Stofa, the second-largest cable operator in Denmark with about 200,000 broadband subscribers, has committed to deploying both Arris's E6000 Converged Edge Router and NC2000 nodes with R-PHY modules to support its nationwide rollout of DOCSIS 3.1. Plans call for completing the deployment, which started last week, by the end of the year. (See Arris Wins Remote PHY Deal With Stofa.)
"We compete at 500 Mbit/s today," said Stofa CEO Ole Fruekilde at a media briefing about the Arris deal. "With DOCSIS 3.1, we'll go higher." Stofa's rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 makes it the second European cable operator to deploy the latest DOCSIS spec, following in the footsteps of another Danish MSO, TDC A/S (Copenhagen: TDC), which launched D3.1 last summer.
Steve McCaffery, president of international sales for Arris, predicted that more Remote PHY deployments in Europe will likely follow shortly as other cablecos look to roll out higher broadband speeds. "Remote PHY is here now," he said. "We'll certainly fill our schedule between now and year-end."
The European coming-out party for Remote PHY at ANGACOM chimes with the results of the most recent cable market survey by SNL Kagan . That survey of 35 larger MSOs around the world, released in late February, found that 34% of them plan to start pursuing some kind of distributed access architecture strategy by the end of next year. And nearly half (49%) of those with DAA intentions plan to employ a Remote PHY approach, making it the most popular early choice in the survey. (See Cable Ops Prep for Next-Gen Push.)
Industry observers expect to see lots more Remote PHY activity at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show in Denver in October, following a similar coming-out party for R-PHY products at Expo last fall. In fact, sources say SCTE officials are now planning a special education program focused on Remote PHY for the day before the show's opening.
But while R-PHY may be the first DAA approach out of the starting gate, its early lead may not last all that long because cable operators are also interested in shifting other headend equipment and functions to the access network. In the Kagan survey, for example, 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.
"Remote MAC/PHY is coming," McCaffery said. "All our customers are talking about it."
Then there's the Remote CCAP approach, which calls for shifting everything out of the headend and into the access network. Although not in deployment mode yet, even this relatively drastic option is now starting to come under consideration by MSOs. "It's probably 18 months away," McCaffery noted.
So, like the famed baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, Remote PHY might not want to look back right now. Because something might be gaining on it.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading